1917 October 9

Noted Historian Charles Beard Quits Columbia University in Protest of Repression


The noted American historian Charles A. Beard resigned from his position at Columbia University on this day to protest the university’s firing of two faculty members for alleged “disloyalty” a week earlier. The Columbia University cases were only the most widely publicized violations of academic freedom during World War I. On March 6, 1917, Columbia announced that it would investigate the loyalty of its faculty members, and on October 1, 1917 it fired English professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana and psychologist James McKeen Cattell for their opposition to U.S. involvement in the war. Beard supported the war and resigned to protest the violations of academic freedom in the firing of the two faculty members.

Charles A. Beard was arguably the most famous historian of his generation, primarily as the author of the provocative An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, the title of which is self-explanatory, and which shattered established cherished ideas about the Constitution.

After his firing, H.W.L Dana went on to a distinguished academic career and a number of activities on behalf of various civil liberties issues. Professor Cattell was the first chairperson of a Department of Psychology in the United States. He, too, went on to a distinguished career after being fired by Columbia.

Learn more about Beard: Ellen Nore, Charles A. Beard: An Intellectual History (1983)

Learn more about the World War I repression: Paul Murphy, World War I and the Origin of Civil Liberties in the United States (1979)

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