Plimpton, George A. (George Arthur), 1855-1936Variant names
George A. Plimpton (1855-1936) was a member of the first Board of Trustees of Barnard College. He served as Treasurer from 1893 until his death. Plimpton was the primary fundraiser for Barnard. He was born at Walpole, Mass. After graduating Amherst College, he moved to New York where he worked as a salesman for Ginn and Heath, textbook publishers. In 1914 he became head of the firm. His interest in education and textbooks led him to establish a collection of textbooks dating from the middle ages. The collection, especially strong in mathematic texts was donated to Columbia University at his death. He was succeeded on the Board of Trustees by his son, Francis T. P. Plimpton.
From the description of George Arthur Plimpton papers, [ca. 1889-1936]. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 298686797
George Arthur Plimpton was born in Walpole, Mass., in 1855. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy (1873) and Amherst College (1876). After one year at Harvard Law School (1877), he began as a salesman in the educational publishing house of Ginn and Heath, becoming a member of the firm in 1882. In 1914 he became head of the firm, renamed Ginn and Company, and was active in it until 1931. An avid collector of rare books and historical manuscripts, Plimpton was active on the boards of many educational and cultural organizations throughout his lifetime. At Amherst College he served as Trustee, 1890-1895 and 1900-1936, and was President of the Board from 1907 until his death in 1936.
From the guide to the Materials related to the Dedication of the Amherst Building at Doshisha University, 1935-1936, 1935, (Amherst College Archives and Special Collections)
George Arthur Plimpton
The assembler of this collection, George Arthur Plimpton (AC 1876; 1855-1936) was a publisher, author and collector of books and manuscripts. He attended Philips Exeter Academy, Amherst College and Harvard Law School. He served as a Trustee at Amherst College (1890-95, 1900-36; president of the Board, 1907-36). His collection of manuscripts and books on the history of education was donated to Columbia University in 1936.
French and Indian War
The French and Indian War was the American phase of a worldwide, nine-year war fought between France and Great Britain, 1754-1763. It determined the control of the vast colonial territory of North America. The war began over the specific issue of whether the upper Ohio River valley was a part of the British Empire, and therefore open for trade and settlement by Virginians and Pennsylvanians, or part of the French Empire. Behind this issue, however, was the much larger question of which national culture was to dominate the heart of North America.
Despite a series of military defeats in the first four years of the war, the British and colonial American forces won important victories in 1758 and 1759 against the royal French forces and the various Native Americans allied with them. These victories include battles at Louisbourg, Fort Frontenac, Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga), Crown Point, Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh) and Fort Niagara. The culmination came with the British victory in Quebec at the Plains of Abraham (September 13, 1759), where the French were forced to surrender. A year later, Montreal and the whole of New France had fallen, and most French and British military conflict on the North American continent had ceased. By the Treaty of Paris (February 10, 1763), France ceded its territory on mainland North America east of the Mississippi River (including Canada) to Great Britain; Spain ceded Florida to Britain but in return received the Louisiana Territory (i.e., the western half of the Mississippi River basin) and New Orleans from the French.
[Source used: "French and Indian War." Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, 2010. Web. 4 Jan. 2010. http://search.eb.com/eb/article-9035340 ]
Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst (1717-1797), first gained fame as an officer in the British Army during the French and Indian War. As commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America, he led the British to notable victories at Louisbourg, Quebec City and Montreal. From 1760 to 1763 Amherst was also the first British Governor General in the territories that eventually became Canada. (It is in honor of General Amherst that the Town of Amherst, Massachusetts was named when it was incorporated in 1759; Amherst College derives its name from the town.)
From the guide to the Plimpton Collection of French and Indian War Items, 1670-1934, 1730-1815, (Amherst College Archives and Special Collections)
Collector, publisher, trustee, and philanthropist.
Plimpton collected manuscripts and early books of an educational nature, Italian literature, and Americana.
From the description of George A. Plimpton collection of portraits, ca. 1550-1920. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 606938741
Plimpton (Amherst College, A.B., 1876) was President of the Board of Trustees at the time of the dedication of the Amherst Building at Doshisha University. The Amherst Building was a gift to Doshisha from Amherst College. Plimpton served on the Board of Trustees of the College from 1890-1895, 1900-1936 and was President of the Board, 1907-1936. He was head of Ginn and Co., 1877-1936.
Doshisha University was founded in 1874 by Joseph Hardy Neesima (AC, Class of 1870) in Kyoto, Japan. The dedication of the Amherst Building came during the celebrations surrounding the 60th anniversary of the University.
From the description of Dedication of the Amherst Building at Doshisha University, 1935. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 53862923
Collector, publisher, trustee, and philanthropist.
Plimpton collected manuscripts and early books of an educational nature, Italian literature, and Americana.
From the description of George A. Plimpton papers, 1600-1940? (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 298686874
In his July 1936 obituary, the New York Times described George Arthur Plimpton (13 July 1855-1 July 1936) as an "internationally known publisher and collector, college trustee and philanthropist." As the materials in the George A. Plimpton Papers testify, those four areas of activity dominated Plimpton's public and private lives.
Plimpton worked as a publisher for most of his adult life. Graduating in 1873 from Phillips Exeter Academy, he pursued undergraduate studies at Amherst College. An admittedly unexceptional student, Plimpton graduated from Amherst in 1876 before studying law at Harvard University for one year. The summer before enrolling at Harvard, Plimpton sold textbooks on commission for Ginn and Heath, a Boston-based publishing firm known for their emphasis on classics as well as their attractive layouts and illustrations. Plimpton had made the acquaintance of company founder Edwin Ginn (1838-1914) through Melvil(le) Dewey (1851-1931), an Amherst alumnus (class of 1874) who advocated for the use of the metric system and had devised an innovative decimal system for cataloguing library materials. Dewey temporarily had given Ginn exclusive publishing rights to both sets of materials. After leaving Harvard in 1877, Plimpton considered teaching history and political science but ultimately took a permanent job offer from Ginn. Plimpton rose to junior partner status by 1881, and when the Amherst-graduate Daniel Collamore Heath (1843-1908) withdrew from the firm in 1885, Plimpton became a founding partner of the rebranded Ginn and Company
With Ginn managing the firm's Boston headquarters and Plimpton managing its fledging New York office, Ginn and Company competed with the American Book Company conglomerate throughout the 1890s for status as the leading publisher of schoolbooks in the United States. From at least 1891 on, Edwin Ginn cast the competition as a more than a matter of market share: because an increasingly diverse selection of schoolbooks inevitably would enhance the quality American education, Ginn argued, the American Book Company's monopolistic aspirations threatened American progress.
In both his rhetoric and activities, Plimpton displayed similar assumptions about schoolbooks' ameliorative effect on education and society. Plimpton proved a great proponent, for example, of expanding Ginn and Company's business overseas: if schoolbooks could transform American education, the logic went, so too the worlds'. By the end of the nineteenth century, the company sold books in Japan and the Ottoman Empire; in the twentieth century's first two decades, Plimpton helped open up sales channels in such countries as Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Philippines, China, and England. These international affairs allowed Plimpton to travel not just in Europe, which he visited almost annually from the early 1880s on, but also in South America and what he termed "the Orient." Plimpton's trips often mixed business with both pleasure as well as his various diplomatic and institutional commitments.
Whatever the social benefit of schoolbooks, schoolbook sales produced profits for the partners of Ginn and Company. The concern for profit sometimes ran up against their high-minded assumptions about the books' social benefit: they opposed, for example, a 1912 California amendment that made free textbooks available to primary and grammar schools. But such changes in law ultimately inspired innovation; while the common school movement initially hurt their sales, for example, the company soon worked out textbook adoption contracts with such states as Kansas, Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota. By 1910, Edwin Ginn found himself wealthy enough to largely withdraw from business affairs and establish the International School of Peace (later renamed the World Peace Foundation, perhaps to differentiate it from Andrew Carnegie's competing Endowment for International Peace). When the press reported in 1912 that Ginn had donated one million dollars to his world peace initiatives, one partner wrote a memo to the other partners insisting that the company "make every effort to disabuse the public of the notion that this business is largely profit, and not give them the impression...that it is a source of great wealth to those who are engaged in it."
Where Ginn became known for spending his fortune on peace work, Plimpton became known above all for his collecting of rare books and manuscripts. His collection centered largely on materials related to the history of education, which he often termed "our tools of learning." This interest serviced Plimpton's professional desire to demonstrate that educational textbooks facilitated social progress not just in the present but also in the past and future.
To this end, Plimpton regularly exhibited items from his collection and drew upon the collection to write lectures on the history of education, which he delivered both in the United States and abroad. Plimpton ultimately transformed some of these lectures into two books, The Education of Shakespeare (1933) and The Education of Chaucer (1936). In the preface to the former book, Plimpton described the materials in his collection as "more or less responsible for our present civilization, because they are the books from which the youth of many centuries have received their education." Plimpton also let others make this argument on his behalf. Teachers College's David Eugene Smith (1860-1944), for example, drew upon Plimpton's collection to write Rara Arithmetica (1908), both a history of arithmetic between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries as well as a catalog of Plimpton's books and manuscripts from that period.
By the time of his death, Plimpton owned the world's largest private collection of rare textbooks, manuscripts, pictures, and other artifacts and ephemera. The ephemera included a large collection of cigar-store Indians; the artifacts included miniature portraits of historic figures, a collection of presidential autographs, ancient samples of penmanship, over a dozen medieval hornbooks, and documents related to his interests in slavery, the Civil War, and the French and Indian Wars.
Yet Plimpton's devoted his time not just to publishing and collecting books but also to an extraordinary range of academic and philanthropic institutions. For most of his life, Plimpton served as a trustee of several educational institutions. His career as a trustee began at Phillips Exeter Academy and Amherst College, the institutions that educated him. Plimpton served as an Amherst trustee beginning in 1895, and he served as president of Amherst's board of trustees beginning in 1907.
Committed to the notion that women should receive educations comparable to those of men, Plimpton became treasurer and trustee of Barnard College in 1893, only four years after its founding. He served Barnard for the rest of his life. Drawing upon networking skills honed through his work as a businessman and collector, Plimpton solicited such impressive amounts from the likes of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (1839-1937), and the financier Jacob Schiff (1847-1920) that Edwin Ginn plaintively asked Plimpton in 1913 if Plimpton could "could secure for [the World Peace Foundation] as much as you have secured for Barnard College...What [Carnegie] has done is like a chain around my neck with a millstone hung to it, for the people when I ask for money say, 'Here are the Carnegie millions; why don't you use those?'"
Plimpton's work as a trustee led him not only to raise money on schools' behalves but also to donate generously himself; then as now, trustees often earned such positions because of their personal willingness to support the cause. From around 1904 until the end of his life, Plimpton served as a trustee of the American College for Girls at Constantinople in Turkey (also known as the Constantinople Woman's College and, today, Robert College of Istanbul). In this capacity, Plimpton both contributed to and worked on behalf of the college's various building campaigns. A member of the executive committee for Near East Relief, Plimpton's dedication to bringing that region's peoples from "medievalism to modern times" made him loyal to the college even when the First World War made fundraising difficult and the school's prospects rather grim.
As with his Near East work, Plimpton's pursuit of good diplomatic relations between the United States and Japan helped earn him a position as trustee to Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan. In addition to raising money for the school, Plimpton helped foster ties to Amherst. Construction began on a residence hall named "Amherst House" in 1932.
But Plimpton made his greatest financial contributions to schools in the United States. At Phillips Exeter, for instance, he helped fund the purchase of Philips Church and the construction of the Plimpton Playing Fields. As trustee to Union Theological Seminary, Plimpton helped raise money to commission portraits of Union's past presidents and to construct such buildings as McGiffert Hall, Union's Refectory, and its Social Hall. In exchange for his work, he received a degree of input over the appointment of such faculty as Reinhold Niebuhr.
At nearby Columbia, Plimpton served not as trustee but as president of the Friends of the Library of Columbia University, a group that his friend David Eugene Smith helped found in 1928. Two years later, Columbia created its Rare Books Department, and Smith and Plimpton soon promised to donate their libraries to it. Beginning in 1932, Plimpton kept his library of nearly 20,000 items on deposit at Low Library, including a Babylonian cuneiform tablet as well as several hundred medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. He formally presented the collection the year before he died. Along with Plimpton’s priceless books and manuscripts came his personal and financial correspondence, business records, writings, personal diaries, and historical documents and artifacts. The latter items compose this particular collection. Plimpton's contributions to Columbia earned him an honorary degree in 1929. By the end of his life he possessed an honorary membership in Phi Beta Kappa as well as honorary degrees from the University of Rochester, the University of Richmond, New York University, Amherst, and St. Lawrence University.
To Wellesley College, Plimpton donated a collection of over 900 books and manuscripts of Italian literature. Described at the time as containing "first editions of almost every Italian author, especially from the classical period," the collection allowed Wellesley for a time to claim the largest library of any women's college in the United States and to cast itself as the one of the leading centers of Italian renaissance literature in the world. Plimpton delivered the collection in 1904 but began arrangements for the donation four years earlier in the months immediately following the sudden death of his first wife, Frances Taylor Pearsons Plimpton (1862-1900). An 1884 graduate of Wellesley, Frances's interest in Italian literature accounted for the collection's focus. The gift not only enshrined her memory at an institution whose alumnae association she once led but also ensured George Plimpton's continued connection to her alma mater for the rest of his life.
Plimpton served as a trustee and treasurer trustee not just to colleges but also to a panoply of other organizations and institutions. Plimpton's commitments generally broke down into four main categories. First, Plimpton's peace and humanitarian commitments included Ginn's World Peace Foundation as well as Andrew Carnegie’s Church Peace Union. Headed by William P. Merrill (1867-1954), the minister of New York's Brick Presbyterian Church who eventually presided at Plimpton's funeral, the Church Peace Union used church institutions to promote the cause of world peace. Plimpton also served as treasurer to the American Poets Ambulances in Italy, as trustee to the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship Through the Churches, and as a member of the American Committee on the Rights of Religious Minorities, and the Near East and Serbian Relief Associations.
Finally, Plimpton's interest in political science, history, books, and language made him a patron of such academic organizations as the Historical Societies of Massachusetts and New York, the Grolier Club, the New England Society for the Preservation of Antiquities, the American Antiquarian Society, the New York Academy of Public Education, the American Economic Association, the Modern Language Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He served as treasurer to both the American Philological Association and the American Academy of Political Science; records related to these latter two organizations are located in this collection.
Plimpton's interest in academic affairs led him to found the journal Political Science Quarterly in 1886. Ginn and Company published that journal as well as the Yale Review, the Philosophical Review, the Classical Review, and the American Naturalist. Occasionally taking a hands-on approach to intellectual production, Plimpton not only helped found Columbia's department of political science but also wrote the president of John Hopkins in 1902 to ask why Charles Peirce (1839-1914) had taken so long to complete his anticipated book on logic.
Plimpton often worked out idiosyncratic agreements with loan recipients and other financial consorts; for example, he agreed to let "Louis, the Greek" sell his wares on the sidewalk near Plimpton's house provided Louis kept the street clean, and he promised to pay two women and their families $50 a month in perpetuity as thanks for caring for his son Francis Taylor Pearsons Plimpton (1900-1983). When the elder Plimpton's first wife Frances died within three days of giving birth to their son, Plimpton's busy schedule had forced him to seek assistance with his son's care.
Perhaps because Francis never knew his mother, Plimpton gifted him in 1920 a property located in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Frances's hometown. It was Walpole, not Holyoke, where Plimpton chose to raise Francis. Born and raised in Walpole, a relatively rural town southwest of Boston, Plimpton had grown up on a farm that his family had owned for generations. Yet Plimpton's mother had been forced to sell the farm during his youth after his father's unexpected death in a mill accident. After Francis's birth, Plimpton decided that the farm would provide a much better setting for his child than New York City, and Plimpton accordingly purchased the farm in 1902 from his Uncle David Lewis.
Almost immediately Plimpton set about ensuring that Lewis Farm would function not as a "gentleman's farm" but rather as a working farm. He accordingly hired farm managers, purchased such animals as sheep and a peacock, and wrote to Teachers College in 1912 asking for menus that are "nutritious, satisfying, and economical, and provide a varied diet." In addition to extensive correspondence about the farm's purchase and operations, the Plimpton Papers include a complete inventory taken in 1937 of the house and its outbuildings, including Plimpton's exhibit spaces and study.
From 1902 on, Plimpton split his time between Walpole, New York, and his travels. But Walpole's affairs became increasingly important to him. Some of his activity in Walpole related to business: in 1927, for example, he bought and renovated an historic tavern that once had served as the halfway house for people traveling from Boston to Providence. And in 1903, Plimpton attempted to sell to Walpole electricity from dams that he owned outside the town.
Plimpton tried to lure high-profile visitors to Walpole both for the dedication of the union church as well as for other events. In 1906, for example, he asked then-president Theodore Roosevelt to visit the town for the eightieth birthday of a long-time teacher; in 1924, he asked the bishop of Edinburgh (Scotland), a descendant of Walpole's founder, to visit the town for its 200th anniversary celebration. The extraordinary number of invitations to dinners and ceremonies in Plimpton's papers indicate that he socialized regularly with the wealthy and powerful. But he ultimately drew them to Walpole in large numbers only with his death.
Plimpton died at Lewis Farm on 1 July 1936, near the end of his eightieth year. His family buried him there. Plimpton was survived by his second wife, Fanny Hastings Plimpton (d. 1950), whom he married in Bermuda in 1917, his first son Francis, as well as the two children that he and Fanny had together, Calvin Hastings Plimpton (1918-2007) and Emily Plimpton. None of Plimpton's children worked in publishing or became collectors of any significance. But they did follow Plimpton as institutional trustees and philanthropists.
In describing Plimpton as a "publisher and collector, college trustee and philanthropist," the New York Times summarized his life's work but misconstrued his legacy. To be sure, both Plimpton's publishing and trustee work made undeniable, if unquantifiable, contributions to American education, and his large and small philanthropic initiatives improved the lives of many both in the United States and abroad. But his ultimate legacy lies in his collecting. In addition to conserving and passing on books and manuscripts of tremendous historic significance, his collector's habits ensured that his own papers, artifacts, and ephemera survive today as a treasure trove of information for economic, cultural, material, social, and religious historians alike.
From the guide to the George A. Plimpton Papers, 1634-1956, (Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library, )
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|Walpole (Mass. :Town)|
|New York (State)--New York|
|New York (N.Y.)|
|French and Indian War|
|Ecumenical movement--United States|
|Educational fund raising|
|Authors, American--20th century--Biography|