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Owen Johnson papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 11

Scope and Contents

The Owen Johnson Papers contain novels, plays, short stories, and personal papers documenting the life of the popular writer. The papers span the dates 1889-1967, but the bulk of the material covers the years 1900-1938.

Series I, Writings , begins with seven boxes of drafts, mostly in Johnson's hand, of twelve early novels and notes for a book on democracy. The books are listed by their published titles or by manuscript titles.

Johnson based many of his characters on real people. Letters and newspaper articles accompanying The Varmint (Box 6, folder 116), for example, give the identities of the Prodigious Hickey, Doc Macnooder, and Flash Condit, to name a few.

Most drafts of the Lawrenceville novels consist of incomplete chapters, while the handwritten draft for Stover at Yale gives complete texts for chapters II, XVI-XXI, XXIV-XXV and fragments of the rest. Only the first page of Blue Blood, also called "Pride," is found in the collection and many of Johnson's later works, such as Making Money (1914), Virtuous Wives (1917), and Skippy Bedelle (1922) are not found at all. The collection does, however, contain numerous drafts of his first three novels which are carefully dated, sometimes by Mary Stockly Johnson. At the end of chapter XVIII of Arrows of the Almighty, for example, Mary wrote, "End of Volume I, July 30th 1900, one year from the day of our engagement" (Box 1, folder 1).

There are a few printed segments of the novels, such as a French translation of chapters I-X of The Sixty-First Second, from L'Illustration (Box 5, folder 88), corrected galleys of chapter V of The Tennessee Shad from Hampton's Magazine (Box 5, folder 106), and chapters IV-V and IX-XI of The Varmint in The Saturday Evening Post (Box 20, folders 358-59). Contracts for The Tennessee Shad from Baker and Taylor and for In The Name of Liberty from The Century Company are housed with papers under each title and two corrected illustrations by Frederic Dorr Steele for The Eternal Boy are filed with Oversize (Box 20, folder 357).

Boxes 8-11 contain drafts of eleven plays, including A Comedy for Wives (1911) and The Comet (1908). The latter work was produced on Broadway and starred Alla Nazimova. A contract with the Shubert Theatrical Company, box office statements, and royalties from the Bijou Theatre and Broadway Theatre accompany the drafts (Box 10, folder 190).

The settings of the plays range from Paris in "The American Heiress" to Spain during the 1840s in The Comet. Women are often portrayed as headstrong, such as Rita Majendie in "Blue Blood," or deceptive, like Lulu in an untitled play (Box 11, folders 220-22), and, in some cases, destructive. Lona, the star of The Comet, for example, desolates careers and leaves behind her "the wrecked lives of the men she has attracted" (Box 10, folder 188). "Alice in Movieland," as its title suggests, is a satire loosely based upon Alice in Wonderland, only Alice lives at the Ritz in New York city and visits the lingerie counter at Tannerman's. The characters in "Father and Son" may have been based upon Paul Bourget's L'Emigré, filed with printed works (Box 19, folder 348).

"Blue Blood" (Box 8, folders 158-60) and "The Salamander" (Box 11, folder 212) are dramatic versions of novels. There are prose drafts of some plays and French translations of others, such as The Comet, written on the verso of the fourth draft (Box 9, folders 178-80).

Johnson often sketched heads and figures on the margins of his manuscripts, including men fencing (Box 2, folder 22), and also set designs for many of his plays, such as "The American Heiress" (Box 8, folder 151), "Marriage à la Mode" (Box 10, folder 192), and the interior of Maxim's for "The World That Dances" (Box 11, folder 213). There is also a folder of loose drawings housed in Personal Papers (Box 17, folder 319), which includes two caricatures of men playing golf.

Box 12 contains magazines that Johnson edited. In addition to The Lawrenceville Literary Magazine and The Yale Literary Magazine, the subseries includes numerous copies of The Chimney-Seat, which was the paper Johnson published when he was twelve with Rodman De Kay Gilder, son of the poet and editor, Richard Watson Gilder, who worked with Johnson's father at Century Magazine.

Shorter Works, housed in Boxes 13-15, consist primarily of thirty-three short stories. Ten are in the style of the Lawrenceville stories, such as "The Boy Who Was Napoleon" and "The Collector." There are four stories on golf, including "Abolish the Game" and three on law, including "A Man of No Imagination," which was published in Murder in Any Degree, a composite volume of short stories. Social issues, such as marital relations in "Handcuffed" and divorce in an untitled story about Lady de Warden (Box 15, folders 287-92), are the focus of the rest. Also included is an essay on John Ericsson, the Swedish-American inventor; a proposal for a series entitled "America, the Battleground of the Church," about the history of each prominent religious sect in the United States; and the text of Johnson's weekly broadcasts over station WPDQ in Jacksonville, Florida, about the Second World War (Box 13, folders 244-49).

Nineteen short stories and essays are filed elsewhere in the collection, mostly as chapters of The Eternal Boy and The Tennessee Shad. Cross-references have been made in the box and folder list. "The Ideal of Nationalism" may not be by Johnson, although he may have written or edited the translation.

Series II, Personal Papers , is contained in Boxes 16-19. Most of the oversize pieces in Boxes 20-21 are also from this series. Among the legal papers are Johnson's marriage license with Mary Stockly Johnson and their leases for apartments in Paris and the United States (Box 18, folder 330; Box 20, folder 360). Their financial records consist of early bank statements, checks, and bills, mainly for household and medical expenses.

Eight folders of photographs include two childhood shots of Johnson and Mary Stockly, Johnson playing golf, and gatherings of family and friends at Yale and at Johnson's house, Ingleside, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Johnson also photographed Paris at the turn of the century (Box 19, folder 342), Strasbourg, and other French territory at the end of World War I, showing bomb damage, trenches, and parades (Box 19, folders 343-44). Aerial shots taken from a dirigible in Italy, where Johnson's father was the American ambassador from 1920-21, complete the subseries (Box 19, folder 345).

Johnson chaired the National Committee on Allied Tribute to France, which planned celebrations across the United States on July 14, 1918, to voice U.S. and Allied support of France during World War I. Correspondence generated by the committee, such as telegrams from members, including Booth Tarkington, Herbert Hoover, and William Taft, and letters from participants in the celebrations, such as Jean J. Jusserand, French ambassador to the U.S., and Lord Reading, British ambassador to the U.S., are filed in Box 17, folders 307-10. Organizational papers, including the committee's letterhead and lists of the 301 American cities that planned celebrations, copies of speeches and programs, and publicity papers, including orders for Allied Tribute posters designed by James Montgomery Flagg, complete the subseries. As a result of his efforts to organize the Bastille Day celebrations, Johnson was made a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur. His certificate for December 27, 1918 is found at the end of the collection (Box 21, folder 364).

Johnson ran unsuccessfully for Congress against the Republican incumbent, Allen T. Treadway, in 1936 and 1938. Seven folders of newspaper clippings from the Springfield Daily Republican, Springfield Daily News, Berkshire Evening Eagle, and North Adams Transcript, among others, cover these campaigns. Johnson, who left the Republican party when Warren Harding was nominated for president and worked for the Democratic National Committee in 1928, was well-known as a New Deal Democrat and a staunch supporter of the Roosevelt administration. Johnson made conservation of natural resources, especially the rivers of western Massachusetts, one of his main campaign issues. Although Johnson was not elected, he had great "influence and standing with the Washington authorities" and often was approached by groups to support their causes (Box 16, folder 299).

The correspondence subseries consists primarily of letters from his daughters. A collection of postcards depict Europe before the First World War and the paintings of Louis Maurice Boutet de Monvel.

Johnson's miscellaneous notes on education, science, and religion and three bibliographies prepared by the Library of Congress on corruption in government may have been used in his writings or in his political campaigns. Among his collection of manuscripts is a copy, in Johnson's hand, of an essay by Madame Curie on radioactivity (Box 18, folder 333). Also present are miscellaneous publications from the Lawrenceville School and Yale University, including a book of alumni songs for 1901.

Boxes 23-24 contain Series III. 2011 Addition, which includes a small number of writings by Johnson and other papers. There are drafts for four short works, as well as material relating to the film, Children of Divorce, a contract between Johnson and Loew's Incorporated and three black-and-white photographs.


  • 1889-1967 (inclusive)


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 22: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Owen Johnson Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Owen Johnson Papers were donated to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library by Johnson's youngest daughter, Mrs. Patricia Johnson Deely, in 1981 and 1984, and his granddaughter, Catherine B. Deely, in 2011, 2016, 2018, and 2019.


10.04 Linear Feet (24 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers contain drafts of novels, plays, and short stories, plus a variety of personal papers, including financial records, photographs, and papers on the Committee on Allied Tribute to France.


Owen Johnson, American novelist and short-story writer, is best remembered for juvenile stories about his student days at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey and a best-selling novel, Stover at Yale (1911), in which he criticized many aspects of college life including the senior societies at Yale. The Civil War, the French Revolution, New York city police courts, contemporary manners and morals, and marriage problems are some of the topics covered in his other novels, which include Arrows of the Almighty (1901), In the Name of Liberty (1905), Max Fargus (1905), The Salamander (1913), and The Woman Gives (1915). Several of the Lawrenceville novels, such as The Eternal Boy (1909), The Humming Bird (1910), The Varmint (1910), and The Tennessee Shad (1911), were also published serially in magazines, like McClure's. The Varmint was later included in the library of classic American fiction at the White House. Johnson also wrote plays and several of his novels were made into movies, including Children of Divorce (1927) and the Lawrenceville stories as The Happy Years in 1945 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Johnson was born in New York city on August 27, 1878, the son of Robert Underwood and Katherine McMahon Johnson. He attended the Lawrenceville School where he founded and edited The Lawrenceville Literary Magazine. At Yale, from which he graduated in 1901, he chaired the Yale Literary Magazine for the Class of 1900.

Most of his early writing was done in Paris, where he lived after his first marriage in 1901. During World War I, he served as war correspondent for the New York Times and Collier's and wrote The Spirit of France (1915), a nonfiction book about the heroism of the French people. This was followed by The Wasted Generation (1921), a novel about an American who enlists in the French Foreign Legion at the outbreak of the war.

From 1923 to 1948, he resided in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and continued to write novels about marriage and divorce, including Blue Blood (1923) and Sacrifice (1929), and stories for The Saturday Evening Post about golf. He wrote little after his last novel, The Coming of the Amazons, was published in 1931. Instead his attentions turned to farming, painting, and politics. In 1936 and 1938 he ran unsuccessfully for Congress as the Democratic nominee from the First District of Massachusetts. He died at the age of sixty-three on January 27, 1952 at his home in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, where he lived for the last five years of his life.

His first wife, Mary Galt Stockly, daughter of a Cleveland financier, died in 1910. She was followed by Esther Ellen Cobb, of San Francisco, whom Johnson divorced in 1917; Cecile Denise de la Garde of Chignens, France, who died on May 9, 1918; Catherine Sayre Burton of New York, who died two years after their marriage in 1921; and Gertrude Bovee Le Boutillier, a widow, who married Johnson in 1926. He had three children by his first wife, Robert Underwood Johnson, Olivia Johnson Paschkoff, and Katherine Johnson Bunnell; Owen Denis de la Garde by his third wife; and Patricia Johnson Deely by his fourth wife.
Guide to the Owen Johnson Papers
Under Revision
by Karen V. Peltier
June 1987
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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