Old Dominion University Libraries

Special Collections & University Archives

Events & Exhibits

Search Special Collections


Monday - Friday:
9 am - 4:30 pm

Other times by appointment


The Special Collections is located on the east side of the Library at the front of the 3rd floor.

Contact Information

Patricia W. & J. Douglas Perry Library
Norfolk, Virginia 23529-0256
telephone (757) 683-5350
fax (757) 683-5954


The Papers of Hugh Lee Butler


Hugh Lee Butler, son of Le Grande Cornelius Butler and Martha Watkins Simpson Butler (d. 1897), was born July 19, 1871 in Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia. He had three brothers: Percy H., Hunter C. (d. 1905), and Stanley W. (d. 1923). Butler's parents moved to Norfolk when he was nine years old. He attended public schools in Farmville and Norfolk.

On Wednesday, April 19,_____, at 9:30 p.m., Butler married Effie Lee Grace, at the residence of W. E. Brown. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. J. T. Whitley. They became the parents of one daughter, Alice, and three sons, Hugh Lee Jr., Willard H., and Robert T., all of whom survived him. His wife died on December 17, 1935.

Butler began as an office boy at the Seaboard Air Line Railway on May 12, 1884. Promotion followed promotion over the years. In 1922, he was promoted to the position of contracting freight agent, a position he held until his retirement. On March 19, 1937, he received a congratulatory letter from L. R. Powell and Col. Henry W. Anderson upon completion of 50 years' service to the Seaboard. G. B. Rice presented him a 50-year service medal on behalf of the company. He retired at age 70, the Seaboard being the only company for which he had ever worked.

Butler's political career was a distinguished one. It began on what was known as the Common Council, July 1, 1902, representing Brambleton. His term as a member of the Norfolk City Council expired August 31, 1938, after 36 years of service.

He began his career as a member of the Charter Commission in 1902 and served on that body and the Select Council until the council-city manager form of government became a reality. Then he served as a member of the new government for 20 years. He also served on such committees as: Finance, Fire, Public Improvement and Annexation. He served many times as a member of the Democratic Committee from Brambleton and as chair of the Local Draft Board No. 1 from April 1, 1917 - March 31, 1919. He became especially involved in responding to citizens whose need for municipal services had not been met and civil servants (teachers, municipal workers) whose salaries had been cut during the Depression. Members of the Afro-American community found him to be a champion for their causes. One evidence of his tie to that community was a note from P. B. Young, publisher of the Afro-American Journal and Guide when Butler's wife died. He also worked on such projects as the introduction of parking meters to Norfolk and a study of school needs, both salaries as well as space.

Butler was known as a person of personal integrity, one who was loyal in his support of the city's welfare and one who had a mastery of the city's business. These traits provide a partial explanation as to the length of his political career. His service of 36 years was the longest in Norfolk's modern history. An appraisal of his life was best expressed in a resolution passed by the City Council on February 5, 1946: "That in the death of Hugh L. Butler, the citizens of Norfolk have lost a faithful and conscientious public servant, whose interest in their welfare and efforts in their behalf will long be remembered, and the City has lost a valued citizen of outstanding integrity and fidelity."

Though he retired from public office in 1938, he continued as a public servant. His appointment by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on October 12, 1940, as Secretary to Norfolk City Draft Board No. 4 is just one instance of his service.

He was in demand as a speaker before such organizations as the Ballantine Civic Association and the Ocean View Democratic and Social Club. He was made an honorary member of the Norfolk Athletic Club.

Butler died at his home, 1223 Manchester Ave., Norfolk, on January 28, 1946, following two heart attacks the previous week.


The Butler Papers deal primarily with his duties on the Norfolk City Council from 1923-1938 as a representative of Brambleton (parking meters; race relations; Foreman Field; city anniversaries; Museum of Arts and Sciences; Blue Laws; study of schools); his service on the Local Draft Board from 1917-1922 (alleged draft evaders, delinquents, deserters); personal and family papers (tax returns, financial records, obituaries, condolences); pamphlets and brochures of Norfolk; clippings from Norfolk newspapers; and, a scrapbook.

Correspondence is arranged chronologically, or in original order as clipped together. Many carbons are on the backs of discarded "Seaboard Air Line Railway, Portsmouth, VA, Passing Report."

Newspaper clippings are too fragile to be used except to obtain the newspaper names and dates to consult the items on microfilm at either the Kirn Memorial Library or the Old Dominion University Library.


Gift of "Hap" Forrest White, January 9, 1985


Open to researchers without restrictions. Questions on literary property rights should be directed to the Special Collections Librarian.


1 linear shelf foot in 2 documents cases


MG - 58


Series I - Correspondence

Sub-series A: Norfolk City Council and General

Box 1

Folder 1 Mar 10 1923 - Nov 20 1936 - Councilman duties; Railroad Retirement Act; concerns of Afro-Americans; dedication of Foreman Field; city anniversaries; Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences
Folder 2 Nov 21 1936 - Mar 25 1937 - Councilman duties; concerns of Afro-Americans; parking meter installation; Crime Prevention Conference; airport survey; 50-year Service Medal from Seaboard Air Line Railway
Folder 3 Mar 26 1937 - May 29 1937 - Councilman duties; parking meters; Blue Laws; Afro-American concerns
Folder 4 Jun 1 1937 - Oct 23 1937 - Councilman duties; Railroad Retirement Act; parking meters; Norfolk airport; "Union Mission" for Afro-Americans
Folder 5 Oct 25 1937 - Mar 28 1938 - Councilman duties; teachers' salaries; Police Dept.; Atlantic Coast Fleet; WPA project
Folder 6 Apr 1 1938 - Jun 23 1938 - Councilman duties; Councilman election; Afro-American concerns; political address; WPA project
Folder 7 Jun 28 1938 - Aug 31 1939 - Councilman duties; study of high schools; Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences; Hugh Lee Butler's retirement

Sub-series B: World War I Draft Board Records

Folder 8 Dec 1 1917 - Apr 25 1922 - Draft Board Records for World War I; cases of alleged draft evaders, delinquents, deserters

Series II - Work Records

Folder 9 Railroad Retirement Act

Series III - Personal Papers

Sub-series A: General Correspondence

Folder 10 Dec 6 1896 - Apr 21 1937 Elks Memorial Services; invitations; acknowledgments; rental receipts
Folder 11 Apr 22 1937 - 1952 Family items; receipts, including rental receipts

Sub-series B: Financial Records

Box 2

Folder 12 Virginia and Norfolk tax returns for Hugh Lee Butler and Alice B Cruser, 1939-1953
Folder 13 Federal tax returns 1920-1941

Sub-series C: Family Obituaries and Condolences

Folder 14 Death of brother, Hunter C. Butler, Oct 4 1905; Death of brother, Stanley White Butler, Apr 1923; Death of wife, Effie Lee Grace Butler, Dec 17 1935

Series IV - Pamphlets and Brochures

Folder 15 Primarily Norfolk and Tidewater Virginia

Series V - Clippings

Folder 16 Miscellaneous clippings from the: Public Ledger; Virginian and Pilot; Norfolk Landmark; Virginian-Pilot and The Norfolk Landmark; and, Times-Advocate. Includes 1922 election of Butler et al., pictures of Butler; articles on Spanish-American War; and current events.
Folder 17 Clippings from Norfolk newspapers. Include Norfolk City unofficial/ official election results (1922-1940); proposed charter change; editorial re. late Richard W. Peatross; Draft Board appointments (including Butler) by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Oct 12 1940.
Folder 18 Clippings from Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, Sep 1 1939 - Nov 3 1939, re. beginning and progress of World War I.
Folder 19 Clippings from Norfolk newspapers. Include death of Woodrow Wilson; 'Jim Crow' law effective Jun 13 1906.

Series VI - Scrapbook

Various clippings beginning about Apr 18 1897 from Public Ledger. Include poems; Civil War reports; current events; funeral of sister-in-law, Cassie Grace; deaths of mother, Mrs. Martha A(sic) Butler (1897) and brother, Hunter C. Butler (1905).

Note: All clippings in Folders 16-19 and items in Scrapbook too brittle to consult without destroying them. Note availability on microfilm at Kirn Memorial and Old Dominion University libraries.

Revised: 7/10/2008