Knight, Frank H. (Frank Hyneman), 1885-1972

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1885-11-07
Death 1972-04-15
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Born on November 7, 1885 in White Oak Township, McLean County, Illinois, Frank Hyneman Knight's early years were spent engaged in the work of his family's farm. At the age of twenty he finally began his post-secondary education, attending first American University in Harriman, Tennessee. Knight's first contact with the University of Chicago occurred during these early years: in the Summer Quarter of 1906 he took a mathematics and two upper-level physics courses at the University, garnering a recommendation from Richard Millikan, winner of the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physics.

American University closed in 1907, and Knight consequently enrolled in Milligan College in Elizabethton, Tennessee where he served as college secretary, taught secretarial subjects, and graduated in 1911 with a Bachelor of Philosophy degree. That same year, he married his classmate, Minerva Shelburne, from Pennington Gap, Virginia, with whom he had four children. The couple divorced in 1928.

From Milligan College, Knight went on to the University of Tennessee where he earned a Bachelor and Master's degree in 1913. Knight pursued doctoral studies at Cornell University from 1913 to 1916. Granted a fellowship in philosophy and political science, he switched to economics after one year. Studying under Alvin S. Johnson, Allyn A. Young, and Walter Wilcox, Knight completed his doctorate in 1916. His dissertation on the theory of business profit won second prize in the Hart, Schaffner and Marx essay competition in 1917, and was published in 1921 as Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit. It remains Knight's most famous work.

The majority of Frank H. Knight's professional career and the second half of his life are closely identified with the University of Chicago. Knight accepted an appointment for two years (1917-1919) at the University of Chicago as an instructor in Political Economy.

During these two years, Knight established life-long friendships with several of the leading economists of his generation, including Clarence Ayres (then a graduate student in Philosophy), Harold Innis (also a graduate student), and John Maurice Clark (Professor of Political Economy and supervisor of Knight's revisions of Risk, Uncertainty and Profit).

Unable to secure a permanent place in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Chicago, Knight left in 1919 for the (then State) University of Iowa, where he wrote a string of influential articles, translated Max Weber's General Economic History (1927), and proceeded rapidly through the academic ranks, achieving tenure and full professorship in 1922. He was courted by the University of Michigan as a replacement for F.O. Taylor, but declined, and served as an editor of the American Economic Review from 1927 to 1929.

While at Iowa, Knight returned to Chicago to teach courses during the Summer Quarters of 1920 (Advanced Economic Theory-co-taught with J.M. Clark-and History of Economic Thought), 1921 (Value Theory and Programs of Social Reform), and 1927 (Theory of Wages-co-taught with Paul Douglas-and History of Economic Thought). When John Maurice Clark departed from the University of Chicago in 1927, Knight was the obvious replacement. He received an invitation to join the University's department of economics as Professor of Economics shortly after. In 1928, after a year of transition during which he taught in both Chicago and Iowa City, Knight established himself in Chicago, and joined Jacob Viner as co-editor of the Department of Economics' Journal of Political Economy (JPE). The two steered the JPE for seventeen years, during which time it became one of the premier journals of the economics profession. Viner departed Chicago in 1946, but Knight remained for the rest of his career.

In 1929 he married Ethel Verry. Raised in Iowa City and a graduate of the University of Iowa, Verry worked with the Chicago Orphan Asylum for several years, and in 1928 became its superintendent. The Knights set up home in Hyde Park, close to both of their work. Two children were born in the 1930s. Ethel Verry Knight continued to work as superintendent and then executive director of the Chicago Orphan Asylum (renamed the Chicago Child Care Society in 1949) until her retirement in 1963. Until the early 1950s, she was also an Assistant Professor of Child Welfare in the University's School of Social Service Administration.

Knight was initially appointed to teach courses in the history of economic thought and on the relationship between economics and social policy, as well as to develop a course in historical or institutional economics. Although he did develop the course in institutional economics (Economics 304/5) and always taught history of economic thought, Knight gradually took on other teaching responsibilities that reflected his changing interests. He lectured in economic theory when Jacob Viner was unavailable (which was frequently during the 1930s), led seminars in economic history (including a seminar on the work of Max Weber in 1935), and eventually co-taught his course in economics and social policy in conjunction with Charner Perry from the Philosophy department. He also lectured regularly in Divisional courses for undergraduates. The latter developments, along with his participation in the founding of the Committee on Social Thought in the early 1940s, marked his growing interest in ethics and social philosophy. This led to his cross-appointment as Professor of Social Science in 1942 and Professor of Philosophy in 1945. He was named the Morton D. Hull Distinguished Service Professor in 1946.

Knight was vice-chairman of the American Council of Learned Societies in 1942. He was awarded the honorary degree of Litt.D. at Princeton University in 1946. In 1950 he served as president of the American Economic Association. He was elected a foreign member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in 1965.

Knight officially retired in 1951, although he continued to teach regularly in Economics and Philosophy under a five-year post-retirement contract. He also attended seminars organized by the Committee on Social Thought until the early 1960s. Knight died on April 15, 1972 in Chicago.

From the guide to the Knight, Frank Hyneman. Papers, 1908-1979, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)

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