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Guide to the Alvin Saunders Johnson collection, 1908-1973

Collection Overview


New School Institutional Collections

Collection Identifier



Johnson, Alvin Saunders, 1874-1971


Alvin Saunders Johnson collection, 1908-1973, (Bulk, 1938-1959)


5.4 linear ft: 6 boxes

Language of Materials

Primarily in English.

Language of Materials



This collection primarily reflects the activities of Alvin Saunders Johnson during his years as director and president emeritus of the New School for Social Research (1946-1971). The files consist of biographical materials, correspondence, subject files, and writings. Because much of Johnson's work as emeritus revolved around fund raising, the correspondence and subject files largely document this activity. Other projects documented here include Johnson's proposal to establish a labor college at the New School (which never came to pass), and launching a Faculty of Retired Professors. The Writings series includes drafts, typescripts, and reprints from University and non-University publications, documenting Johnson's abiding engagement with social issues, in addition to chapter drafts for his autobiography, Pioneer's Progress (published 1952).

Preferred Citation note

[Identification of item], [date (if known)] , Alvin Saunders Johnson papers, NS.01.01.01, box __, folder __, New School Archives and Special Collections, The New School, New York, New York.

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Biographical note

Alvin Saunders Johnson, an educator, economist, editor and writer, was born on December 18, 1874 near Homer, Nebraska. He received a BA in classics from the University of Nebraska (1897), served briefly in the army during the Spanish-American War, and earned a PhD in economics from Columbia University (1902). Johnson's teaching career between 1902 and 1917 included stints at Bryn Mawr College, Columbia University, Cornell University, Stanford University, University of Nebraska, University of Texas, and University of Chicago. Throughout his teaching career, Johnson also worked as a writer and editor. At the request of New York City's Committee of Fifteen, a group of prominent citizens committed to eradicating vice in the city, Johnson participated in a study of prostitution that was published in 1902 as, The Social Evil With Special Reference to Conditions Existing in the City of New York. From 1902-1906, Johnson edited the  Political Science Quarterly and from 1917 until around 1923 he was economics editor for the  New Republic. In 1919, Johnson joined a group of  New Republic colleagues and Columbia professors, including Charles Beard, James Harvey Robinson, John Dewey, and Wesley Mitchell, to found the New School for Social Research. Johnson served as a trustee at the school until 1922, when he was appointed director (later, president), a position he held until 1946.

From its founding, the social sciences were considered essential to the school's central purpose, and under Johnson's leadership the New School grew into an important and influential center for adult education. According to the first course catalog, the New School was devoted to a concept of lifelong learning, striving "to meet the needs of intelligent men and women interested in the grave social, political, economic and educational problems of the day." Its commitment to adult education and focus on contemporary issues remained central to the identity of the school for decades.

By 1930, the New Schoolhad outgrown its original home in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. Johnson turned his energy and fund raising prowess toward acquiring a new home for the New School at 66 West Twelfth Street. Designed by architect and theatrical designer Joseph Urban, the building gave Johnson an opportunity to embody the school's educational vision in physical form, creating an environment that he hoped would accomodate free inquiry and egalitarian learning while serving the needs of a busy adult student population. Johnson also invited two emerging artists, José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) and Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), to create murals for the new building. A third mural by Camilo Egas (1889-1962) was added in 1932. The importance placed on art in the new building signaled Johnson's growing recognition of the role art should play in developing students' understanding of society. Indeed, by 1931, the curriculum fully reflected this expanding vision, now offering a wide range of courses in modern art, music, literature, dance, and theater in addition to economics, history, and politics. Courses in cinema, urban housing and the emerging field of psychoanalysis furthered the school's reputation as a forward-thinking institution.

In the early 1930s, in addition to leading the New School, Johnson served as associate editor, with Edwin R. A. Seligman, on The Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. It was in the course of his work with European contributors to the encylopaedia that he became alarmed by the rise of fascism. Johnson now trained his organizational energies on a new project, to establish a center at the New School that would enable selected scholars whose lives and careers were being upended in Europe to obtain visas to come teach in the United States. The University in Exile was born (soon known officially as the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science). Soon after the University in Exile got underway, Johnson launched the journal,  Social Research, largely intended as an outlet for disseminating the work of the newly transplanted scholars. A second emergency effort in 1940 brought another group of scholars to the New School. Johnson also created a framework that enabled the New School to host the École Libre des Hautes Études, providing a haven for endangered French and Belgian scholars during World War II. Johnson also played a key role in efforts to secure university positions across the United States for more than a hundred threatened scholars.

In addition to his New School duties, from 1927 to 1947 Johnson 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, Johnson served as vice-chairman of New York State's Commission on Discrimination in Employment, helping to draft and pass the landmark New York Fair Employment Act of 1945, making New York the first state in the nation to prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin. The act would serve as a model for such legislation in other states.

After retiring as president in 1946, Johnson continued in his role of booster, fund raiser and guiding spirit at the New School for another twenty-five years. His annual birthday celebrations combined outpourings of affection with seminars and meetings on pressing social issues, while also serving as launch-pads for new capital campaigns and scholarships. A prolific writer throughout his life, Johnson wrote close to a thousand articles, a memoir, Pioneer's Progress, short stories, and two novels,  The Professor and the Petticoat and  Spring Storm.

Johnson fathered seven children with his wife Edith Henry Johnson (died 1961). The children adopted the surname Deyrup, a version of Johnson's Danish forebearers. Edith, who had earned a doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University, home-schooled the children at their home in Nyack, New York (the family divided its time between Nyack and a Manhattan apartment). Each of Johnson's children with Edith earned bachelors and advanced degrees from Barnard College or Columbia University, and all of them went on to lead distinguished careers as scholars and artists: Dorothy (1908[?]-1961), as a professional painter; Alden (1909-1999), a research chemist; Thorald (1913[?]-1984[?]) a lawyer; Natalie (1914-2007), a physician; Felicia (1917-2003), a professor of economics at The New School; Ingrith (1919-2004), chair of the Zoology Department at Barnard; and Astrith (1923-2010), a musician, artist and textile designer who taught batik at the New School. Johnson also fathered a daughter with education writer and scholar, Agnes de Lima, who served for two decades as publicity director at the New School. Their daughter, Sigrid de Lima (1921-1999), attended editor Hiram Haydn's creative writing workshop at the New School and went on to publish several novels. She was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1953.

Alvin Johnson died in June 1971.


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Scope and Contents note

This collection consists of materials created by and related to Alvin Saunders Johnson. Both the Correspondence and Subject files series primarily document Johnson in his role as President Emeritus at The New School and are largely concerned with fund raising for the school, generally, as well as for individual students in whom Johnson had taken a special interest, such as Friedrich Wilhelm Foerster and Joshua Lifschutz, and the proposed Labor Institute. Biographical files include clippings about Johnson, greeting cards, copies of book inscriptions from friends, biographical statements, and photographs. Johnson's writings include drafts, typescripts, newspaper clippings and reprints of articles and essays from New School and non-university publications, in addition to chapter drafts for his autobiography, Pioneer's Progress (published 1952).

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Organization and Arrangement

Arranged alphabetically by subject in four series

  1. Biographical
  2. Correspondence
  3. Subject files
  4. Writings

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Administrative Information

Collection processed by Jennifer Ulrich and Aaron Winslow.

Publication Information

New School Institutional Collections - November 29, 2016

66 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY, 10011

Preferred Citation note

[Identification of item], [date (if known)] , Alvin Saunders Johnson papers, NS.01.01.01, box __, folder __, New School Archives and Special Collections, The New School, New York, New York.

Access Note

Collection is open for research use. Please contact archivist@newschool.edu for appointment.

Use Note

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was compiled by the New School Archives from materials originating from a variety of sources, including the New School Publicity Office records (NS.03.01.05), maintained by Agnes de Lima, and the Development and Public Relations Office records (NS.03.02.02). Other items were transferred to the Archives from the New School's Fogelman Social Sciences and Humanities Library in 2012. Letters dating from 1939-1941 and 1944 were acquired from a dealer by the New School University Librarian in 2005.

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Related Materials

Records and correspondence related to and produced by Alvin Johnson, particularly involving his activities as a fund raiser, will be found in a number of collections in the New School Archives, including the New School Publicity Office records (NS.03.01.05), and the New School Development Office records (NS.03.02.02). Additional photographs of Johnson will be found in the New School photograph collection (NS.04.01.01). Information relating to New School governance and programming will be found in the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research minutes (NS.02.02.02); the New School Associates records (NS.03.02.01); the New School course catalog collection (NS.05.01.01), and the New School bulletins collection (NS.03.01.02). An audio recording of Johnson at his eighty-fifth birthday celebration will be found in the New School general collection of audio recordings of public programs (NS.07.02.01). A collection of letters from Alvin Johnson to philanthropist Dannie Heinemann will be found in the Alvin Johnson letters to Dannie Heineman collection (NA.0001.01). The Ingrith Deyrup diary and paintings, 1934-1935 (2014.NA.01) provides a rare look into Johnson's family life.

The Alvin Saunders Johnson Papers, 1902-1969, at Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University, holds institutional papers related to Johnson's administrative years at the New School.

Papers in Johnson's West Nyack home at the time of his death were sent to the Lincoln Love Library at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska in Omaha.

A 1960 oral history interview with Johnson will be found in the Columbia University Libraries. A videotaped interview with Astrith, one of Alvin Johnson's daughters, will be found at: http://www.hrvh.org/cdm/ref/collection/nyacklib/id/2665.


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Keywords for Searching Related Subjects

Corporate Name(s)

  • New School for Social Research (New York, N.Y. : 1919-1997).


  • Administrative records.
  • Correspondence.
  • Manuscripts.

Personal Name(s)

  • De Lima, Agnes


  • Adult education.
  • College administrators -- New York (State) -- New York -- 20th century.
  • Educational fund raising.
  • Universities and colleges -- Administration.

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Other Finding Aids note

For selected item-level description and images from the Alvin Saunders Johnson collection, see The New School Archives Digital Collections at http://digitalarchives.library.newschool.edu/index.php/Detail/collections/NS010101

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Collection Inventory

Series I. Biographical 1929-1973 

Box Folder
General, 1946-1970 
1 1
Birthday celebrations 
70th, 1944 
1 2
75th, 1949 
1 3-4
5 1
80th, 1954 
1 5
5 1
84th and 85th, 1959-1960 
1 6
89th and 90th, 1963-1964 
1 7
95th and 96th, 1969-1970 
1 8
Birthday and holiday greeting cards, circa 1957-1958 
1 9
Book inscriptions, 1929-1953 
1 10
Clippings and scrapbooks, 1936-1954 

Includes correspondence and press clippings by and about Johnson, including reviews of his 1936 novel, Spring Storm. Some of these materials were compiled by Felicia Deyrup, one of Alvin Johnson's daughters.

1 11-13
Obituaries and memorial statements, 1971, 1973 
1 14
Photographs, circa 1959, 1963-1971 

Includes photos of Alvin Johnson tree dedication and text of tribute.

1 15
Tributes, undated, 1943-1971 
1 16-17

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Series II. Correspondence 1933-1969 

An index of names found in this series, created prior to the collection’s transfer to the New School Archives, will be found here. This index may be inaccurate and may not be comprehensive. The presence of a name in this index should not be considered an indication that the collection holds extensive correspondence with this person or organization.

Box Folder
A-B, 1936-1960 

Folder "Bra-Bu" includes a photograph of Louis Brandeis.

1 18-25
Baruch, Bernard, 1941-1959 
1 26
Begging letters, 1938-1946 

The title for this fund raising correspondence was transferred from the original file, although it is not clear whether given by Johnson, by a development officer, or by the Publicity Office. Johnson worked closely with the staff of both offices. A file bearing the same title will be found in the Development and Public Relations Office records (NS.03.02.02).

1 27
C-D, 1940-1958 

The folder "Ch-Cl" includes a photograph of Winberg Chai.

1 28-34
5 2
Dewey, John and Roberta, 1949-1954 
2 1
Dilliard, Irving, 1949-1957 
2 2
E-G, 1940-1959 

The folder "Fog-Fox" includes a photograph of Grace S. Forbes.

2 3-10
5 3
Fan mail, 1940-1946 

Regarding publication of articles by Alvin Johnson.

2 7
Frankfurter, Felix, 1933, 1941-1954 
2 8
Goldsmith, Arthur, 1949-1954 
2 11
H, 1941-1959 

Includes letter from Herbert Hoover declining sponsorship, 1954.

2 12-17
5 4
Hovde, Bryn J., 1944-1954 

Primarily regarding his appointment as president of the New School.

2 18
I-L, 1938-1969 
2 19-28
5 5
Lehman, Herbert, 1944-1959 
2 29
M-N, 1940-1959 
2 30-34
3 1
5 6-7
MacIver, Robert, 1954-1956 

The file documents a proposal created by sociologist Robert MacIver to introduce a "realistic program in the meaning and problems of democracy" into New York City public junior high schools. MacIver, on the faculty at Columbia University at the time, later served as acting president of the New School (1963-1964). Includes a draft typescript of "The Democratic Way," a manual intended for junior high school students.

2 36-37
Maxwell, William Q., 1950-1954 
2 35
O, 1944-1954 
3 2
P-S, 1933-1960 
3 3-13
5 8
Schutz, Alfred, 1950-1954 
3 14
Simons, Hans, 1949-1960 
3 15-16
Staudinger, Else and Hans, 1950-1956 
3 17
Starr, Harry, 1944-1959 
3 18
T-Z, 1935-1959 
3 19-26

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Series III. Subject files 1933-1965 

Box Folder
66 West 12th Street building expansion, 1955 
3 27
Alvin Johnson Chair in Economics, 1965 
3 28
Alvin Johnson Fund, 1949-1951 
3 29
American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1946 
3 30
Citizens Committee of Sponsors for New School anniversary, 1958 
3 31
Development and grant applications, 1954 
4 1-2
Educational Policy Committee, 1953, 1957 
4 3
Friedrich Wilhelm Foerster Fund, 1952-1957 
4 4-5
Informal dinner for University in Exile: Letters of regret, 1933 

Letters declining Johnson's invitation to a dinner to introduce his idea for the University in Exile during a period of intensive fund raising for the project.

4 6
Joshua Lifschitz Fund, 1948-1956 
4 7
Labor College, 1942 

Correspondence and documents soliciting help in establishing a Labor College or Labor Institute in connection with the New School for Social Research. Includes mailing lists and letters to labor union representatives, government offices, and individuals, including Eleanor Roosevelt, inviting them to functions. Includes, "Notes on a Preliminary Meeting for the Labor College."

4 8-9
Meeting notes and roster, 1953 
5 9
New School Associates, 1953-1954, 1961 
4 10
New School presidential search, 1944 

Correspondence between Johnson, administrators and potential candidates to serve as Johnson's successor.

4 11
Simons, Hans, 1937-1955 

Includes correspondence between Simons and Albert Einstein about establishing a scholarship named after Einstein at the New School. Simons succeeded Bryn Hovde as president of the New School in 1950.

4 12
Social Research report and publicity, 1942, 1951 
4 13

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Series IV. Writings 1908-1970 

Includes drafts, copies and printed examples of Johnson's writings, including short stories and other fiction, memoirs, essays, articles and other contributions. Of note are writings for a work on Biblical figures and chapter drafts from Johnson's autobiography.

Box Folder
General, 1913, 1940s-1950s 

Includes "American Policy and European Nationalization," "The American Vanguard: 1956" (1957); "The Development of a Liberal," "Discrimination in Education," "Franz Oppenheimer," and "One World, or Two or Three." Also includes handwritten manuscripts, including, "The Graduate Faculty: Lest we Forget" and "Russian vs. American Adult Education." May contain memoranda and press releases.

4 14-16
5 10
6 1
Biblical personalities, notes, undated 

Mostly handwritten. Titles include "Moses" and "The Fall of Jerusalem." There is no indication that "Biblical Personalities" was Johnson's given title.

6 2-3
Book reviews, preface, interview, 1946-1957 
6 4
Clippings, offprints and essays for the New School Bulletin, 1908-1914, 1929-1964 

By or about Johnson, from New School publications, as well as reprints of articles by Felicia J. Deyrup, Johnson's daughter and economist on the New School Graduate Faculty, from Social Research and  Challenge: the Magazine of Economic Affairs.

4 17-20
Deliver Us from Dogma, 1934 
4 21
Ideas Are High Explosives, 1945-1951 
4 22
Journal of Historical Studies, 1967-1970 
4 23
Letters to the New York Times and  Herald Tribune editors, 1946-1950 

Includes Johnson's letter, "A Humanity Loan," proposing that Congress approve a loan to alleviate hunger in Europe and Asia. The letter was first published in the New School Bulletin and later sent to the  Times. Includes a response from Jacob Billikopf.

4 24
6 5
Letters summarizing New School achievements, 1945 
4 25
New World for Old: A Family Migration [privately printed], 1965 

A narration of the Johnson family's migration from Denmark to the United States.

4 26
Notes on the New School Murals, draft and booklet, 1943 
4 27
Pioneer's Progress, chapter drafts, before 1952 
4 28-30
6 6
Pioneer's Progress, blurb and reviews, 1952 
4 31
Short stories, undated 

Carbon copy typescripts, including titles such as, "My Friend Tony," "The Oak and the Squirrel" and "Adelbrand's Skull."

4 32-33
Speeches, published and unpublished, 1941-1967 
4 34-35
Yale Review, reprints, 1933-1947 
4 36

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Collection Guide Last Updated: 05/04/2020

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