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Guide to the New-York Historical Society Scholarship Essay Submissions

New-York Historical Society
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New York, NY 10024
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New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on August 05, 2022
The finding aid is written in English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical/Historical Note

In January 1925, a New-York Historical Society officer, Librarian Alexander J. Wall, approached Columbia University's Department of History with a proposal to sponsor a scholarship intended to encourage undergraduates interested in pursuing graduate studies in American history. Professor Harry Carman, in consultation with Dean Herbert Hawkes, accepted the proposal and suggested criteria by which the scholarship would be awarded. The plan was presented by Wall to the N-YHS Executive Committee (Wall was also Secretary of the Committee) at its meeting of January 20, 1925, and the plan was approved.

The scholarship was a $300 cash prize to be awarded to the member of the Junior Class of Columbia University who wrote the best essay on a designated topic of American history. The topic was selected annually by Wall and Carman. The scholarship opportunity was described in Columbia's annual catalogue, which indicated the essay was to be 5,000-7,000 words. The topics for 1925 and 1926 concerned New York City's Whig movement of the 1770s and its literary societies of the 1820s, respectively. For 1927, the topic was New York as seen by the foreign traveler before 1830. Winners were mentioned in the Commencement program and catalogue. Essays were submitted to the Secretary of Columbia University by May 1, and Carman arranged for their reading and judging within the school. Wall was notified when there was a suggested winner. He was provided with a copy of the winning essay, apparently reserving the right to decline it, and then acquired the Executive Committee's approval to send $300 to Columbia to fund the student's award.

There were winners in each of the first three years of the award, for 1925, 1926, and 1927. There were no winners in 1928, 1929, and 1930. In at least one of these years, 1928, essays were submitted, but were not deemed by the judges at Columbia to be worthy of the award, which created some complaint from Kendall Kimberland (or perhaps his mother, Angie) in connection with his paper. In 1930, Columbia proposed changes to the award to improve participation. These changes were accepted by N-YHS's Executive Committee on February 18, 1930. These changes opened the competition to both juniors and seniors, divided the $300 award into a $250 first prize and a $50 second prize, and provided that essayists could choose from a short list of topics, rather than be limited to one defined subject. Columbia changed the category of the award in its catalogue from a "scholarship" to a "prize." In 1931, Carman and a Mr. McKee (likely Samuel McKee) awarded both the first and second prizes, but again none were awarded in 1932.

At the February 21, 1933, meeting of N-YHS's Executive Committee, Wall proposed that the prize be discontinued because the lack of regular competition for it suggested that the expenditure was not warranted. The Committee agreed, but given the timing N-YHS agreed to make a 1933 payment if winning essays appeared. Two final winners were selected by Columbia in that spring of 1933, and the program was then ended.

(Principal print sources for the above include the Annual Reports of New-York Historical Society and the catalogues of Columbia University for 1925-1933, though the catalogues have some omissions as to the 1925 winner and required topics. There is a brief reference to the scholarship in R.W.G. Vail's  Knickerbocker Birthday. For primary sources in the N-YHS Archives, see the Related Archival Materials Note.)