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Hugh Lee Butler Papers

Collection ID: MG 58

Scope and Contents

The bulk of the collection consists of material related to Hugh Lee Butlers's time on the Norfolk City Council 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 to 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. The correspondence is arranged chronologically, or in original order as clipped together.


  • 1896-1953, undated
  • Other: Date acquired: 01/09/1985



1.20 Linear Feet

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

[Identification of item], Box [insert number], Folder [insert number and title], Hugh Lee Butler Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, Old Dominion University Libraries.

Biographical or Historical Information

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.

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.

He died at his home on January 28, 1946 following two heart attacks the previous week.

Note written by Ellis E. O'Neal, Jr.

Language of Materials



Served on the Norfolk City Council from 1902 to 1938. Papers relate to his service on the Norfolk City Council during the Great Depression and as chairman of Local Draft Board No. 1 during World War I.

Physical Access Requirements

All clippings in Folders 16-19 and items in Scrapbook are too fragile for researchers to handle. Please consult Special Collections and University Archives staff for assistance.

Source of Acquisition

"Hap" Forrest White

Method of Acquisition

Gift. Accession #A85-1

A Guide to the Hugh Lee Butler Papers
Ellis E. O'Neal, Jr.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the ODU Community Collections Repository

3000 Perry Library
4427 Hampton Blvd.
Norfolk VA 23529 US