Skip to main content

Paul M. Pearson (Paul Martin) Papers

Identifier: SFHL-RG5-121

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.


  • Creation: 1890-2011 (bulk 1890-1938)


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Some of the items in this collection may be protected by copyright. The user is solely responsible for making a final determination of copyright status. If copyright protection applies, permission must be obtained from the copyright holder or their heirs/assigns to reuse, publish, or reproduce relevant items beyond the bounds of Fair Use or other exemptions to the law. See

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.


11 linear ft. (22 boxes)

Language of Materials



Paul M. Pearson (1871-1938) was a noted Quaker educator, editor, and speaker, a professor of Public Speaking at Swarthmore College, the first civilian governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, an assistant director of the U.S. Housing Authority, and a leading founder and executive in the Chautauqua movement. The collection contains biographical and genealogical materials, personal correspondence (1894-1938), writings (published and manuscript), 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.


The collection is divided into seven series:

  1. Biographical and genealogical
  2. Personal correspondence, arranged chronologically
  3. Writings, manuscript and printed
  4. Swarthmore Chautauqua
  5. National Community Foundation and Oglebay Park and Institute
  6. Virgin Islands
  7. Miscellaneous, including Pearson's work as Assistant Director of Housing and memorabilia.

Physical Location

For current information on the location of materials, please consult the Library's online catalog

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donor: Barbara Pearson Lange and Ellen Pearson Fogg, daughters of Paul Pearson, 1972-1978

Donor: Additional Chautauqua pictures, gift of Alice S. Jenkins, 1978

Donor: Additional essays and photo albums, gift of Julie Hall, 2004

Donor: Barbara and David Grove, 2011

Related Materials

See also:

  1. RG 5 Charles F. Jenkins Papers, Ser.1, Box 1, folder: Paul Pearson (includes excerpts from a history of the Danish West Indies)
  2. See Also: RG4, Friends Historical Library, Tolles Papers, Ser.8.
  3. See also Edith Williams Way, Chautauqua notebook and daily program, 1914, RG 6, Swarthmore College Archives

Separated Materials

Transcriptions of the Virgin Island family letters have been bound and catalogued with FHL books.

Pictures were transferred to FHL Pictures, Pearson Family

The following material, originally part of the collection, has been removed and recatalogued with FHL books:

  1. Morally We Roll Along, Gay Mac Laren, Boston, Little Brown and Co., 1938.
  2. Culture Under Canvas: The Story of Tent Chautauqua, by Harry P. Harrison as told to Karl Detzer, Hastings House, Publishers, New York, 1958.
  3. Swarthmore Chautauqua: An Adult Education Enterprise, by George J. Dillavou, Ph.D. dissertation, Dept. of Education, University of Chicago, March 1970.

Processing Information

Processed by FHL staff in 1973. Chautauqua photographs given to FHL in 1978 by Alice S. Jenkins were added to this collection.

With the gift of transcripts of the Virgin Island letters in 2011, FHL staff determined to correct the storage of earlier processing and additions. In 2012, the collection was rehoused in acid-free folders and a more detailed inventory created. Photographs were consolidated and transferred to FHL Picture Collections.

Pearson's correspondence while Assistant Director for Housing was integrated into Ser. 1: Personal Correspondence because it overlaps with correspondence previously filed in that series. Ser. 7: Miscellaneous combines memorabilia, reference material collected by Pearson for his lectures, and papers concerning his son, Drew Pearson, compiled by the donors.

An Inventory of the Paul M. Pearson Papers, 1890-2011 (bulk 1890-1938)
FHL staff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Encoding made possible by a grant by the Gladys Kriebel Delmas Foundation to the Philadelphia Consortium of Special Collections Libraries

Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting repoductions from Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College Library

500 College Avenue
Swarthmore Pennsylvania 19081 USA