Scherer, James A. B. (James Augustin Brown), 1870-1944

Alternative names
Birth 1870
Death 1944

Biographical notes:

James Augustin Brown Scherer (aka James A.B. Scherer) was born in Salisbury, North Carolina on May 22, 1870 to the Rev. Simeon Scherer and Harriet Isabella Brown. After earning his bachelor's degree from Roanoke College, Scherer accepted a position teaching English at the Japanese Imperial Government school in Saga, Japan. While serving in this post, he met Bessie Brown, a native of Yamaguchi, Japan, whom he wed on July 5, 1894. He also began a lifelong interest in the Japanese people and culture. Scherer returned to the United States with his new wife the following year, and went on to complete both his master's and doctoral diplomas at Pennsylvania College in 1897. Scherer's work as an educator and administrator began in earnest when he took his first teaching position as a professor of history at the Lutheran Seminary at Charleston, S.C. After seven years teaching, nearby Newberry College offered its vacant presidency to Scherer and he accepted. In 1908, Scherer came west to head the Throop Polytechnic Institute. Throop's board of trustees knew of Scherer's aptitude for organization and fundraising and hired him although had little scientific background or training. Scherer reorganized Throop into a West Coast center of science and an academic powerhouse - renaming it the California Institute of Technology in the process - the following year. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Scherer volunteered to serve as the chief field agent for the state councils' section of the Council of National Defense. In the summer of 1918, Scherer abruptly quit his post when Secretary of War Newton Baker ordered him to cease his criticism of William Randolph Hearst's newspapers, which Scherer had felt harbored pro-German sentiments. Though he remained on as a special representative of the United States Shipping Board, Scherer resigned his primary post on the grounds that Baker's orders infringed on his rights to free speech.

In 1920, Scherer retired from Caltech and spent six years traveling the nation and writing. During this period, he produced a number of books on the history of California. On his return, he became director of the Southwest History Museum at Los Angeles. He continued in this position until 1931, when he made a final voyage to Japan. During these five years, Scherer wrote six books on the Japanese, which garnered him the Imperial Order of the Sacred Treasure - an extraordinary honor - from Emperor Hirohito in 1937. True to his convictions regarding his freedom of speech, however, Scherer returned the medal to the Japanese government a year later when it suppressed his indictment of Japanese imperialism in Japan Defies the World (1938). During World War II, Scherer again offered his services to the war effort. After the entrance of the United States into the war in December 1941, the Office of War Information (OWI) capitalized Scherer's fluency in the Japanese language and his familiarity with the Japanese people, and had the former university president send out bi-weekly short-wave broadcasts across the Pacific Ocean. Once again, Scherer found his participation in the war effort cut short, due not to political disagreements, but to ailing health. Scherer never lived to see the rapprochement between the United States and Japan. He passed away at his home in Santa Monica of a heart defect in February 1944.

From the description of Papers of James Augustin Brown Scherer, 1916-1943 (bulk 1916-1918) (Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens). WorldCat record id: 309932183


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  • Sedition
  • Rationing
  • Medicine, Preventive
  • Draft
  • African Americans
  • Patriotism
  • World War, 1914-1918--Propaganda
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