Correspondence of William Isaac Thomas

An Overview of the Collections

This is the beginning of work on constructing a catalog of Thomas's correspondence held in a number of archives scatters across North America. We began constructing the index when work by Evan Thomas and Harold Orbach suggested that the holding of the University of Chicago's Special Collections were far more extensive, and important, than had been suggested by Morris Janowitz's comments in his 1966 introduction to the his reader. We hope that this will assist others in their research on Thomas's life and work.

At this point, we have only sketchy outlines from the various collections with one exception: the Archives of Oberlin College. The sketches of other archives are provisional. We hope to be able to provide more detailed notes in the near future.

The Archives of Oberlin College, Oberlin Ohio.

This is a small collection of twenty letters, eighteen of which were written by W. I. Thomas. The collection begins in late 1893, documenting some work by Thomas for the College while he was in the graduate program at the University of Chicago. The second part of the collection is number of letters to Wilfred W. Cressy, an instructor at Oberlin College, providing additional details about Thomas's studies abroad, his dissertation defense, and his 1896 trip to Europe. The largest part of the collection bears on Oberlin's support of Thomas's education at the University of Chicago through two loans.

The Archives of the University of Chicago

Scattered through papers of his colleagues at the University of Chicago are several small collections of Thomas's correspondence. This list represents the files known to exist in 2006. We expect the list to grow over the next two years.

Luther Lee Bernard Papers: An early student of Thomas's and chronicler of the history of the development of American Sociology and American Social Psychology, the Bernard papers preserve reminiscences and correspondence with Thomas toward the end of the New York Period.

Samuel Northrup Harper Papers: The son of William Rainey Harper, and noted historian of eastern Europe, S. N. Harper's correspondence with Thomas preserves one of the best records of Thomas's fourth trip to Europe in 1912-13, and the last of the pre-World War I plans for the Helen Culver Fund for Race Relations.

William Rainey Harper Papers: These documents and paired with the Presidential Papers provide essential information about Thomas's move from Oberlin College.

Shailer Mathews Papers: The protegé of Thomas's immediate superior and dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School, the correspondence with Shailer Mathews provides some insight into why Thomas would be viewed by the Board of Trustees as more trouble than he was worth.

Albion Small Papers:  Thomas's role within the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Chicago is largely document through correspondence with the department's Head Professor. This correspondence provides background on Thomas contribution to the evolution of the department and its curriculum.

Dorothy Swaine Thomas Papers:

University of Chicago Presidential Papers: Because of the scandal surrounding Thomas's dismissal, discussions of his role within the University administration has been downplayed. These papers provide important insights into Thomas's role within the University of Chicago community.

University of Chicago Press Papers: Thomas published three books and one pamphlet with the University of Chicago Press. The records of these publication projects provide greater detail of his work at the University of Chicago.

 The Archives of Radcliffe College

The Ethel Sturges Dummer Papers: Ethel Sturges Dummer was patroness to W. I. Thomas during the 1920s. Thomas maintained an active correspondence with her, providing considerable detail concerning his work during the 1920s and early 1930s in New York. Her role in American Sociology, and in Chicago Sociology in particular has been underappreciated. Her collection of Thomas correspondence is the best available record of his life during this period.

The Rockefeller Archive Centre, North Tarrytown, New York.

The Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial Fund Papers:

The Bureau of Social Hygiene Papers: The Bureau of Social Hygiene was one of the earliest Rockefeller projects. During the 1920s, the Bureau employed Thomas on several projects, and retains much of his unpublished work from the period.

The Social Science Research Council Papers: Thomas's work for the Social Science Research Council provided occupied much of his time during the 1930s. At the time of his death, his widow Dorothy Swaine Thomas donated her husband's papers and copyrights to the council. This remains the official archive of his work.

The Jane Addams Papers

A small collection of correspondence letters to Jane Addams, including a series outlining a plan for work on a study of ethnicities mounted through the network of American settlement houses.


Several people have contributed the largest part of the work involved in this project. We would like to thank Dr. Evan Thomas  whose extensive work on Thomas during the 1970s and 1980s has proven invaluable in locating the relevant documents.  We would also like to acknowledge the archivists who have assisted us in constructing this set of letters. At Oberlin College, we are indebted to Tammy L. Martin for her assistance in assembling the documents.

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