Scope and Content
Organization and Arrangement
Title: Alice Greenfield McGrath papers
Date (inclusive): 1917-2009
Collection number: 1490
McGrath, Alice Greenfield
13 boxes (6.5 linear ft.)
3 oversize boxes
Abstract: Alice McGrath (1917-2009) was a political activist who first became known for her work to overturn the improper convictions
of Mexican American youth in Sleepy Lagoon Trial in which the defendants were tried as a group under inhumane conditions.
McGrath also supported humanitarian efforts and revolution in Nicaragua, pro bono work through the Mexican American Bar Association,
and taught courses on self defense. The collection consists of trial documents, correspondence, articles, awards, photographs,
and other ephemera.
Language: Finding aid is written in
University of California, Los Angeles. Library Special Collections.
Los Angeles, California 90095-1575
Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact UCLA Library Special Collections
for paging information.
Restrictions on Access
Open for research. STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact UCLA Library
Special Collections for paging information.
Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
Property rights to the physical object belong to the UC Regents. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the
creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright
owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC Regents do not hold the copyright.
Provenance/Source of Acquisition
Gift of Alice McGrath, 1986; additions to collections gifted by Alice McGrath in 1990, 1995, and 2003.
Processed by Gloria E. Chacon in the Center for Primary Research and Training (CFPRT), with assistance from Kelley Wolfe Bachli,
[Identification of item], Alice Greenfield McGrath papers (Collection Number 1490). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles
E. Young Research Library, UCLA.
Alice Greenfield McGrath (April 5, 1917-November 27, 2009) was a political activist who first became known for her work to
overturn the improper convictions of Mexican American youth in Sleepy Lagoon Trial in which the defendants were tried as a
group under inhumane conditions. McGrath also supported humanitarian efforts and revolution in Nicaragua, pro bono work through
the Mexican American Bar Association, and taught courses on self defense.
Alice Greenfield McGrath was born in Calgary, Canada to a family of Russian Jewish immigrants. At the age of 5, McGrath and
her family moved to Los Angeles. McGrath's experience growing up as an immigrant heavily influenced her later involvement
in social activism. After graduating high school, McGrath worked several jobs including working in a candy factory and as
a sales representative for Grove Press.
At the age of 24, Alice McGrath began volunteering for the defense committee of the Sleepy Lagoon Trial, now widely known
for unjustly convicting an entire group of young Mexican-American youth with little evidence and many human rights violations.
Several months later, she was appointed executive secretary. Though she was not directly involved in the legal work on the
case, she worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the trial, coordinate efforts. Of particular note is McGrath's effort
to correspond with and visit the defendants in prison. In October 1944 the committee's work paid off, and Judge Clement Nye
overturned the convictions. The case then became a foundation for legal decisions nationwide concerning defendants' rights.
Alice Greenfield McGrath's direct involvement in the case led playwright Luis Valdez to contact her and buy the rights to
her character. In l978, Zoot Suit, a play by Luis Valdez based on the sleepy lagoon case and the servicemen riots premiered
at the Mark Taper Forum with much acclaimed success. The play is a fictionalized account of the trial. Alice McGrath becomes
the central character. A film rendition of the play makes headlines in the l980s.
In 1952, she married Thomas McGrath, a poet and teacher. During this time, both came under surveillance by the FBI for their
political ideologies and community activism. This investigation led to Thomas McGrath being summoned to appear before the
Un-American Activities Committee.
Around 1957, Alice McGrath met Bruce Tegner, her son Daniel's self-defense instructor. Based on her son's experience, McGrath
enrolled in Tegner's courses, earned various titles, and began working with Tegner to write books on self-defense. She later
taught self-defense courses at various community centers and colleges around Southern California.
In addition to her career, McGrath continued to volunteer her time toward political and humanitarian efforts. She made numerous
trips to Nicaragua during and after the Sandinista National Liberation Front overthrow of the Somoza government. She led clergy,
physicians, lawyers, and teachers on tours through the country and helped raise money to buy medicine for Nicaraguan hospitals
and Hurricane Mitch victims, her humanitarian work also continued in the United States, where she became the coordinator of
the Pro Bono department of the Mexican American Bar Association.
Alice McGrath died on November 27, 2009 at the age of 92 from complications of a chronic illness.
Scope and Content
The collection consists of trial documentation, correspondence, publicity materials, photographs, articles, books, and ephemera.
The bulk of the material in the collection relates to the Sleepy Lagoon trial and its development into a play and film. In
addition, documentation and photographs from McGrath's support of the Sandinista National Liberation Front and humanitarian
work in Nicaragua constitute a large portion of the collection. The collection also includes personal photographs, awards,
correspondence, and documentation of a trip to China.
Organization and Arrangement
Arranged in the following series:
- Sleepy Lagoon trial
- Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee
- Zoot-Suit media adaptations
- Personal papers
- Magazines, books, film scripts
- China trip
- Awards and recognitions
- Government investigation files
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
McGrath, Alice Greenfield, 1917- --Archives.
Women civil rights workers--California--Archival resources.
McWilliams, Carey, 1905-.
Zoot Suit Riots, Los Angeles, Calif., 1943.
Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee (Los Angeles, Calif.).
Mexican Americans--Civil rights--California--Los Angeles.
Los Angeles (Calif.)--Social conditions--20th century.
Nicaragua--Social conditions--20th century.
The Education of Alice McGrath [oral history transcript] / Alice Greenfield McGrath, interviewee. UCLA Oral History Department interview, 1987. Available
at the Department of Special Collections, UCLA.