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William Safire Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: PRB/KM
Date: Jun 1998

Biographical History

William Lewis Safire (1929-2009) was an American author, columnist, lexicographer, novelist, public relations executive, reporter, and White House speechwriter. Safire was born on December 17, 1929, in New York, NY, to thread merchant Oliver C. and his wife Ida Panish Safir. (He later added the "e" to his name to help with pronunciation). He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science, a specialized high school known for its focus on mathematics and science, and enrolled at Syracuse University in 1947. Safire dropped out in 1949 after his sophomore year and his older brother Leonard, a copy boy for columnist and public relations man Tex McCrary, encouraged his younger brother to apply for a job at the New York Herald Tribune. He was hired as a researcher and writer for the paper's "Close-Up" column which gave him the opportunity to interview celebrities such as Mae West.

He continued working in public relations as a correspondence in Europe and the Middle East for radio station WNBC and WNBT-TV as well as for the Army in 1952-1954. He returned to work with McCrary on the Tex and Jinx radio and television shows and later as vice-president of Tex McCrary, Inc., a public relations firm where he arranged the "kitchen debate" in Moscow between Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev in 1959.

In 1961, he established his own firm, Safire Public Relations, where his clients included an ice cream manufacturer, a laxative company, and various political campaigns. He sold his company in 1968 for $335,000 and joined the White House staff where he served as an advisor, special assistant, speechwriter, and media consultant to Richard Nixon.

He left his post at the White House in 1973 to join the staff at the New York Times. He was hired on the spot by publisher Arthur "Punch" Sulzberger, Sr. as the paper's new political columnist. Safire's twice-weekly "Essay" column appeared on the Op-Ed page for thirty-two years and presented a libertarian conservative point of view. He earned the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary in 1978 for his column on the alleged budgetary infractions of Bert Lance. He later served on the Pulitzer Prize board from 1995-2004.

His Sunday column, "On Language" (1979-2009) appeared in the New York Times Magazine and featured commentary on grammar, usage and etymology. The column attracted many fans and devoted correspondents, dubbed the Lexicographic Irregulars.

In 2000, he was hired as chairman and chief executive officer of the Charles A. Dana Foundation, a philanthropic organization supporting brain science, immunology, and arts education. He also served on the Syracuse University Board of Trustees. In 2006, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush.

He authored many books including Safire's New Political Dictionary, a study of the words that have inspired and inflamed the electorate; Freedom, about the Civil War; and Scandalmonger, about the origins of America's press freedom. His anthology of the world's greatest speeches, Lend Me Your Ears, has become a classic. He frequently contributed to periodicals and newspapers including Cosmopolitan, New York Times Book Review, and Playboy.

Safire married Helene Belmar Julius in 1962. The couple had two children, Mark Lindsey and Annabel Victoria.

William Safire died on September 27, 2009 in Rockville, Maryland.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

Biographical material consists of Safire's personal publicity including articles and media clippings about him; biographies provided to the New York Times personnel office and other biographies featured in Current Biography, International Who's Who, Who's Who in America ; personal correspodence from his early life that reflects his time in college and as a young researcher and public relations agent; articles, notes and photographs from The William Safire Spina Bifida Roast; and correspondence, clippings, and press releases regarding his receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2006). Photocopies of his obituaries, condolences sent to the Safire family after his passing, and correspondence, invitations, and lists regarding his memorial services are also included.

Correspondence contains both incoming and outgoing letters, postcards, greeting cards, e-mails, and other forms of written communication to and from Safire. Material is arranged alphabetically by correspondent. Correspondence from individuals to whom Safire gave a "VIP" designation is foldered separately under the individual's last name. These VIP correspondents include politicians (senators, judges, presidents, and others, both foreign and domestic), actors, authors (both journalistic and literary), members of organizations such as The Judson Welliver Society and the Wednesday Ten, professional contacts, friends, and family members. All folders are labeled with an inclusive date range for the materials contained therein.

Dana Foundation files contains materials related to Safire's tenure as chairman and chief executive officer of the Dana Foundation (2000-2009) and is divided into eleven categories: administrative meetings, Dana Press, finance and administration, grants, investigative areas, news office/internet, newsletters, overseas groups, photographs, publications, and Safire's files.

"Essay" files contains copies of Safire's twice-weekly "Essay" (1973-2005) for the Op-Ed page of the New York Times , other Op-Ed columns (2006-2009), and readers' responses to his columns. Of particular note is the reader mail received after called Hillary Clinton a "congenital liar" in his "Essay: Blizzard of Lies" column (January 8, 1996). Both the columns and readers' responses are arranged in chronological order by year.

"On Language" files are related to Safire's "On Language" column (1979-2009) which was a regular feature in the New York Times Magazine for thirty years. This series includes the administrative files of Rosemary Shields, one of Safire's assistant, containing correspondence, resumes of prospective research assistants, and other materials related to office operations; an article index (1986-1993) kept by Ann Rubin Wort of "On Language" columns, another assistant; and photocopies of Safire's column arranged in chronological order by year. Letters from followers of the column (including the Lexicographic Irregulars who helped research the origins of words and phrases) are also included and arranged in chronological order by year. Research files track the history of a given column from inception to publication and include primary and secondary source examples of usage, queries on a word or phrase, dictionary entries, draft or final copies of the column, and post-publication readers' response. The research files were compiled by Safire and his four assistants. Correspondence regarding Safire's retirement from the column (2009) is also included.

Subject files contains research material and items of personal and public interest to Safire. Files encompass materials and memorabilia from his personal life (airplane tickets, invitations to his annual Yom Kippur parties, receipts); his life as a columnist, including notes and research on various topics and office operations; and his affiliation with various organization such as the Pulitzer Prize board, the Syracuse University Board of Trustees, and the Wednesday Ten.

Note: Material relating to a given person, place, organization or subject may appear in several places in this series. For example, material relating to George W. Bush appears under "Bush, George W." as a main subject, but also as a sub-topic under "Privacy." Likewise, material relating to Iran appears under "Iran" as a main subject, but also as a sub-topic under the subjects "Bosnia" and "Israel." Where possible, cross-references are provided in the finding aid to direct the reader to related material, but these cross-references should not be taken as comprehensive; the diligent researcher will search thoroughly for all occurences (and alternate spellings/abbreviations) of a topic.

Safire's Writings are divided into three groups: books, other writings and speeches. Files relating to his books, arranged alphabetically by title, consist of correspondence, contracts, fan letters, manuscripts, production records, publicity, research notes, and reviews related to the following books by Safire: Before the Fall, Coming to Terms , The First Dissident, Freedom, Full Disclosure, Fumblerules, How Not to Write, I Stand Corrected, In Love With Norma Loquendi, Language Maven Strikes Again, Lend Me Your Ears, Let A Simile Be Your Umbrella, The New Language of Politics, No Uncertain Terms, On Language, Safire's New Political Dictionary, Quoth the Maven, The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time, Scandalmonger, Sleeper Spy, Spread the Word, Take My Word for It, Watching My Language, What's the Good Word?, You Can Look It Up. Also included is material regarding unpublished book ideas, book jackets from Safire's published works, books with Leonard Safir, and miscellaneous correspondence concerning book contracts and electronic rights. Indices contain alphabetized citation cards housed in boxes and organized according to Safire's major works.

Other writings are arranged in alphabetical order by format and contain articles, his research work for the "Close-Up" column, essays, reviews, satire, screenplays, short stories and miscellany written by Safire. Some of the writings were never published.

Speeches (1969-2009) are arranged in chronological order and include speeches given by Safire at various conferences, conventions, institutions, organizations, and universities. Miscellaneous files contain administrative files with correspondence regarding contracts and dates for speaking engagements, and other files and notes.

Writings by others contain book jackets from books published by a variety of authors. A number of the books that originally came with the collection have been transferred to the general collections for cataloging. They are now located in the Safire Room on the sixth floor of Bird Library. Please refer to the Classic Catalog to locate these items. During cataloging book jackets were removed and kept in the collection. Jackets are arranged alphabetically by title, not author.

Media contains audio cassettes, video cassettes and computer files. Audio cassettes (1984-2000) are of Safire's appearances as a guest on various shows such as Nightline (1988) and the Larry King Show (1989) and are arranged chronologically where date is known. CDs contain Dana Foundation files, photographs and audio of various events, and backups of Safire's "On Language" column. There are two DVDs of Safire's guest appearances on the Charlie Rose Show also included. Floppy disks contain backups of his writings, copies of his "Essay" and "On Language" columns, notes, Dana Foundation files, rolodexes, and other unlabeled materials. Safire's hard drive from his New York Times computer is also included but may be inaccessible. Video cassettes (1982-2003) consist of videos produced by the Dana Foundation; guest appearances on programs such as Meet the Press and Primetime Live; various television programs recorded by Safire; awards banquets and commencement ceremonies at which Safire spoke; and miscellaneous.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent; correspondence from individuals to whom Safire designated as "VIPs" are indicated by the letters "VIP." Dana Foundation files are arranged alphabetically by category and within that. alphabetically by folder title. "Essay" files contains the columns themselves and reader responses to them; both subseries are arranged by date. "On Language" files are subdivided broadly into categories (e.g., columns, reader permissions, etc.) and arranged either chronologically or alphabetically, whichever was most logical. Subject files are arranged alphabetically by folder title. Writings are arranged alphabetically by type and then alphabetically by title. Media is arranged alphabetically by media type (e.g., audiocasssettes, CDs, etc.) and listed alphabetically by the title (or words) written on the item.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

A number of the books and periodicals that originally came with the collection have been transferred to Rare Books or to the general collections for cataloging. Please refer to the Classic Catalog to locate these items.

Portions of the collection have been digitized and are available through SCRC Online, our digital portal.

Other substantial collections of Safire's papers are held by the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress.

Subject Headings


Agnew, Spiro T., 1918-1996.
Alexander, Lamar, 1940-
Barzun, Jacques, 1907-2012.
Bleier, Edward.
Bush, George W. (George Walker), 1946-2018.
Bush, George, 1924-
Carlin, George.
Cheney, Richard B.
Clinton, Bill, 1946-
Clinton, Hillary Rodham.
Cuomo, Mario M., 1921-2015.
Deaver, Michael K.
Eggers, Melvin A.
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969.
Galbraith, John Kenneth, 1908-2006.
Haldeman, H. R. (Harry R.), 1926-1993.
Kemp, Jack, 1935-2009.
Kissinger, Henry, 1923-
Koppel, Ted, 1940 February 8-
Lang, George.
Mahoney, David (David J.), 1928-
McCrary, John Reagan, 1910-2003.
Mitchell, John N. (John Newton), 1913-1988.
Moynihan, Daniel P. (Daniel Patrick), 1927-2003.
Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994.
O'Connor, Sandra Day, 1930-
Quayle, Dan, 1947-
Raines, Howell.
Robinson, Gilbert A. (Gilbert Asa), 1928-
Safir, Leonard.
Safire, William, 1929-2009.
Shultz, George P., 1920-2021.
Sulzberger, Arthur Ochs, 1926-2012.
Wallace, Mike, 1918-2012.

Corporate Bodies

Charles A. Dana Foundation.
New York Times Company.
Syracuse University.


Colloquial language.
English language -- Errors of usage.
English language -- Etymology.
English language -- Foreign elements.
English language -- Grammar.
English language -- Style.
English language -- Usage.
Freedom of information.
Journalists -- United States.
United Nations.


United States -- Politics and government -- Dictionaries.
United States -- Politics and government -- Humor.
United States -- Politics and government.

Genres and Forms

Manuscripts for publication.
Research notes.
Sound recordings.
Video recordings.



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

William Safire Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of William Safire, 1998, 1999, 2010, 2018.

Table of Contents

Biographical material


Dana Foundation files

"Essay" files

"On Language" files

Subject files


Writings by others



Note on alternate formats:

Portions of the collection have been digitized and are available through SCRC Online, our digital portal.