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Albert Jay Nock papers

Call Number: MS 375

Scope and Contents

The Albert Jay Nock Collection consists of the correspondence and writings of Albert Jay Nock, correspondence and writings of others about Nock, and some materials concerning Ruth Robinson, an intimate friend of Nock's. Much of the correspondence and writings is unpublished.

The collection is arranged into three series, under the name of the person who collected and donated the papers.

Series I, "Ruth Robinson," is the largest series in the collection and consists primarily of letters from Nock to Ruth Robinson. The series also includes letters to Nock from H. L. Mencken, Ellery Sedgwick, Brand Whitlock, Newton Baker, and Senator Robert Wagner.

Series II, "Paul Palmer," was originally part of the Paul Palmer Papers, (See: Paul Palmer Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University.) Palmer, who, like Nock, was a member of the Players' Club in New York, was the editor of The Mercury for which Nock wrote articles and the Reader's Digest. Among the notable correspondents in this series are Lawrence R. Abbott, Rutger B. Jewett, and Brand Whitlock.

Series III, "Robert M. Crunden," Consists of papers collected by Crunden for a thesis he wrote as an undergraduate at Yale University, which was later published as a book, The Mind and Art of Albert Jay Nock (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1964). There is also a group of letters to Crunden from people who knew Nock. Notable correspondents in this group include: Harry Elmer Barnes, Jacques Barzun, John Dos Passos, Margaret Storrs Grierson, Hugh Mac Carran, Lewis Mumford, and Edmund A. Opitz.

* For additional Nock papers see the Richard E. Danielson Papers and the Charles Nagel Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.


  • 1892-1969


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Paul Palmer, Robert Crunden, and Ruth Robinson.


Arranged in three series: I. Ruth Robinson. II. Paul Palmer. III. Robert M. Crunden.


3 Linear Feet (8 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


Correspondence and writings of Albert Jay Nock, author and editor. Also included are writings and correspondence about Nock (mainly materials collected by Robert Crunden for his book on Nock, The Mind and Art of Albert Jay Nock, Chicago, 1964), and materials concerning Ruth Robinson, a close friend of Nock; in fact, the larger part of the collection consists of correspondence between Nock and Miss Robinson. Important correspondents include H. L. Mencken, Ellery Sedgwick, Brand Whitlock, Newton D. Baker, Jacques Barzun, Lewis Mumford, and John Dos Passos.

Biographical / Historical

Albert Jay Nock was a fiercely private man; biographical information is scarce indeed. He was born October 13, 1870 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Nock himself claimed 1873 or, maybe 1874 as the year of his birth; it was, he thought, a matter of little consequence). His father, Joseph Albert Nock, was a clergyman in the Protestant Episcopal Church; his mother, Emma Sheldon Jay, was a descendant of the Rochellois Protestants who arrived in America in the late 1680's. Much of Nock's youth was spent in Alpena, Michigan, where his father had established a church.

Nock attended St. Stephen's College (now Bard College) at Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, from which he received an A.B. degree in 1892. Evidence of Nock's activities between 1892 and 1898 are fragmentary at best. It appears that he took some graduate courses at the Berkeley Divinity School., which was then in Middletown, Connecticut. In any event, he was ordained to the ministry of the Episcopal Church in 1897 and was called to St. James Church, Titusville, Pennsylvania the following year. In Titusville, he met Agnes Grumbine (1876-1935), who he married on April 25, 1900. The marriage produced two sons, Francis Jay and Samuel Albert, but during the time Ruth Robinson knew him (from 1909 until his death in 1945), Nock rarely saw or mentioned his family.

Nock left the active ministry late in 1909 to join the staff of American Magazine, where he proved his skill in editing as well as writing. In 1915 Crowell bought American Magazine and turned it into a popular magazine. Nock then joined the staff of the Nation, where his name appeared on the mast-head as an associate editor from July 27, 1918 to November 29, 1919. He left the Nation for the famous Freeman, which he co-edited, with Francis Neilson the British single-taxer, from 1920 until it ceased publication in 1924. By that time Nock was weary of editorial duties and never again accepted a regular editorial position. Instead, he devoted the rest of his life to travels and writing.

Nock was a fierce champion of individualism and it is this credo which spurred his attacks on social and political institutions. In an autobiographical sketch he prepared for Paul Palmer, Nock wrote: "Responsibility to myself and for myself, yes. I am, as I have always been, proud to accept that, proud to assert it in the face of God, man, beast, or devil. But responsibility for anything beyond that I accept only on the strength of the most searching evidence; and I have a peculiarily resolute resentment against the impositions by State, Church, or social conventions of responsibilities which are purely aritificial in substance and fraudulent in intention."

Nock was early associated with progressivism, but by the end of World War I he found himself labeled a conservative, a name he at first resisted, but finally accepted and defended until the end of his life. In fact, Nock was never really a reformer for he viewed attempts at conversion as a violation of the individual integrity of others. Similarly, he was pessimistic about the possibility of social change. True change, he believed, must be an aggregate of the voluntary changes in individuals.

In addition to several volumes of collected essays, Nock's works include: Jefferson, a biography (1926), Francis Rabelais (1929), A Journey into Rabelais's France (1934), A Journal of These Days (1934), Our Enemy the State (1935), Free Speech and Plain Language (1937), and Henry George (1939). Nock's best-received book was his autobiography, Memoirs of a Superfluous Man(1943).

* For additional biographical information, see The Superflous Anarchist: Albert Jay Nock, by Michel Wreszin (Providence, R. I.: Brown University Press, 1972).

Guide to the Albert Jay Nock Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Donald Pearsall
April 1972
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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