Woodrow Wilson Papers to go online with new partnership

Princeton University Press, The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, and the University of Virginia Press Partner To Create Digital Edition of THE PAPERS OF WOODROW WILSON

wilson portraitPRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS (PUP), the WOODROW WILSON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY(WWPL), and the UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA PRESS (UVaP) announced today an agreement to create THE PAPERS OF WOODROW WILSON DIGITAL EDITION (PWWDE). Edited by Arthur S. Link and published by Princeton University Press, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson will be digitized and made available online in UVaP’s Rotunda American History collection, with the permission of PUP and the generous support of friends of the WWPL.

“This partnership among two university presses and a presidential library harnesses the intellectual investment and publishing expertise represented in the great documentary editions of the last century,” said Peter Dougherty, Director of Princeton University Press, “and makes them more accessible and valuable through this century’s digital technologies.”

Princeton University Press published the print edition of the Papers of Woodrow Wilson, consisting of 69 volumes with a 5-part index, between 1966 and 1994. The edition’s editor, Arthur Stanley Link (1920–1998),Edwards Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University, was widely considered a pioneer in the field of documentary editing as well as the foremost scholar of Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States. The Link edition includes Wilson’s personal correspondence, academic works, and speeches, minutes of the Paris Peace Conference, and diary entries of close associates Edward House, Cary Grayson, and Josephus Daniels, totaling approximately 38,400 documents from a vast range of government and academic sources. The most significant sources of Wilson material in the published volumes are stored in the Library of Congress and Princeton University.  The Journal of American History described the Papers of Woodrow Wilson as “an unprecedented illumination of Wilson’s activities and ideas.”

Woodrow Wilson is one of the most accessible presidents in American history due to the precise organization, annotation, and indexing of the Papers of Woodrow Wilson. The Rotunda digital edition will enhance discovery of Wilson’s papers by adapting the documents, annotation, and indexing created by Arthur Link and his fellow editors to a state-of-the-art electronic publishing platform. “Inclusion in Rotunda not only provides the most up-to-date digital publishing technology,” said Mark H. Saunders, Director of UVaP. “It puts the Wilson material in conversation with other important figures in American political history, from the Founding Fathers to participants in the civil rights and Vietnam eras. Comparing the view of Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, and Lyndon Johnson on a subject such as race or presidential power can provide new scholarly insights that were hard to imagine in an age of analog information or siloed digital repositories.”

The WWPL anticipates digitizing further materials in its collection and the collection of the Library of Congress, including a selection of Wilson’s correspondence during World War I and documents from Wilson’s later public career, and making them available in the coming years. “There is a vast array of important Wilson material that could not be included due to the constraints of a print edition,” said Don W. Wilson, President of WWPL Foundation. “Those documents will now be made available to scholars, students, and the interested public.” Additional collections held at Princeton University, among them letters between Woodrow Wilson and his wives, Edith and Ellen, and his daughter Jessie Sayre, would also be added to the PWWDE.

Press contacts:

Emily Grandstaff : ekg4a@virginia.edu

Debra Liese: Debra_Liese@press.princeton.edu

Writers on Writers Giveaway


We have a new giveaway! Enter for a chance to win the complete set of Writers on Writers, a series of brief, personal books by contemporary writers about an author, past or present, who has inspired or influenced them in some way.

Each book gives the reader a window into both the life and work of the chosen author and the mind of the writer. In On Elizabeth Bishop, Colm Tóibín highlights the parallels between his life and that of his subject, particularly in their experience of loss and exile. He traces her footsteps to Nova Scotia, Key West, and Brazil and shows the reader how her influence helped to shape him as a novelist. Compared to Tóibín’s measured, deeply personal account, Alexander McCall Smith’s contribution, What W.H. Auden Can Do For You, is a playful, charming take on the manifold ways that Auden has been a guiding force in his life. McCall Smith calls him one of the best guides on how to live. He shows us how he has been inspired by Auden and how each of us can benefit from his work.

One of the most famous nineteenth-century novelists, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has provided inspiration to many. On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling by Pulitzer-prize winning critic Michael Dirda is not only an engaging introduction to the author and his work, it is a rare glimpse into the best-known of all Sherlockian groups, the Baker Street Irregulars, of which Dirda is a member. Another famous nineteenth-century author, Walter Whitman, is the subject of Pulitzer-prize winning poet C.K. Williams. On Whitman explores the reasons why Leaves of Grass continues to inspire. Williams shows what Whitman had in common with other poets of his time and how his influence continues to be felt today.

Finally, renowned essayist Phillip Lopate describes Sontag as one of the “foremost interpreters of…our recent contemporary moment” in Notes on Sontag. While admiring her free-thinking originality, Lopate is critical of her tendency toward exaggeration, feeling that it undermines her common sense. Lopate provides a clever and enjoyable reflection on his chosen writer through a series of essays, a form used by Sontag herself.

Writers on Writers is necessary reading for anyone interested in the creative process and the often-complex relationship between writers. To enter for a chance to win the complete series, please follow the directions in the RaffleCopter box below. Winners will be selected on or around May 19, 2015.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Alan Turing’s handwritten notebook brings $1 million at auction

turing jacket

Alan Turing: The Enigma

Old journals can be fascinating no matter who they belong to, but imagine looking over the old notebook of the mathematician credited with breaking German codes during WWII.

The Associated Press and other venues reported that a handwritten notebook by British code-breaker Alan Turing, subject of the 2014 Oscar-winning film “The Imitation Game,” a movie based on our book, Alan Turing: The Enigma, brought more than $1 million at auction from an anonymous buyer on Monday. Originally given to Turing’s mathematician-friend Robin Gandy, the notebooks are thought to be the only ones of their kind, and contain Turing’s early attempts to chart a universal language, a precursor to computer code. (In an interesting personal wrinkle, Gandy had used the blank pages for notes on his dreams, noting that, “It seems a suitable disguise to write in between these notes of Alan’s on notation, but possibly a little sinister; a dead father figure, some of whose thoughts I most completely inherited.”)

Andrew Hodges, author of Alan Turing: The Enigma, commented that “the notebook sheds more light on how Turing ‘remained committed to free-thinking work in pure mathematics.'” To learn more about the life of Turing, check out the book here.

Spotlight on…Letter-Writers

Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985

Italo Calvino:
Letters, 1941-1985

For the final post in this series, we turn to the raw materials of biography with two volumes of collected letters. Private letters often give a very different picture from public writings – less guarded, more spontaneous and immediate. They can shed light on the development of ideas and concepts over time, revealing the struggle so often obscured by the perfection of the finished work. These letters are a vital primary source for biographers. It seems certain that the rise of email and decline of letter-writing will profoundly affect the work of future biographers. Will email prove as durable as paper? Will the sheer volume of electronic correspondence defeat even the most dedicated researchers? It may be decades before the answers to these questions are clear. For now, we are still seeing significant collections of letters published, allowing readers to make their own first-hand acquaintance with Carl Jung and Italo Calvino.

Analytical Psychology in Exile collects the correspondence between Jung and one of his most brilliant students, Erich Neumann. The letters span nearly three decades, offering a fascinating insight into the maturing of Jung’s theories as he shares them with, and defends them against, the younger Neumann. Jung has been accused of sympathy with the Nazi regime in Germany, and of anti-semitism, yet here we see him in dialogue with a Zionist Jew who was forced to flee Germany for Tel Aviv in 1934. Inevitably, given the impending catastrophe, these letters touch on complex and controversial issues such as the psychology of fascism and anti-semitism, and the crushing experience of exile. Neumann lived to see the founding of the state of Israel and died there in 1960; although nearly thirty years his senior, Jung outlived him by a year.

While Jung passed the Second World War in the comparative security of Switzerland, Italo Calvino experienced first-hand the dangers of life in Fascist Italy. In Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985, that experience is most profoundly seen in an absence, the lack of any correspondence from his years in hiding as a member of the Italian resistance. Although his letters rarely refer to the war, his time fighting with the resistance resulted in a deep philosophical and personal commitment to communism. We see his disillusion and resignation from the Communist Party following the crushing of the Hungarian revolution of 1956 and his excitement at the fresh hope offered by the événements of 1968 in Paris. The course of his writing, from the autobiographical realism of The Path to the Nest of Spiders to the dazzling metafiction of If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, perhaps reflects his withdrawal from political life. Nonetheless, Calvino remained an acute critic and his letters are filled with sharp assessments of post-war Italy’s vibrant cultural life.

Spotlight on…the Renaissance

“In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love. They had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

– Orson Welles, as Harry Lime, in The Third Man

Niccolo Machiavelli, by Conrad Vivanti

Niccolò Machiavelli
by Conrad Vivanti

Welles’s famous speech atop the Ferris wheel is a brilliantly concise picture of the Italy of Niccolò Machiavelli, simultaneously a patchwork of warring city-states and the stage for a rebirth of western culture. Niccolò Machiavelli: An Intellectual Biography, by Conrad Vivanti, analyses the life and work of the man whose name has become a watchword for unscrupulous power politics. As a young man in Florence Machiavelli witnessed the expulsion of the ruling Medici family and the establishment of the short-lived republic which he was to serve as diplomat and organizer of the citizen militia. He traveled on missions to the royal courts of Spain and France, and to the papal court of the Borgia Pope Alexander VI. Machiavelli’s first-hand knowledge of the attempts of Alexander’s illegitimate son and general Cesare Borgia to assert power over central Italy provided the basis for his best-known work, The Prince. Still controversial today, The Prince argues that rulers must be prepared to use deceit and brute force to preserve their power and build a stable state. Unpublished until five years after Machiavelli’s death, The Prince was placed on the Index of banned books by Pope Paul IV in 1559, but survived to become one of the founding works of modern political science.

The works of Desiderius Erasmus also enjoyed the back-handed honor of Paul’s ban, but this was, perhaps, a case of closing the stable door after the horse had bolted. In the 1530s his books accounted for more than 10% of all books sold in Europe; in addition his edition of the New Testament was the basis for Luther’s German translation and the King James Version in English. Lisa Jardine’s Erasmus, Man of Letters is a portrait of a man who was the center of the intellectual life of his age, corresponding with as many as five hundred of his fellow scholars. Keen to maintain his independence, he moved between a dozen European cities, from Paris to Turin, from Cambridge to Basel. He even worked briefly as a proofreader for the Venetian pioneer of print Aldus Manutius. Equally independent in mind, Erasmus mocked superstition in The Praise of Folly, while challenging the established theology of the church and leading the return to the original texts of the New Testament and the early fathers. Like Machiavelli, Erasmus sought to offer advice to the prospective rulers of his day but his Education of a Christian Prince recommended that the Prince gain the love of his people through just and benevolent rule. Fittingly, it was written in Switzerland.

Spotlight on…Public Intellectuals

Worldly Philosopher, by Jeremy Adelman

Worldly Philosopher
by Jeremy Adelman

The title of Jeremy Adelman’s biography of Albert O. Hirschman, Worldly Philosopher, concisely sums up the character of many public intellectuals of the twentieth century. In battles that overflowed the geopolitical arena to encompass culture, the arts, and political theory, intellectuals frequently found themselves where history was being made.

Born in Berlin in 1915, Hirschman left Germany in 1933 when the Nazis announced the expulsion of Jews from the universities. He fought in the Spanish Civil War, and later guided escapees across the Pyrenean mountain passes between Vichy France and Spain. He worked in Algiers as a translator for the OSS (precursor to the CIA), in Europe for the Federal Reserve Board on the Marshall Plan, and in Colombia for the World Bank. His experiences in Europe and Colombia influenced his thinking on economics and development: Hirschman realized that the grand plans and idealized markets of his fellow economists were unworkable in the real world. Instead he proposed a strategy of improvisation and experimentation, responsive to local conditions and opportunities. Later works, including Exit, Voice and Loyalty and The Passions and the Interests, continued against the grain of conventional economic thinking and established Hirschman as one of the foremost intellectuals of his time.

Isaiah Berlin too was an emigrant: born in Riga in 1908 (now in Latvia, then part of Russia), he lived through the 1917 revolutions in St. Petersburg before his family moved to England in 1921. He found a home at Oxford University and, despite his Russian Jewish, roots rapidly found himself at the heart of the British establishment, working for the British Diplomatic service in the embassies at Washington and Moscow during the Second World War. His position, and his legendary brilliance as a conversationalist, gave him access to a veritable Who’s Who of politicians, intellectuals, writers and academics. He played a part (recently dissected by Frances Stonor Saunders) in the smuggling of the manuscript of Dr. Zhivago out of Russia. Personal Impressions, Berlin’s collection of biographical essays, draws on first-hand acquaintance with Boris Pasternak, alongside Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, John Maynard Keynes, Virginia Woolf and many others.

Spotlight on…Philosophers and Mystics

A Short Life of Kierkegaard, by Walter Lowrie

A Short Life of Kierkegaard
by Walter Lowrie

The nineteenth century was a period of extraordinary advances in science and engineering that seemed to bring the dream of a comprehensive understanding of the physical world within reach. Yet it was also the century that gave us Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Kafka, three writers whose work expressed the subjective dimension of life, analyzed the role of human choice and will, and rejected a purely rationalist vision of existence.

To residents of Copenhagen in the first half of the nineteenth century, Søren Kierkegaard was a familiar sight, his striking figure daily walking the streets of the town. But few, if any, would have known that he was the author of several volumes of philosophy and theology – his early works were published under a series of unlikely pseudonyms, including Johannes de Silentio and Hilarius Bookbinder. Despite the oddness of his pen-names, Kierkegaard was deeply in earnest, and occupied his last years with an extended critique of the Church of Denmark in a series of pamphlets. His arguments that faith is rooted in an act of individual choice, not church ritual, and that state involvement corrupted the church, were highly influential, and his reputation grew rapidly after his early death in 1855. W. Lowrie’s A Short Life of Soren Kierkegaard is a perfect introduction to Kierkegaard’s life and work by one of his first English translators. For those willing to make a leap of faith and tackle Kierkegaard’s life in greater detail, Joakim Garff’s magisterial Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography is the definitive work.

As the subtitle of Walter Kaufman’s Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist suggests, Friedrich Nietzsche’s thoughts on religion were far removed from those of Kierkegaard. He derided Christian ethics as “slave morality” and proclaimed the need for the individual to overcome their social, cultural and moral context through the force of will. His radical ideas and poetic, allusive style were unsuccessful in his lifetime – he printed a mere forty copies of the fourth part of Thus Spake Zarathustra – but his influence has grown enormously in the century following his death, as much among writers and artists as philosophers.

Nietzsche eventually succumbed to insanity and lived the last years of his life in the care of his sister, Elizabeth Förster-Nietzsche, who edited his remaining manuscripts for publication after his death. It is often argued that she introduced an anti-semitic and nationalist slant that later made Nietzsche’s thought more appealing to the Nazis. However, were it not for similar efforts by Max Brod, none of Franz Kafka’s novels would have survived. On his deathbed, Kafka asked Brod to destroy his manuscripts and diaries, but convinced of Kafka’s genius, Brod instead chose to preserve them and edit them for publication. A perfectionist, Kafka could not bring himself to finish any of the novels, but even in their incomplete forms, the Trial and the Castle stand as undisputed classics. Reiner Stach’s monumental biography (Kafka: The Decisive Years, and Kafka: The Years of Insight) paints an astonishingly detailed picture of a deeply introspective writer and his life in Prague at the turn of the century.

Spotlight on…Scientists

Nikola Tesla, by W. Bernard Carlson

Nikola Tesla
by W. Bernard Carlson

Genius is no guarantee of public recognition. In this post we look at the changing fortunes and reputations of three very different scientists: Alan Turing, Nikola Tesla, and Albert Einstein.

With the success of the recent movie, the Imitation Game (based on Andrew Hodges’ acclaimed biography Alan Turing: The Enigma), it’s easy to forget that for decades after his death, Turing’s name was known only to computer scientists. His conviction for homosexual activity in 1950s Britain, his presumed suicide in 1954, and the veil of secrecy drawn over his code-breaking work at Bletchley Park during the Second World War combined to obscure his importance as one of the founders of computer science and artificial intelligence. The gradual change in public attitudes towards homosexuality and the increasing centrality of computers to our daily lives have done much to restore his reputation posthumously. Turing received an official apology in 2009, followed by a royal pardon in 2013.

Despite enjoying celebrity in his own lifetime, Nikola Tesla’s reputation declined rapidly after his death, until he became regarded as an eccentric figure on the fringes of science. His legendary showmanship and the outlandish claims he made late in life of inventing high-tech weaponry have made it easy for critics to dismiss him as little more than a charlatan. Yet he was one of the pioneers of electricity, working first with Edison, then Westinghouse to develop the technology that established electrification in America. W. Bernard Carlson’s Nikola Tesla tells the story of a life that seems drawn from the pages of a novel by Jules Verne or H. G. Wells, of legal battles with Marconi over the development of radio, of fortunes sunk into the construction of grandiose laboratories for high voltage experiments.

By contrast, the reputation of Albert Einstein seems only to have grown in the century since the publication of his General Theory of Relativity. He is perhaps the only scientist to have achieved iconic status in the public mind, his face recognized as the face of genius. Children know the equation e=mc2 even though most adults would struggle to explain its implications. From the publication of the four 1905 papers onwards, Einstein’s place in scientific history has been secure, and his work remains the cornerstone of modern understanding of the nature of the universe. We are proud to announce the publication of a special 100th anniversary edition of Relativity: The Special and the General Theory, and the recent global launch of our open access online archive from the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, the Digital Einstein Papers.

Spotlight on…Ancient Times

The Poison King, by Adrienne Mayor

The Poison King
by Adrienne Mayor

The ancient world presents formidable challenges for any biographer. In contrast to the wealth of documentation surrounding the careers of modern statesmen and thinkers, we often have only the most fragmentary information about their counterparts in the ancient world. The main sources are often writers who put pen to parchment decades or even centuries later. Our only knowledge of the words of Pericles come from three speeches recorded by Thucydides in his history of the Peloponnesian War, but Thucydides was working from memory, and it is often suggested that he sought to present Pericles’ oratory in a suitably heroic register rather than give a verbatim account. Despite the obstacles, an enduring fascination with ancient Greece and Rome has led many biographers to take up the challenge of putting a convincing picture together from the handful of pieces available.

Vincent Azoulay’s Pericles of Athens is a comprehensive reassessment of the life and influence of perhaps the greatest leader of the city-state that was the birthplace of democracy. Despite his success in steering the Athenians through two wars with Sparta, their rival for domination of the Greek world, even in his own time Pericles was a controversial figure. As leader of the Democratic faction in the Athenian assembly, Pericles pursued a policy of limiting the power of the elites and opening up public office to poorer sections of the citizenry. He has been accused of sowing the seed of the decline of Athenian democracy into populist demagogy and corruption, while others praise him for giving the state the broad base which allowed it to survive for another century after his death.

Aristotle. the leading philosopher of his age, left a substantial written legacy extending to nearly fifty volumes. Yet what survives is only a fraction of his work (perhaps as much as a third) and may largely derive from the notes of Aristotle’s students on his lectures. In Aristotle: His Life and School, Carlo Natali weighs up the often contradictory sources to give an account of a remarkable life that took Aristotle from his studies under Plato at the Academy to the court of Philip of Macedon where he was tutor to the young Alexander the Great.

Born in 120BC, two centuries after the death of Aristotle, Mithradates VI of Pontus was one of the most dangerous military opponents that the Roman Republic faced. In the course of three wars against Rome he expanded his Black Sea kingdom across modern Turkey to the Greek archipelago, before a Rome riven by faction and civil war ultimately defeated him through the brilliant generalship of Pompey. Adrienne Mayor’s gripping biography of Mithradates, The Poison King, takes its name from a practice that has become legendary. Having attained the throne of Pontus on the murder of his father through poisoning, Mithradates later built an immunity by consuming small doses of every known poison, and survived his own attempted assassination because of it.

Spotlight on…Mathematicians

John Napier, by Julian Havil

John Napier
by Julian Havil

Mathematics has long been a specialty of the Press, and mathematicians have been the subjects of many of our biographies. Julian Havil’s John Napier: Life, Logarithms and Legacy describes the life and thought of the inventor of logarithms. Napier’s work on logarithms, first published in 1614, established the efficient method of calculation that remained in widespread use until the development of computers over three hundred years later. Napier lived in an age when the boundaries between mathematics, science, religion and the occult were less clearly drawn: he attempted to predict the Apocalypse on the basis of the Book of Revelations and the Sibylline oracles, and was even alleged to be an alchemist and a necromancer.

A century later Leonhard Euler continued development of logarithms, but for Euler this was only one among dozens of mathematical innovations over the course of a brilliant and prolific career. Ronald Calinger’s Leonhard Euler: Mathematical Genius in the Enlightenment is the first full-scale biography of one of the great figures in mathematics. His tireless devotion to his work while at the court of Frederick the Great earned him the mockery of Voltaire, but his collected writings on topics ranging from calculus, number theory, and geometry to astronomy and optics are an extraordinary treasure trove of ideas. Despite near total blindness in the last two decades of his life, Euler’s prodigious memory and skill at mental calculation allowed him to continue working to his death, dictating to a team of scribes. He remains the only mathematician to have given his name to two numbers: the transcendental number (and base of natural logarithms) e, known as Euler’s number, and the Euler-Mascheroni constant.

Theoretical ability doesn’t always translate into practical applications, and Frederick the Great was unimpressed with Euler as an engineer. By contrast, Henri Poincaré worked in the French Corps des Mines throughout his life, eventually attaining the rank of Inspector General, while continuing to pursue his work in multiple fields in mathematics, physics and philosophy. Jeremy Gray’s Henri Poincaré: A Scientific Biography analyzes the lasting influence of a man that some argue was the true discoverer of relativity. Poincaré did not shy away from involvement in public affairs, acting as an expert witness to counter spurious claims by the prosecution in the Dreyfus trials that convulsed France.

Unusually for brilliant theoreticians, Euler and Poincaré also wrote for a popular audience – Letters of Euler on Different Subjects in Natural Philosophy Addressed to a German Princess was a bestseller in its time. In Undiluted Hocus-Pocus one of the great popularizers of our time, Martin Gardner, writes with characteristic wit about his own life. Gardner’s column in Scientific American, Mathematical Games, ran for 25 years – Cambridge University Press are currently working on a new edition of the fifteen volumes of the collected columns. No stranger to controversy, Gardner devoted much energy to combating pseudo-science, but is perhaps best known for the Annotated Alice, in which he explained in detail the mathematical trickery and literary wordplay of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice books.

Spotlight on Biography

Kafka: The Decisive Years, by Reiner Stach

Kafka: The Decisive Years
by Reiner Stach

A good biography can offer unparalleled insight into the work of a great thinker, providing context for the development of their ideas. Is it possible to make a fair reading of The Prince without knowing the world of Florence in the age of the Medici? Does Kafka’s introspective life in fin de siècle Prague shed light on the dream-like atmosphere of “Metamorphosis” and The Trial? It would be hard to argue otherwise.

In the heyday of Michael Holroyd’s monumental lives of Lytton Strachey and George Bernard Shaw, it was often suggested that biography would replace the novel. These magisterial works owed nothing to fiction in terms psychological depth, literary quality or drama, and had the additional appeal of being factual. The novel has proven surprisingly resilient, but still it’s hard to imagine a more tragic story than that of Alan Turing, recently depicted in the film The Imitation Game. Public intellectuals such as Isaiah Berlin and Albert Hirschman led lives that slipped easily between cultures, from academia to bohemia, from finance to international diplomacy. Their biographies are expressions of the history of their time.

Over the next couple of weeks we will turn the spotlight on some of the many excellent biographies the Press has published in recent years, from one of the very founders of democracy to a pioneer of electricity.

Q&A with Robyn Muncy, author of Relentless Reformer: Josephine Roche and Progressivism in Twentieth-Century America

Princeton University Press sits down with Robyn Muncy, author of Relentless Reformer: Josephine Roche and Progressivism in Twentieth-Century America, to talk about how the book was created.



Why did you write Relentless Reformer?

RM: I wrote the biography of Josephine Roche because from the moment I first encountered her, she knocked my historical socks off. She was at every turn doing things that flew in the face of historians’ expectations. She was a vice cop in the 1910s, a pro-labor coal mine owner in the 1920s, a gubernatorial candidate in the early 1930s, and Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury in the New Deal government. As the second-highest ranking woman in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, she started the conversation that Americans are still having about the federal role in health care. This was a woman to be reckoned with—and yet historians knew virtually nothing of her. Having “discovered” her, I had to tell her story.

As it turned out, Roche’s life also illuminated many of the grand themes of twentieth-century U.S. history. She helps us understand how women could have taken great strides toward equality with men and yet remained unequal. She helps us understand how, during the post-World War II era, Americans achieved the greatest level of economic equality in all of U.S. history. She helps us understand the values, perspectives, hopes, and dreams that connected the early twentieth century with the 1960s. Not bad for a single life.

Describe your writing process.

RM: My writing process is chaotic and inefficient, jubilant and suspenseful. The reason is that I figure out what I think about an issue or event through the writing process itself. I envy writers who can order their thoughts and complete their analyses before putting a metaphorical pen to paper. I, unfortunately, have to propel that pen over page after page to come up with my analysis in the first place. Although messier than I’d prefer, my process is also wondrous because it produces revelations every day. As I write, connections among events and trends come into view; reasons for behavior emerge; and big ruptures take me by surprise. As I wrote about Roche’s experiences in the 1940s, for instance, I wondered what I would think by the end: would she be the same sort of progressive in 1950 as in 1940, or would the war and subsequent anti-communist crusade transform her—and her progressive cohort—into something new, something I had to concede was dramatically different from the progressive she had been for so many decades previous? I just didn’t know what I’d think until I’d written my way through that tumultuous period of Roche’s life.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?

RM: The biggest challenge in writing this book was keeping it short enough that someone might actually read it. Roche’s life is so rich and interesting, her thinking and writing so moving that I wanted to share everything I learned about her and everything that her life had taught me.

Especially hard to excise were dramatic, suggestive, or poignant scenes from Roche’s life. I considered laying out, for instance, evidence of a possible romance between Roche and her first political mentor, juvenile court judge Benjamin Lindsey. In the end, the evidence was thin enough that I decided it might seem more like historical gossip than anything else, but including it was very tempting. I also longed to narrate the hair-raising story of a pregnant teenager in Roche’s case load at Denver’s juvenile court, from whose parents Roche had to beg for consent to a caesarian section when their daughter went into convulsions during labor. The begging spanned a long, harrowing day and ultimately involved the parents’ neighbors, clergy, and physicians. Baby and mother were saved in the end, but the story vividly embodied the tensions among familial rights, state power, and individual freedom. Many an episode like these wound up on the cutting room floor.

How did you come up with the jacket?

RM: The design of the book jacket is a brilliant pun, for which I thank the ingenious designer, Chris Ferrante. As the book was going to press, Princeton asked me to share ideas for the cover. I responded that the cover should feature a photo of Roche, of course, and that I wanted her associated with POWER. I honestly put the word “power” all in caps. Since she was a coal magnate, I suggested, maybe we could include a coal tipple on the cover, or, because she was a Treasury official, maybe a shot of the colossal and classical Treasury Building in D.C. Either of these would associate Roche with a kind of power—corporate or governmental. Beyond that, I mused that I liked a New Deal aesthetic, which would place Roche in the decade of her greatest visibility and influence.

Chris took all of these ideas to heart. He super-imposed Roche’s image on the red, white, and blue design of a New Deal poster that had originally advertised the Rural Electrification Administration, that is, a poster that had promoted electrical power. Roche was thus associated with POWER, for sure, and with the New Deal as well. It was the perfect design.

What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

RM: Most obviously, Relentless Reformer restores Josephine Roche to history and explains how such an important woman, who was a political celebrity in the 1930s, could have been lost to history thereafter. Because of this, I consider the book an act of gender justice.

Beyond that, the book offers insight and inspiration to anyone concerned about economic inequality in the twenty-first century as it analyzes a persistent and effective campaign to diminish similar inequalities between the late nineteenth century and the 1970s.

What are you reading right now?

RM: At bedtime, I read novels rather than history, and I have just finished the latest book in Alan Bradley’s mystery series, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. I love Bradley’s 12-year old sleuth, Flavia de Luce, who has a soaring spirit, brilliant wit, and passion for chemistry. She also has a habit of taking to the 1950’s English countryside on her trusty bike, Gladys. It’s hard to resist a detective who names her bike Gladys.

I’m drawn to detective fiction because it is so much like history: the detective begins with some kind of puzzle and must gather clues from the past to piece together a story so compelling that it explains the crime and reveals the culprit. Historians often follow a similar path.

As for history, I am reading a terrific dissertation by Chantel Rodriguez, “Health on the Line: The Politics of Citizenship and the Railroad Bracero Program of World War II.” In it, Rodriguez analyzes the experiences of Mexican guest workers who came to the U.S. to repair railroad tracks during the Second World War. She finds that, because of the health guarantees in the Mexican Constitution of 1917, these guest workers expected railroad companies and the U.S. government to protect their health while they worked in the U.S. Struggles of these workers to achieve what they perceived as their “health rights” sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed, and in both cases, their experiences reveal the complex landscape on which transnational workers still labor. This work edges us toward a new conception of citizenship and raises fresh questions about the trajectory of health rights in the United States.

Read the introduction to Relentless Reformer, here.



Relentless Reformer:
Josephine Roche and Progressivism in Twentieth-Century America

Robyn Muncy