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Scott Nearing Papers

Identifier: SCPC-DG-124

Scope and Contents

The Scott Nearing papers contain working outlines and manuscripts for writing projects such as books, pamphlets, and articles, both published and unpublished, outlines for lectures, and also biographical material, speeches, and a classified card file.

The bulk of the Nearing papers are different versions of working manuscripts for books, many with corrections by Nearing, his wife Helen, or others. Two books which were published are The Making of a Radical: A Political Autobiography (1972) and Civilization and Beyond - Learning from History (1975). The SCPC Library has other books written by Nearing including Living the Good Life (1954) co-authored by Helen Nearing and books about Nearing. Published materials also include articles written by Nearing for TASS and Izvestia, the serial publication World Events (1943 1953), and a pamphlet series, published by the Social Science Institute in Harborside, Maine, operated by the Nearings. Subjects about which Nearing kept files include many general topics dealing with the economy, war, revolution, U.S. imperialism, capitalism, public opinion, education, and social justice. More specific subjects about which he lectured and collected material include China and Latin America. The biographical section contains newsclippings and articles (1909- 1987) about both Scott and Helen Nearing. Nearing's dismissal from the Wharton School in 1915 for his views on child labor and other economic issues, his trial in 1918 by the Federal government for anti-war sentiments, and the Nearings' homesteading years are described in these articles. A 3 by 5 inch card file contains notes, quotations, mounted clippings from various sources, and annotated bibliographic citations arranged by subject according to a numerical system. A separate series of materials consists of the files of Dr. Jack Livingston of Duquesne University (Acc. 97A-007). Dr. Livingston met Scott and Helen Nearing when he began researching Scott Nearing's life. This material consists of a three-volume, unpublished biography of Scott Nearing titled "Scott Nearing: His Struggle With Conscience," research notes written by Jack Livingston, photocopies of books, pamphlets, articles written by and about Scott and Helen Nearing, and photographs of the Nearings and their farm in Maine. There is also a small amount of biographical material about Jack Livingston.

In 2016 photocopies of Nearing correspondence, dating from 1913-1983 were donated to the Peace Collection by family members. It is unclear if the originals of this correspondence were already housed at another institution.


  • Creation: 1909-1994
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1915-1975


Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Physical Access Note

All or part of this collection is stored off-site. Contact Swarthmore College Peace Collection staff at at least two weeks in advance of visit to request boxes.

Conditions Governing Use


Historical Note

Scott Nearing was the oldest of six children, and born on Augustust 6, 1883, in Morris Run, Pennsylvania. He elected to attend the Central Manual Training High School in Philadelphia instead of Central High School because it "linked practice with theory." He did both his undergraduate and graduate work at the Wharton School of Finance and Economy of the University of Pennsylvania. He received his Ph.D. in economics there in 1909. Nearing taught economics at the Wharton School starting in 1906. He became interested in child labor law and served as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Child Labor Committee from 1905 until 1907. Finding his public lectures on child labor and his radical economic views incompatible with funding efforts, the trustees at the University of Pennsylvania dismissed Nearing in June 1915. His dismissal became a celebrated case and a landmark in the struggle for academic freedom. While teaching at the Wharton School, Nearing also taught for several years, beginning in 1908, at Swarthmore College. In 1916, Nearing began teaching at the University of Toledo but was fired in 1917, this time because of his anti-war sentiments. In 1917, Nearing published a pamphlet titled The Great Madness in which he exposedwar as "a big business murder game". He was arrested and indicted by the Federal Government under the Espionage Act for obstructing recruiting and enlistment into the service. He was acquitted in February 1919. Unable to find work in the academic world, Nearing supported himself by lecturing and free-lance teaching and writing. He became known as he ran for Congress on the Socialist ticket against Fiorello LaGuardia and debated the famous lawyer Clarence Darrow. He was a dues-paying member of the Socialist Party from 1917 until 1922. In 1927, Nearing joined the Communist Party but resigned early in 1930 when his views diverged from standard Leninist theory. He travelled abroad, living and studying in Germany during the late 1920s and early 1930s. He was living in Kiel in 1933 when Hitler came to power. Returning to the United States, Nearing became increasingly disillusioned and ashamed of Americans who, he felt, no longer practiced cooperation or valued the work ethic. Rather, he saw class-divided communities whose governing principle seemed to be "you work - I eat." The bombing of Hiroshima which ended World War II led Nearing to dissociate himself from the U.S. government. Nearing and his first wife, Nellie Seeds, with whom he had two sons, separated. After her death, he married Helen Knoethe, also a pacifist and vegetarian like himself, and, in 1932, they purchased a small farm near Stratton Mountain in Vermont where they grew their own food and undertook a successful maple sugaring operation. Nineteen years later, when the ski resort moved near them and they felt too engrossed in their sugaring business, they moved to Harborside, Maine, on Penobscot Bay. Here they built their own stone house and began subsistance farming, growing their own food organically and buying only one dollar's worth of goods for each four consumed. The Nearings practiced fasting and abstained from using any habit-forming substance. They set an example of homesteading that drew interest and visits from many. In 1954, they co authored the book Living the Good Life. The profits were used to publish and distribute Nearing's less-read books and pamphlets about his political and economic philosophies. In 1972, Scott Nearing completed and published his autobiography, The Making of a Radical: A Political Autobiography. The Nearings continued to travel many months of the year during which Scott lectured and they distributed his literature. They worked together until shortly before the end of Nearing's life on Augustust 24, 1983, at age 100. Helen Nearing resided in Harborside, Maine until her death in 1995 in a car accident.


12.9 linear ft. (31 boxes)


Scott Nearing was a lecturer, writer, and free-lance teacher who lived and taught pacifist and environmentalist principles.


The guiding principle in arranging the papers of Scott Nearing was to retain as much of the original order as possible. Since he was a meticulously orderly person, this was not difficult. He kept material together by subject in yellow envelopes, described in the checklist as "files." Each of these is in a separate folder. Sometimes there were other envelopes of material inside the first which were placed in the same folder. Nearing often held pages together with rubber bands or paper clips. In the interest of preservation, these were replaced with plastic clips or paper folders.

Nearing carefully dated almost every page he created. The files themselves were arranged in chronological order by the date(s) of material found inside. When original documents with different dates were together in one file, the earliest date was used. The "data" files found at the beginning of Series VI were numbered according to a subject classification Nearing used. These are in order by that number rather than by the earliest date within. Newsclippings, usually annotated, were not reproduced onto acid-free paper at this time. They were enclosed in acid-free paper when feasible and left in their original location. The 3 by 5 inch card files were cleaned. In this one instance, rubber bands and paper clips were removed but not replaced. The cards are in the order in which they were found, arranged by Nearing's own classification system. Series VIII consists of the files of Dr. Jack Livingston. These materials are arranged, but not completely processed. There may be some duplication between this series and other sections of the collection. Series IX consists of photocopies of Nearing correspondence and are listed as Acc. 2016-076. The correspondence is arranged chronologically, although correspondence with Bobbie Harms, is arranged (chronologically), but after other correspondence. Miscellaneous items, collected by the Peace Collection, are listed in "Refile folders" in Box 2 of Acc. 2016-076.

Duplicates were removed when found. There are three boxes of files in acid-free and original folders, and two boxes of file cards. Photographs originally found with this accession were removed to the Photograph Collection. Books that came with this accession were integrated into the Book Collection.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Scott and Helen Nearing (1980) Acc.80A-072; Eileen Livingston (1997) Acc. 97A-007; Randall C. Rolfe (2016) Acc. 2016-076.

Related Materials

Nearing's papers dealing with environmental issues are housed at Boston University. An item checklist of these documents can be found with the Nearing papers.

Separated Materials


Legal Status

Copyright to these Scott Nearing Papers created by the donors has been transferred to the Swarthmore College Peace Collection. Copyright to all other materials is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Processing Information

Processed by and finding aid prepared by Martha P. Shane (March 1988); new accession processed by and finding aid revised by Wendy E. Chmielewski (February 1997). This was revised by Anne Yoder (December 2002); a new version of finding aid was made by Wendy E. Chmielewski (June 2009); updated finding aid September 2016 by Jake Stattel and Wendy E. Chmielewski.

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2018: The file list was standardized in Summer 2017 by Min Cheng in preparation for importing into ArchivesSpace. Elisabeth Miller added the notes in Fall 2017. This finding aid was updated by Wendy E. Chmielewski, January 2020.

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 Swarthmore College Peace Collection Library

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