Charles F. Palmer papers, 1903-1973

Emory University

Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library

Atlanta, GA 30322


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Descriptive Summary

Creator: Palmer, Charles F. (Charles Forrest), 1892-1973.
Title: Charles F. Palmer papers, 1903-1973
Call Number:Manuscript Collection No. 9
Extent:91.25 linear ft. (181 boxes), 15 oversized bound volumes (OBV), 25 oversized papers (OP), and AV Masters: 1.25 linear feet (2 boxes)
Abstract:Papers of housing developer Charles Forrest Palmer, including correspondence, reports, manuscripts, speeches, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, and films.
Language:Materials entirely in English.

Administrative Information

Restrictions on Access

Collection stored off-site. Researchers must contact MARBL in advance to access this collection.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.

Separated Material

In Emory's holdings are books formerly owned by Charles Palmer. These materials may be located in the Emory University online catalog by searching for: Charles F Palmer (Charles Forrest), 1892-1973, former owner.


Gift, 1969 with subsequent additions.


[after identification of item(s)], Charles F. Palmer papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.


Processed by S. Grabel; revised S. Stegall and L. Matthews, January 1982

Collection Description

Biographical Note

Charles Forrest Palmer (December 29, 1892 - June 16, 1973) was the son of Walter Millard Palmer and Jeannette (Seymour) Palmer, residents of Grand Rapids, Michigan. His father was a bookseller, postmaster, Republican mayor of the town and four-term President of the American Booksellers' Association which he helped to establish in 1900. Charles Palmer became a successful Atlanta real estate developer, office building owner and manager, and a noted authority on public housing and urban redevelopment. Although his family was unable to finance a university education, he attended Dartmouth College in 1914-1915 as a special admissions student in business; toward the end of Palmer's life, in 1970, Emory University awarded him the Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree. He married Laura Sawtell, an Atlanta native, on October 30, 1918. The couple had three children: Margaret (Mrs. Earl C. Moses, Jr.), Laura (Mrs. T.W. Benedict), and Jeanette (Mrs. Jacob M. Cath). Palmer's religious affiliation was with the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. Palmer worked as a realtor for the William R. Staats Company, a California firm, in Pasadena, Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Chicago, Illinois, between 1912 and 1917, except for the year he spent at Dartmouth, from August 1917 to January 1919.

From August 1917-January 1919 Palmer served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Cavalry stationed on the Mexican-Arizona border and was awarded the Mexican Campaign and Victory medals. Following his discharge in 1919, he returned to Santa Barbara, where he established the C.F. Palmer Company, a realty firm. Through his wife's social connections, Palmer met Judge John S. Candler, brother to Coca-Cola owner Asa Griggs Candler, who in 1920 persuaded the young businessman to relocate to Atlanta by extolling the possibilities for commercial investment that existed in the city. After completing this move in 1921, Palmer organized a local real estate firm, Palmer. Inc., which specialized in downtown office properties. From 1923 to 1924 he was President of the Southern Conference of Building Owners and Managers. Palmer served as Vice-President of the National Association of Building Owners and Managers in 1929-1930 and as President from 1931 to 1932. In order to compare American and foreign methods of office management and design, he traveled to Europe in 1930 to inspect commercial structures.

Three years later in Atlanta, he organized Techwood Homes, one of the first efforts at slum clearance in the United States by the Public Works Administration and assisted in the development of its companion project, University Homes. While the two sites were under construction, Palmer returned to Europe in both 1934 and 1936 to investigate public housing programs. He gathered relevant facts and took photographs of the projects that he visited, utilizing this material to lobby for permanent housing legislation in the United States. In 1938, he also served as President of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. In addition, he was selected to represent the United States at the International Federation for Housing and Town Planning Conference held in Mexico City. Also during the same year, 1938, he succeeded in organizing the Atlanta Housing Authority, serving as its first Chairman until 1940. He was elected President of the National Association of Housing Officials in 1940 and, in addition, was appointed by President Roosevelt to the post of Defense Housing Coordinator (United States Office for Emergency Management, Division of Defense Housing Coordination) which he held until the end of 1941.

From March through December 1942, he directed the Special Housing Mission to Great Britain, investigating English plans for post-war urban and economic recovery. After returning to the United States, Palmer devoted the next few years to his office management and realty business in Atlanta. In 1946, he again was the U.S. delegate to the International Federation for Housing and Town Planning Conference, this time held in Hastings, England. From 1947-1948, he served as Georgia's Rotary Club District Governor, and beginning in 1950, was Chairman of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Warm Springs Memorial Commission. In 1952, he traveled throughout Latin and South America investigating public housing and urban redevelopment projects.

Returning to this country, he served from 1953 to 1954 as Chairman of Hall of Our History, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to erecting a stone monument which would illustrate, in sculpture, the achievements of American civilization. In 1959-1960, Palmer was a member of the National Committee on Urban Problems as well as the Advisory Council of the Democratic National Committee. From 1957 to 1965, he also served on the Board of Directors of Action, Inc. (American Council to Improve Our Neighborhoods) and was Vice-Chairman of the National Freedom Shrine Foundation between 1957 and 1966. In 1966, he was a consultant to James Roosevelt; American Ambassador to the United Nations, and worked to design a program intended to improve world-wide housing conditions.

At the invitation of Greek planner Constantinos Doxiadis, Palmer participated in a seminar at the Athens Center of Ekistics in summer, 1968. Locally, he served as Vice-President of the Atlanta Historical Society in 1965-1966 and, in addition, was a member of the Housing Resources Executive Committee for the Atlanta Housing Authority from 1967 to 1969. He was an organizer and member of the Georgia World Congress Ad Hoc Committee in 1970 and Co-Chairman of the Executive Board from 1971 to 1973. Palmer also chaired the Advisory Committee of the Graduate City Planning Program at the Georgia Institute of Technology, 1957-1973.

Palmer's publications include Adventures of a Slum Fighter (1955) and numerous articles and speeches on building management, public housing, and urban renewal. Between the 1930s and 1960s, he was invited on several occasions to lecture to classes at both Harvard University and Dartmouth College; in 1968, he made a presentation to the Graduate School of City Planning at the University of Nottingham, England.

In addition to the organizations mentioned above, Palmer's professional affiliations included: the Housing Centre (London); National Planning Association; Foreign Policy Association; American Society of Planning Officials; National Housing and Town Planning Council (England); International Federation of Housing and Town Planning (Belgium); American Legion; Military Order of Foreign Wars; and the English-Speaking Union.

In Atlanta, he belonged to the Capital City, Piedmont Driving, Commercial, and Rotary Clubs. He also was a member of the Burning-Tree, Cosmos, and Army-Navy Clubs, located in Washington. D.C.; the Dartmouth Club of New York; and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in Scotland. Palmer died in Atlanta on June 16, 1973, at the age of eighty.

Scope and Content Note

The Charles Palmer papers include correspondence, reports, manuscripts, speeches and diaries, covering practically the full extent of Palmer's life, from 1903 to his death in 1973; photographs of public housing and urban redevelopment projects in the United States (especially those in Atlanta), Europe, and the Third World from 1934 to 1952; thirteen scrapbooks containing both articles written about Palmer and those which he wrote himself; one scrapbook of clippings about Franklin Delano Roosevelt; and twenty films produced in the late-1930s and 1940s about American and European slum clearance projects and new town settlements.

The bulk of the material pertains to public housing, city planning, and urban redevelopment in the United States and England from 1933 to the early 1970s. A significant amount of information about Atlanta is included. Also donated to Emory was Palmer's personal library, covering the topics of slum removal, low-cost dwelling construction, and urban renewal between the early-1930s and 1970s; some of the volumes have been catalogued for the Special Collections book collection as association copies.

The papers are divided into thirteen series generally preserving the file classification system used by Palmer throughout his life to organize his records. The bulk of the material is contained in two subject file series: Series 1 and Series 4. These include correspondence, business records, and reports as well as publications about public housing and urban redevelopment, 1920-1973.

Other series in the collection include: Defense Housing (Series 2) contains letters and administrative records covering Palmer's role as Defense Housing Coordinator from 1940-1942 and his Special Housing Mission to Great Britain in 1942. Additional material on these topics is available at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library at Hyde Park; Palmer manuscripts and publications (Series 3) include correspondence and drafts of manuscripts that Palmer worked on from the late-1940s through the 1960s; Roosevelt material (Series 5) contains correspondence with Franklin D. Roosevelt (1934-1943) and Eleanor Roosevelt (1937-1963) and includes letters and other documents from the 1950s and 1960s pertaining to proposals to build memorials to FDR; Palmer family and personal records (Series 6) contains letters to and from various family members from 1903 through the 1960s as well as memorabilia. Letters from Palmer to his family during his service with the cavalry in World War I; CEKLOR papers (Series 7) includes correspondence from 1948 to 1950 about a Georgia voluntary reform organization that Palmer helped to establish and which sought election reforms in Georgia; Fifty Club papers (Series 8) pertains to a fraternal organization of which Palmer was a member and contains letters and memorabilia concerning club activities from 1927 to 1971; Palmer speeches (Series 9) includes copies of public addresses that he delivered between 1927 and 1967; The files relating to the Hall of Our History Project papers (Series 10) contains correspondence and reports from 1953 to 1969 regarding the proposal to build a stone monument, first in Georgia then in Washington to commemorate American history; Photographs (Series 11); Scrapbooks, artifacts, and memorabilia (Series 12); and Motion picture films and audio recordings (Series 13).

Arrangement Note

Organized into thirteen series: (1) Subject files I, 1930-1965; (2) Defense Housing; (3) Palmer manuscripts and publications; (4) Subject files II, ca. 1965-1973; (5) Roosevelt material; (6) Family and personal records; (7) CEKLOR Papers; (8) Fifty Club papers; (9) Speeches; (10) Hall of Our History Project papers; (11) Photographs; (12) Scrapbooks, artifacts, and memorabilia; (13) Motion picture films and audio recordings.

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