Scope and Contents
The collection contains the papers of Paul M. Pearson, noted Quaker lecturer, editor, and civic leader. Included are biographical and genealogical materials, personal and business correspondence, writings, extensive material on the Swarthmore Chautauqua, as well as papers relating to his work with the National Community Foundation, the Virgin Islands, and U.S. Housing Authority. There are also a small number of papers concerning Drew Pearson (1897-1969), his son and a syndicated national columnist.
Copyright and Rights Information
Copyright has not been assigned to Friends Historical Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in to the Director. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Friends Historical Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by reader.
Biographical / Historical
Paul M. Pearson (1871-1938) was a noted Quaker educator and speaker, governor of the Virgin Islands, assistant director of the U.S. Housing Authority, and a leading founder and executive of the Chautauqua movement.
Paul M. Pearson was born on a farm in Illinois on Oct. 22, 1871, raised a Methodist, and graduated from Baker University in 1891. While in college, Pearson developed his skill in "platform work" - lectures and recitals. He first traveled on the Methodist ministry circuit and then as a lyceum speaker. He also studied at Harvard University and Northwestern. In 1896, he married Edna Wolfe, and the couple had four children: Andrew, Leon, Barbara, and Ellen. The eldest was the well-known columnist Drew Pearson. Beginning in 1902, Paul Pearson taught public speaking at Swarthmore College. In 1904 he became the proprietor and editor of the magazine Talent, a magazine of the lyceum movement. In 1905, he established The Speaker, a magazine on successful public reading. In 1906, he and his family became members of Swarthmore Monthly Meeting.
In 1912, Pearson founded Swarthmore Chautauqua Association, a non-profit enterprise financially backed by private investors, many of whom were Quakers. The Association at its peak operated about 2,000 Chautauqua in the smaller towns along the eastern seaboard. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Chautauqua movement provided popular education along with entertainment in the form of concerts, lectures, and the like, generally travelling on a circuit to small towns to provide cultural and educational enrichment. Pearson resigned his position as head of the Public Speaking Department at Swarthmore College to devote full time to Chautauqua. He also was active in the Chautauqua at the national level and served as President of the International Lyceum and Chautauqua Association. In 1930, due to economic pressures and the changing life styles of Americans, the Swarthmore Chautauqua ceased operation, and Pearson, who had loaned money to the Association, was forced to declare personal bankruptcy.
In 1931, Paul M. Pearson was appointed by President Herbert Hoover to serve as the first civilian governor of the Virgin Islands. The U.S. had purchased the Islands in 1917 from Denmark in order to establish a navy base in the Caribbean. Pearson was considered a non-partisan appointment, but soon became embroiled in Island and Washington politics which lead to charges of mismanagement. In 1935 President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him to the post of Assistant U. S. Housing Director in charge of public housing, then a very new government program. He died on March 26, 1938, while on a business trip to California to urge passage of a law to permit public housing in that State.