History

It is fitting that Massachusetts – which gave the nation so many of the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights – also gave it the ACLU.

The ACLU’s founder, Roger Baldwin, was from Massachusetts. In 1920, a few months before Baldwin launched the national organization, a group of his friends meeting in a Beacon Hill home started the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Committee, later known as the ACLU of Massachusetts.

The ACLU’s founders knew that the Bill of Rights could not enforce itself. Without some mechanism to move violations of rights into the courts, the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights were simply words on paper.

For ninety years, the ACLU has helped define constitutional law and the nature of freedom in our democratic society. Social movements and court decisions defining what rights meant in practice made the notion of freedom something all Americans could lay claim to. Thanks in large part to our work as “freedom’s law firm,” the Bill of Rights became a living document that mattered to people’s lives.