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Susan Rosenberg papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00713

Scope and Contents

The Susan Rosenberg papers are primarily associated with her sixteen years in prison (1984- 2001) and include correspondence, legal documents, photographs, poetry and essays written by Rosenberg, course work, her Master's thesis, and syllabi for courses she taught while incarcerated. There is a significant portion of the papers that reflect the constant effort by others to gain Rosenberg's release. There is also a large amount of printed matter relating to the American prison system, the state of political prisoners in this country, and the specific concerns of women in prison. Of particular interest are the personal journals she kept during her time in prison.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1966 - 2011


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that she owns copyright, Rosenberg has assigned the copyright in her works to Smith College; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Rosenberg, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Susan Rosenberg was born in New York City in 1955, the daughter of Emanuel and Bella Rosenberg, both of whom were progressive leftists. Her father was a dentist who practiced in Spanish Harlem and her mother was a theatrical producer; they regularly took their only child to rallys in support of the civil rights movement and to demonstrations againt the war in Vietnam. Rosenberg grew up on the Upper West Side and attended the very liberal Walden School from grade school through high school by which time she was actively engaged in the anti-war movement. After high school, she initially attended Barnard College but transferred to the less elitist City College, earning a degree in history. She later went to Canada to become a doctor of Chinese acupuncture and holistic medicine.

Rosenberg worked first as a drug counselor in Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx and by the early 1980s was working at the Harlem Institute of Acupuncture where the ancient Chinese practice was used to treat drug addiction. The Institute was founded by the Black Nationalist Mutulu Shakur who had worked alongside Rosenberg at the Lincoln Hospital. Like Shakur, Rosenberg was much involved in several radical political movements of the day. She was active in the New Afrikan and Puerto Rican independence movements and even more active in the May 19 (in honor of the birthdays of both Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh) Communist Organization, a coalition of sorts consisting of one faction of the former Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army.

In 1982, accused of assisting in the 1979 prison escape of Assata Shakur, Rosenberg went underground. She was also accused of driving the getaway car in the 1981 Brinks robbery that led to the deaths of two police officers and an armored-car guard in upstate New York. She was captured in 1984, along with Timothy Blunt, while transferring guns and explosives from a car into a Cherry Hills, New Jersey storage unit. Found guilty of the illegal possesion of firearms and explosives, Blunt and Rosenberg were each sentenced to fifty-eight years in jail. Many at the time felt the unusually long sentences were due to the revolutionary beliefs both expressed throughout their trial. She served sixteen years before President Bill Clinton pardoned her on his last day in office, January 20, 2001.

While in prison, Rosenberg was one of the first immates assigned in 1987 to the newly opened High Security Unit for Women in Lexington, Kentucky. Located underground, below the Federal Correctional Institution there, this was an experimental program aimed at "political prisoners," subjecting them to sensory deprivation, isolation and frequent strip-searches. After several groups brought a law suit, a federal judge ordered the Unit closed in 1988. That same year, Rosenberg was one of six people charged with the US Capitol bombing in 1983, along with several other bombings in Washington, DC and New York City in which no one died but there was property damage. In what became known as the Resistance Conspiracy Case, many again felt the charges were politically motivated. Eventually, these charges against Rosenberg were dropped and she was then transferred to a federal prison in Florida, later to California and served out the end of her sentence in Danbury, Connecticut at the Federal Correctional Institution.

Also while in prison, Rosenberg earned a Master's degree from Antioch College, wrote a screenplay, published poetry and essays, taught her fellow immates courses on Black history, worked as an AIDS activist and as an advocate for more humane treatment of prisoners, in particular, female immates. Throughout her time in prison, her mother and father (until his death in 1993) worked tirelessly to gain their daughter's release, an effort that many others joined, including attorneys who volunteered on the Rosenberg case. Clinton's pardon in 2001 was not without controversy as some Americans saw her not as a political prisoner but as a homegrown terrorist. After complaints were made in 2005, Rosenberg's adjunct contract was not renewed after two years of teaching at John Jay College, a CUNY school. A year earlier there was so much objection from alumni and parents of current students to an invitation to serve as a visiting professor at Hamilton College that Rosenberg herself declined the offer. Her memoir, published in 2011, has engendered similar negative responses from the right and praise from more liberal reviewers. Entitled An American Radical: A Political Prisoner in my Own Country, her autobiography focuses on her time in prison, her struggles there and those of others to maintain a sense of self-worth and humanity in a system designed, she contends, to do exactly the opposite.


13.667 linear feet (12 boxes)

Language of Materials



Author; Poet; Political activist; Prison reformer; Educator. Papers are primarily associated with her sixteen years in prison (1984-2001) and include correspondence, legal documents, photographs, poetry and essays written by Rosenberg, course work, her Master's thesis, and syllabi for courses she taught while incarcerated. Of particular interest are the personal journals she kept during her time in prison.


The collection is arranged in roughly the order that it was sent in by Susan Rosenberg.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

As a preservation measure, researchers must use digital copies of audiovisual materials in this collection. Please consult with Special Collections staff or email to request the creation of and access to digital copies.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Susan Rosenberg donated her papers to the Sophia Smith Collection beginning in 2013.


In 2020, while processing the Susan Rosenberg papers, Madison White and student assistant Grace Hartley moved materials related to Susan Rosenberg but recieved from Judith Holmes into their own separate collection. The Judith Holmes legal papers on Susan Rosenberg was created as a result.

They also removed books not written by Rosenberg, duplicates, and student grades.


In 2020 when the collection was processed, a small amount of graded student work, as well as some duplicates, were removed from the collection.

Related Materials

Legal records and additional news clippings about the Rosenberg case can be found in the Judith Holmes legal papers on Susan Rosenberg.

The Sophia Smith Collection has several other collections with papers related to women prisoner writers and poets (Voices from Inside), self advocacy and reform (Jean Struven Harris papers, Madeleine Z. Doty papers, Women on the Rise Telling HerStory records, and Tina Reynolds collection of WoRTH records and teaching files), and defense records (Jean Harris Defense Fund and Committee records).

Processing Information

Accessioned by Kathleen Banks Nutter, Sep 2013.

In 2020, Grace Hartley and Madison White processed the collection. Materials were moved into folders, putting like materials together. Since it did not appear that the collection was arranged intentionally, they kept it in roughly the same order but did not keep the arrangement exactly the same. The description was then updated to reflect the new order of the collection.

Finding Aid to the Susan Rosenberg papers
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Grace Hartley and Madison White
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:22-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2019-10-15: Updated to conform to DACS
  • 2020-08-26: Updated to reflect the separation of the Holmes materials and new arrangement

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063