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 Record Group
Identifier: RG 23/D11/01

Rutgers College Department of English, 1940-1968 Records


  • 1940-1968
  • 1940-1968
  • 1940-1967
  • 1949-1967
  • 1940 to 1966
  • 1940-1968
  • 1940-1967
  • 1949-1967

Scope and Content Note

The English Department at Rutgers College generated records focused on the faculty, graduate students, and clerical workers on staff from 1940-1968 . Included in the material for this collection are the papers of Deans Harry G. Owen, Albert E. Meder, Chairmen J. Milton French, Rudolf Kirk and English Department records for individual faculty, staff and students. The majority of the folders date from the 50s and 60s during the department's expansion. Since Rutgers College was all male, most files consist of male faculty; there are only a few female faculty, part time staff and clerical workers among the files. Much of the documentation shows that male graduate students and staff were veterans and recipients of the G.I. Bill. They came from prestigious institutions throughout the United States with a large number born in New York and New Jersey. Some graduate students and staff used Rutgers to gain experience and credentials before moving back to their alma maters. English Department Records are primarily, correspondence between the administration and faculty generated by Owen, Meder, French and Kirk and others.

The English Department maintained records about events and programs going on within the department and for activities related to the department. All of the files were updated regularly from 1940-1967 with both professional and personal information about the people and events in question. Through a wide variety of documentation, including correspondence (many letters are labeled as "copies," instead of originals), resumes, transcripts, syllabi, blueprints, reference letters, publications, and newspaper clippings, the collection gives an impression of the climate of the English department during the time period. Among the events mentioned were a new building for the department and had inter-visitation programs with other schools. An honor society was maintained, and committees and conferences were held to discuss ways to improve teaching in various colleges, as well as in area high schools. There were efforts to revise and improve the English curriculum in order to improve student education.


12 manuscript boxes

Language of Materials

Undetermined .


Collection is open for research. Collection is partially processed. Please contact Rutgers University Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives, regarding availability for research use.


The Rutgers College Department of English maintained extensive files on all of its employees and students from 1940-1968, many of whom were people recently discharged from the military. These folders contain personnel and personal information, as well as committee records and statistical data. Files of the department Chairmen J. Milton French and Rudolf Kirk and Deans Harry G. Owen and Albert E. Meder are part of the collection. These files document important events in the history of the department. The information contained in them gives a picture of who was working and studying in the Rutgers English Department from 1940-1968, some of the social issues of the time, and the development of the department.

<emph render="bold">Administrative History of the English Department at Rutgers College</emph>

Rutgers was one of the first American universities to establish English as a discipline of study. While courses in English initially focused on rhetoric, as the nineteenth century progressed, the study of literature was integrated into the curriculum as well. By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, students could earn a bachelor's degree in English.

After World War I, Rutgers modified its standards to attract more students. The English Department made changes as part of the effort. It offered new practical courses such as composition, as well as new electives. In 1928, the department established its own graduate courses and by 1933 the faculty had created a Master's degree program. Part of the transformation can be attributed to Charles Huntington Whitman, the department chair, who decided to change the curriculum to match the change in the school. Antiquated theoretical courses like "rhetoric" were replaced with the much more practical "composition," during his tenure, which would eventually become a requirement even for students with majors other than English. Class offerings expanded to include American literature and literary criticism.

In the wake of Whitman's sudden death in 1938, J. Milton French, a John Milton scholar from Queens College in New York was hired as Chair. Concern for literary giants such as Milton continued, as evidenced throughout this collection, when hiring was discussed.

After World War II, enrollment at Rutgers suffered a large drop, but the G.I. Bill helped change that significantly in 1944. New campuses were created and teachers were hired. French helped refine the curriculum, adding new courses, as well as the Freshman Writing requirement for all students to improve incoming students' writing skills and more literature courses for non-majors. The school began to require faculty to produce research excellence instead of just teaching excellence in order to be promoted. Finally, in 1947, the PhD in English program was offered for the first time.

In response to increasing enrollment from the G.I. Bill, French hired more full-time teachers, increasing the number of faculty from ten in 1945 to thirty-five in 1947. In 1955, Rutgers saw another increase in enrollment and a need for more faculty. French worked hard to hire dedicated and knowledgeable faculty, although budget restraints meant he could not always offer a competitive salary. French was insistent that faculty members research and publish in order to obtain tenure. Until 1960, while he was Chair, French and faculty published 40 books, more than 300 articles, and 200 other works.

As the postwar enrollment numbers again began to decline, and the faculty was reduced to keep pace with the trends of the time. Challenges for J. Milton French, his faculty, and his staff continued throughout the time period covered by this collection. Rudolf Kirk followed J. Milton French as Chair of the department. During Kirk's tenure, Rutgers College saw a change in applicants, including more women applying for graduate programs. Budget concerns, meant the department could not afford to pay prospective faculty as much as requested. However, some applicants were willing to take less money because academic positions were not as widely available.

From the mid 1940s to the mid 1960s, Harry G. Owen, of the English Department, served as the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. His correspondence with administration and faculty were primarily between J. Milton French and Rudolf Kirk. French, who was Chairman for the English Department for twenty years, was also Chair of the Council Committee on Educational Polices for ten years. Rudolf Kirk taught for 35 years and was Chairman for the English department for the last 3 years of his career. Albert E. Meder, Jr. whose papers are also included served as acting Dean of Administration from 1945 through 1968.

Note: For a comprehensive history of the English Department at Rutgers from its founding to the late 1950s, see "A History of Rutgers English" on the English department Web site. Materials from Special Collections and University were consulted in the writing of this six part series which was prepared for the Friends of Rutgers English Newsletter.


The files are arranged into five series:

  1. I. Data Records of the English Department, 1954-1965
  2. II. Papers of Dean Harry G. Owen, 1952-1965
  3. III. Departmental Records, 1946-1967
  4. IV. Staff, Faculty, and Student Files, 1940-1966
  5. V. Subject Files, 1942-1968

The folders are organized alphabetically by last name where appropriate. Folders are labeled with the staff member's position: faculty member, Graduate Assistant, or clerical, and the dates. The documents within are organized chronologically.

Arrangement Note: The original folders were maintained, with only a few changes made. Folders were added to Boxes 10 and 11 to accommodate the photographs and restricted materials removed from other folders. Finally, the contents of each folder were put into chronological order, with the newest items toward the front. This was in line with the original organization, but required some items to be shifted slightly.

Inventory to the Records of the Rutgers College Department of English, 1940-1968 RG 23/D11/01
Edited Full Draft
Robert Bee, Nathalia Bermudez, Kimberly Garnick, and Jennifer Levine
December 2007
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.

Part of the Rutgers University Archives Repository

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