Skip to main content

Alvin Saunders Johnson papers

Call Number: MS 615

Scope and Contents

The Alvin Saunders Johnson Papers reflect Dr. Johnson's career as a scholar and educational administrator as well as his participation in a variety of humanitarian projects. Unfortunately, the papers contain only a very limited amount of material on Johnson's most important projects—the development of the New School, the University in Exile, the Ecole Libre des Hautes Etudes, and the New York State Commission on Discrimination in Employment. Among the few materials relating to the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences are a 1953 memorandum on a revision of the Encyclopedia, several letters to Agnes de Lima discussing the project's progress, and correspondence with David L. Sills discussing the Encyclopedia's background. Except for a manuscript copy of his autobiography, Pioneer's Progress, the papers contain almost no material relating to Johnson's teaching career prior to 1917, his work for the Committee of Fifteen, or his years on the New Republic's editorial staff.

The papers are arranged in three series: I. Correspondence; II. Biographical and Subject files; III. Writings.

  1. CORRESPONDENCE, 1902-1969 (predominantly 1930-1965)
  3. WRITINGS, 1907-1966.

Series I, CORRESPONDENCE, contains approximately 1700 letters, many of which are routine. Correspondents of note include:

Max Ascoli (15 from A.J./ 7 to)

Jacob Billikopf (16 from A.J./ 14 to)

Gerhard Colm (20 from A.J./ 7 to)

Agnes de Lima (100 from A.J.)

Thomas E. Dewey (12 from A.J./ 3 to)

Eduard Heimann (17 from A.J./ 2 to)

Edith Johnson (102 from A.J.)

Corliss Lamont (28 from A.J./ 22 to)

Adolph Lowe (22 from A.J./ 3 to)

Thomas Mann (6 from A.J./ 4 to)

Harry Scherman (3 from A.J./ 30 to)

Dr. Johnson's correspondence with Ascoli, Colm, Heimann, Lowe, and Mann deals with refugee scholar problems and New School affairs. The Billikopf, Lamont, and Scherman correspondence discusses primarily New School business and affairs. Johnson's letters to Agnes de Lima are valuable for their comments on the New School, the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, and a variety of other projects. The Johnson-Dewey correspondence deals with Johnson's work on the New York State Commission on Discrimination in Employment.

Series II, BIOGRAPHICAL AND SUBJECT FILES, includes several biographical sketches of Johnson, a dozen photographs of Johnson, an incomplete card file of Johnson's articles (1914-1945), and a scrapbook of newspaper clippings relating to his activities (1927-1960). The few subject files include a memorandum on a proposed revision of the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1953); a copy of the final published report of the New York State Commission on Discrimination in Employment (1945); a list of the refugee scholars brought to America through Johnson's efforts.

Manuscript materials in Series III, WRITINGS, includes Johnson's letters to the editor, New School Bulletin editorials, over a hundred essays and addresses dealing with a wide variety of topics, and Pioneer's Progress. Published copies of Johnson's books are also included in this series.

The Alvin Saunders Johnson Papers were donated to Yale University in 1967 by Alvin Saunders Johnson, Agnes de Lima, and Mrs. Edith Levy. Over three hundred of the letters in Series I, CORRESPONDENCE, were solicited by Dr. Johnson from colleagues and friends.

"This I Believe," a recording of Dr. Alvin Johnson by C.B.S., for Edward R. Murrow, is available in the Historical Sound Recordings Collection of Yale University Library.


  • 1902-1969


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for 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 Alvin S. Johnson, Agnes DeLima, and Mrs. Edith Levy, 1967.


Arranged in three series: I. Correspondence. II. Biographical and Subject files. III. Writings.


5.75 Linear Feet (15 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, writings, notes, clippings and photographs of Alvin Saunders Johnson. Although records relating to his career are relatively scanty, two manuscript drafts of his autobiography, Pioneer Progress, are among the writings. The correspondence of some 1,700 letters includes: Max Ascoli, Jacob Billikopf, Gerhard Colm, Agnes DeLima, Thomas E. Dewey, Eduard Heinmann, Edith Johnson, Corliss Lamont, Adolphe Lowe, Thomas Mann, Harry Scherman.

Biographical / Historical

Alvin Saunders Johnson was born on December 18, 1874, and spent his childhood and youth on a farm in northeastern Nebraska. In 1897 he graduated from the University of Nebraska with an A.B. in the classics. After brief service in the army during the Spanish-American War he went on to study economics at Columbia University where he received his Ph.D. in 1902.

From 1901 to 1917 Dr. Johnson taught successively at Bryn Mawr, Columbia, Nebraska, Texas, Chicago, Stanford, and Cornell. Throughout this period he supplemented his teaching by writing and research. In 1902 Putnam's published The Social Evil, Johnson's study of prostitution which had been undertaken at the request of New York City's Committee of Fifteen. While at Columbia he worked on the International Encyclopedia and contributed economic articles to Political Science Quarterly and the Quarterly Journal of Economics. Articles directed to a more popular audience were published in the Atlantic Monthly and the Unpopular Review. In 1916 Dr. Johnson made a study of public library operations for the Carnegie Corporation.

In 1917, on the eve of America's entry into World War I, Johnson gave up his teaching career and joined the staff of The New Republic as economics editor. The recently launched New Republic was at the time one of the major organs in America for liberal expression. During 1919 Johnson joined a group of New Republic colleagues and Columbia professors, including Charles Beard, James Harvey Robinson, John Dewey, and Wesley Mitchell, in founding the New School for Social Research. For the first several years Johnson served as a New School trustee. However, in 1922, when financial and personal problems threatened to close the school, he took charge and served as the school's director until 1945. Under his vigorous leadership the New School quickly became one of the most eminent and influential centers of adult education in the United States. Notable innovations in the school's curriculum included courses in psychoanalysis and public housing.

During his tenure as Director of the New School Dr. Johnson did not hesitate to assume additional responsibilities. In 1927 he joined forces with Edwin R. A. Seligman to develop and edit the monumental Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. From 1927 to 1947 he served as a member of the editorial council of the Yale Review and was Professor of Economics and Director of General Studies at the Graduate School of Yale during the 1938-1939 academic year. In 1943, with Governor Thomas E. Dewey's support, Johnson became Vice-chairman of New York State's Commission on Discrimination in Employment. The Commission drafted and helped pass the New York Fair Employment Act of 1945. The act later served as a model for the anti-discrimination legislation of other states.

One of Dr. Johnson's most noted programs was conceived in response to Hitler's dismissal of many prominant scholars from their positions in German universities early in 1933. Johnson's idea was to bring these scholars to America and establish them as a group. Financial support for the project was forthcoming and in October of 1933 the "University in Exile" opened its doors. This group of scholars, composed of some of the most talented social scientists in Europe, was eventually incorporated into the New School as a permanent graduate faculty. During 1940, when the Germans invaded Belgium and France, Johnson again went to the aid of foreign scholars. With the help of the Rockefeller Foundation he succeeded in bringing to America nearly two hundred emminent and promising scholars. In 1942 members of this group joined together to form the Ecole Libre des Haute Etudes which remained part of the New School until it became independent in 1946.

Besides his activities as an educator and administrator Dr. Johnson was also a prolific writer, producing nearly a thousand scholarly and popular articles, several novels, two collections of short stories, and an autobiography. The wide ranging themes of Johnson's writings reflect both his remarkably broad interests and his profound faith in the possibility of human progress through education.

Alvin Saunders Johnson died on June 7, 1971.

Guide to the Alvin Saunders Johnson Papers
Under Revision
compiled by John Dojka
October 1975
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

Yale University Library
P.O. Box 208240
New Haven CT 06520-8240 US
(203) 432-1735
(203) 432-7441 (Fax)


Sterling Memorial Library
Room 147
120 High Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours