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Hamlin Garland: Hamlin Garland and the University of Southern California

Information about the noted American author and his papers, housed in USC Libraries Special Collections.

Hamlin Garland and the University of Southern California

When, against all odds, the "Son of the Middle Border" moved to Los Angeles in 1931 to live out his retirement years, he set in motion a close relationship with the University of Southern California, terminated only by the author's death ten years later.

Always proactive where the library was concerned, then-President Rufus B.on KleinSmid lost no time in inviting Garland to join him for lunch and a chance to meet with faculty.

Afterward, Garland accompanied the President for a tour of the just-completed Main Library, "this noble library given by Doheny the oil man, a magnificent home for books," as Garland wrote in his diary. 

In the years following, Garland was a frequent visitor on the campus, lecturing before classes in American Literature, for whom he represented a living link to the world of Whitman, Twain, Henry James, Howells, and Stephen Crane, all of whom he had known in his younger years. 

In November 1935, Garland received an honorary doctorate from the University, and the following spring he was initiated into honorary membership in the Phi Beta Kappa society.

On these occasions, the library hosted exhibits of Garland's books and papers, smoothing the way for their eventual transfer to the University, where they would become one of the cornerstones of the American Literature Collection. 

Following one of his talks before students, faculty, library staff and friends in 1936, after reminiscing about writers he had known, Garland went home and wrote in his diary: 

[May 12, 1936] The exhibition of my memorabilia at the Doheny almost convinced me that I was the one who had written nearly fifty books. Here in a beautiful room I saw evidence of the comradeship of great men and noble women. I had no notion that I was to be given this authors' "treasure room" for my display. "The University is disposed to honor me, and I can not fail of full cooperation," I said to [Professor] Greever when he asked if I would address the students and friends of the library. So after the introductory meeting in the treasure room, I went below and spoke in a hall, paying tribute to a dozen or more of my friends of long ago. I considered it a pleasure as well as duty to recall and praise them.

Garland spoke again in 1939 for the inauguration of the American Literature Collection. It was a final opportunity to invoke the spirit of the westward movement in literature. In March of 1940, a few days prior to a planned English Department lecture on Whitman and Sidney Lanier, the author succumbed to a cerebral stroke at his home in the Laughlin Park area of Hollywood, a few months short of his eightieth birthday. 

Although Garland had occasionally expressed a wish that his papers might reside somewhat closer to the Midwestern regions that had given them life, he entrusted the final disposition to Mrs. Garland. In the months to come. the University negotiated with his widow and his two daughters for transfer of the author's books, manuscripts and voluminous correspondence to the library's collections. Upon receipt, the collection was described as "36 steel letter files, 43 cardboard boxes, and numerous manila envelopes [containing] correspondence, photographs, clippings and various business papers." 

Some years were still to pass before the Hamlin Garland papers were fully organized and indexed. This project went forward under the direction of Professor Bruce R. McElderry, and was largely the work of librarian Lloyd A. Arvidson. In 1962 Arvidson's Checklist of the Hamlin Garland Papers in the University of Southern California Library appeared in printed form along with an array of Centennial Tributes to Garland from many friends and associates who had responded to Arvidson's call for recollections and testimonials. The finding aid for the Hamlin Garland Collection can be accessed through the Online Archive of California.