News about George R. Stewart – and a new place to buy the GRS biography

“Changed Conditions Ahead”

As summer draws to a close, I’m in transition from a volunteer campground host position to wherever the road leads next. As things transition, George R. Stewart information is on the rise. Here’s some of the latest news:

Dr. Paul F. Starrs, Distinguished Professor of Geography at UNR, has submitted a review/essay about the biography to the national journal of geography reviews. Stewart has a following among geographers, so the article should be well-received. I had the chance to review it, and found it to be quite well-done.

Bill Cassady, who lives in the cabin that GRS used as a combination vacation retreat and “Scholar’s Roost,” has sent an email of interest to GRS scholars. His email included a copy of correspondence with Aldo Leopold’s granddaughter Sarah – Starker Leopold’s daughter – who is a personal friend of the Cassadys. Starker Leopold is highlighted in the GRS bio; he helped GRS in the research for SHEEP ROCK and other books. The information expands on the Leopold – Stewart friendships.

A local bookstore, Bigfoot Books, has become a place for weekly intellectual discussion and the discovery of good books, thanks to its owner, Steven. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend it.

Finally, a small independent bookstore, Zeisings, is actually selling the GRS books in a small but respectable quantity. If you want to buy, I’d urge you to consider buying through them. They offer free shipping. The price is list – a little higher than Amazon but not much – and for that small change I’d strongly recommend them.

Charter Day – George R. Stewart’s follow-up to the Year of the Oath

In one of the most egregious events of the time, the University actually granted an honorary degree to one of those who tried to destroy academic freedom in the University. Although Stewart was one of the most distinguished scholars at the University, and one of the best-known because of his histories and novels, he decided to boycott the Charter Day ceremonies as a protest against the granting of the degree to Sidney Ehrman. He also wrote a letter, sent to the University community, explaining his action.

Here is part of the letter.

I do not wish to walk in the same procession with the majority of those Regents,
whose beliefs and actions I abhor, and especially by walking behind them to
accept symbolically the position of inferiority….
I earned my doctorate by hard work and honest scholarship…. I do not believe
that the professors that once granted me that degree…. would wish me to wear
my academic regalia under such circumstances.

Those who think the purpose of a university is to field a football team would not understand his actions. But any good educator or scholar would.

George R. Stewart, THE YEAR OF THE OATH

After several months, the Earth Abides Project weblog is back. The long “vacation” was necessary as this writer wandered for a time, then settled in to a summer of volunteering as a Camp Host in an isolated Forest Service Campground. But the volunteer summer is ending, so there’s time to write more about George R. Stewart.

The last posts were about Stewart’s magnum opus, EARTH ABIDES. This time, we’ll look at the unplanned book which followed EA soon afterward. It’s a classic study of the battle for academic and personal freedom, entitled THE YEAR OF THE OATH.

EARTH ABIDES ends with a fire sweeping through the post-apocalyptic UC Berkeley campus. It was an unexpected but proper introduction to the events that would lead to Stewart’s oath book. A firestorm of an attack on academic freedom, led by three UC Regents – Bank of America’s Lawrence Giannini, the Hearst papers’ John Francis Neylan, and the Bechtel’s lawyer Sidney Ehrman – hit the campus just as EA was being published. In violation of University Regulation 5, the three demanded that all faculty members sign an anti-communist oath. The faculty successfully fought that requirement, but then the anti-communist oath was added to the employment contract. If faculty did not sign, they would be fired.

Several refused to sign, and were fired – most notably, the brilliant Dr. Edward C. Tolman – whose accomplishments were of great importance to science and education. But Stewart decided to join others in battling the oath. “Sign, stay, and fight!” was their motto. Each of those in opposition brought their particular strengths to the battle. Stewart, the distinguished author, wrote a book.

The book, in Stewart’s elegant prose, told the story of the oath and presented the reasons why it was illegal and therefore opposed by the faculty. Stewart had a widespread popularity with the reading public, so the book became a bestseller. It carried the day – Giannini resigned from the Regents threatening to take up vigilante action against freedom.

The oath was eventually ruled unconstitutional by the California State Supreme Court. Tolman and the others who had been fired were reinstated with back pay. As an act of apology, UC named a building for Tolman.

Stewart paid a price for his part in the battle. His publisher refused to publish OATH. Fortunately, a courageous editor at Doubleday, Howard Cady, convinced his company to publish the book….and, considering the massive sales of the book, that was a good investment by Doubleday.

After OATH, Stewart was wooed by Houghton Mifflin, and left Random House for good.

The book is considered a classic of civil liberties. It’s been reprinted several times, and is often used to encourage others who are fighting for freedom. Stewart had done his job well.

Of course, the attempts to politicize education, and thus weaken, continue unabated. Today there’s everything from “affirmative action” to “diversity” to “sexual harassment” to “terrorism” …. even the “footballization of the American University” … which are too often used to attack the freedom of a particular professor. Stewart would return to this theme in the Era of Movements, in a novel never published.

When THE YEAR OF THE OATH ended, Stewart could again turn to his theme of land and ecology. He began writing a unprecedented novel which readers still debate: Was SHEEP ROCK, Stewart’s attempt to “tell all the things that go to make up a place” a success? Or a brilliant failure?