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Lawton Chiles Senate Collection

Identifier: MSS 0328

Scope and Content

The records of the Lawton Chiles Senate Collection date from 1958 to 1988 and are largely confined to Chiles's career in the U.S. Senate, but there are a few items from his time in the Florida legislature. The largest series in the collection is, by far, "Series 1: Numerical files." Series 1 was used for a variety of purposes and includes constituent mail and responses, legislative files, congressional committee prints, and numerous studies and reports on every issue of the day. Perhaps the greatest strength of the collection is the existence of "Series 3: Staff files." These types of files are uncommon in Senate collections and provide seldom seen details and insights on how a U.S. Senator responded to the issues of the day. The collection also contains extensive files from Chiles's Senate campaigns, as well as excellent documentation of his Senate Press Office. Chiles's Senate career is also documented visually through thousands of photographs and hundreds of films and videos.


  • Creation: 1958-1988
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1971-1988



The collection is open for research. The presence of constituent mail in this collection requires mediated access. Access to constituent mail is restricted for a period of 30 years from creation. Researchers must consult with Special Collections staff before using the collection and must agree in writing to the following conditions: Congressional constituent mail is considered a type of privileged correspondence. Reproduction of constituent mail in any format is prohibited. Further, researchers using constituent mail must agree not to divulge the names or addresses of constituents or provide information that could conceivably identify constituents.

Records of executive nominations are unavailable for public inspection for 50 years after creation.

Usage Restrictions

Please consult with the archivist about accessing audiovisual materials. Some media formats may only be used pending reformatting.

Biographical/Historical Note

Lawton Mainer Chiles, Jr. was a Democratic politician who served in the Florida state legislature, in both the House and Senate, from 1959 to 1970 before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1970. He served three terms in the Senate and announced his retirement in 1988. In 1990, he was persuaded to come out of retirement to run for governor against incumbent Bob Martinez. He won handily and escaped a narrow reelection challenge from Jeb Bush in 1994. He died in office on December 12, 1999, 23 days before his term was to end.

Chiles was born in Lakeland, Florida, on April 3, 1930. He attended public schools in Lakeland and received his bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Florida (UF) in 1952 and 1955. At UF, he was a member of Florida Blue Key and Hall of Fame. He practiced law in Lakeland from 1955 to 1971 in the firm of Peterson, Carr, Chiles, and Harris. In 1951, he married Rhea May Grafton and together they raised two sons and two daughters. Chiles's first foray into politics was a success when he won election to the Florida House of Representatives in 1958. He entered the Florida Senate in 1968. When his protégé, U.S. Senator Spessard Holland, announced his retirement in 1969, Chiles decided to make the leap to national politics despite being a virtual unknown in his native state. The result was his memorable walk through Florida beginning in the panhandle town of Century, on the Alabama border, on March 17, 1970, and ending 91 days later in Key West, a distance of 1003 miles. The gambit proved successful as Chiles narrowly defeated former governor Farris Bryant in the Democratic primary and then Congressman Bill Cramer in the general election.

Chiles styled himself a "progressive conservative," liberal on most social and environmental issues and conservative on fiscal and budgetary concerns. He was a staunch supporter of government reform and one of his early legislative successes was the 1975 Government in the Sunshine Act. On the environmental front, Chiles had success with the addition and later expansion of the Big Cypress National Preserve and in his fight to end phosphate mining in the Osceola National Forest. He was a strong advocate for both the elderly and the young. He served on several subcommittees in the Appropriations Committee. He was a member of the Governmental Affairs Committee and the Budget Committee, which he chaired in the 100th Congress. He also chaired the Special Committee on Aging in the 96th Congress.


375 Linear feet (375 records cartons)

Language of Materials



Lawton Chiles, Jr. (1930-1999) was a Democratic politician who served in the Florida state legislature and the U.S. Senate. He served three terms in the Senate before retiring. He later ran for and won the Florida Governor's seat where he served until his death. Chiles is most known for his work on government reform (Government in the Sunshine Act) and environmental concerns (Big Cypress National Preserve, phosphate mining in Osceola National Forest), as well as being a strong advocate for youth and the elderly. The Lawton Chiles Senate Collection documents his election to the U.S. Senate in 1970 and his subsequent 18 years in Congress. Records of his state legislative work and any positions after his retirement from the Senate are largely absent from this collection.


The Lawton Chiles Senate Collection is divided into nine records series.

Boxes 363-374 contain files that were discovered after initial processing was completed and the boxes appear out of sequence in the contents lists.

Physical Location

Please note that this collection is housed in the Auxiliary Library Facility off campus and will require advance notice for timely retrieval. Please contact the Special and Area Studies Collections department prior to your visit.

Acquisition Information

The Lawton Chiles Senate Collection was donated to the University of Florida by Senator Chiles in 1989.

Alternative Format Available

Digital reproductions of selected items in the Lawton Chiles Senate Collection are available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC). Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

Related Material

Records relating to Chiles's administration as Governor of Florida reside in the state archives:

Processing Notes

Small portions of the collection were processed in the late 1990s. The bulk of the processing was completed in 2013 and 2014. The finding aid was completed in 2015.

While effort was made to define acronyms and abbreviations within the finding aid, a separate list of known acronyms and abbreviations is available here. This finding aid was revised in August 2022. Recognizing that historical terms do not always completely or directly map to contemporary terms, that historical terms can be offensive or inaccurately describe a person or group, and that the presence of both historical and contemporary terms may be useful for researcher discovery, the archivist has attempted to employ historical terms as they originally appear in the context of the collection, in the description, along with contemporary terms in brackets. In the case of direct quotes and published works, the archivist has retained the language as it originally appeared. Copies of the finding aid with the original language have been retained for historical record.

A Guide to the Lawton Chiles Senate Collection
Finding aid created by Carl Van Ness
May 2015 (Updated 2022)
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America