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MS Am 2375

Hocking, William Ernest, 1873-1966. William Ernest Hocking papers, 1860-1979: Guide.

Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University


Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 USA

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Cataloging of this collection was made possible by funds from Richard Boyle O'Reilly Hocking.

Descriptive Summary

Location: Harvard Depository, b [at MS Storage 194A]
Call No.: MS Am 2375
Repository: Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Title: William Ernest Hocking papers
Date(s): 1860-1979
Quantity: 144 linear feet (110 boxes)
Language of materials: Collection materials are in English.
Abstract: Correspondence, compositions, and papers of Harvard philosopher William Ernest Hocking, his wife, Agnes Hocking, the Hocking family, and others.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

92M-71. Deposited by Richard Hocking, Madison, NH; received: 1979-2000; gift, 1991-2000.
2009M-18. Gift of University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee; received 2009 August 10 (one item in (5630).

Processing Information:

Processed by: Rachelle Friedman, David Hodge, Virginia Hunt, Jennifer D. Jordan, Kathy Lualdi, and Bonnie B. Salt; with the assistance of Vicki Denby and Elena Lisitskaya.

Processing Information:

In 2018, an effort was made to consolidate the William Ernest Hocking Correspondence with a seperated but only partially processed group of his compositions, reference files, and other personal papers, including that of his wife, Agnes Hocking. In this process, the arrangement of the Correspondence was altered. What used to be five series, is now Series I, with five sub-series. The newly added material is represented in Series II through VII. Also, the title of the collection was changed from the William Ernest Hocking Correspondence to the William Ernest Hocking Papers and other descriptive notes were amended as well.
Processing on Series II-VII was partially completed in 2006.
Series II-VII description added to finding aid by Adrien Hilton, 2018.

Conditions Governing Access:

Collection is open for research.
This collection is not housed at the Houghton Library but is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine retrieval policies and times.

Conditions Governing Use:

Images linked to this finding aid are intended for public access and educational use. This material is owned and/or held by the Houghton Library, and is provided solely for the purpose of teaching or individual research. Any other use, including commercial reuse, mounting on other systems, or other forms of redistribution requires the permission of the curator.

Preferred Citation for Publication:

William Ernest Hocking Papers, 1860-1979 (MS Am 2375). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Biographical / Historical

William Ernest Hocking was born on August 10, 1873 in Cleveland, Ohio, son of William Francis Hocking, a homeopathic physician, and Julia Carpenter Pratt. He received his early schooling in Joliet, Illinois, graduating from high school in 1889. From 1889-1893 he worked at a series of jobs -- surveyor, "printer's devil," map maker, and illustrator -- to earn money for college. He entered Iowa State College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts in 1894, intending to be an engineer, but a reading of William James' Principles of Psychology set him on a course to go to Harvard to study with James. He spent four more years saving for Harvard by teaching business mathematics in Davenport, Iowa at Duncan's Business College, then as Principal of School No. 1.
He entered Harvard in the fall of 1899, graduated with an A.B. in 1901, and an A.M. in 1902. Concentrating on philosophy and psychology, he studied with Josiah Royce, George Santayana, George Herbert Palmer, and Hugo Münsterberg, as well as William James. During this period he also had managed a trip to the Paris Exposition in 1900 by hiring aboard ship as a cattleman. In the academic year 1902-1903 he studied in Göttingen, Berlin, and Heidelberg and returned to Harvard and received his Ph.D. in 1904. In the fall of 1904 he became instructor in comparative religion at Andover Theological Seminary and on June 28,1905, he married Agnes Boyle O'Reilly, daughter of poet and Boston Catholic layman John Boyle O'Reilly. The couple honeymooned at the original George Junior Republic community in Freeville, N.Y.
From 1906-1908 Hocking was part of the philosophy department of the University of California, Berkeley, and also served as a volunteer carpenter for the Relief Committee after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. He served as an assistant professor of philosopy at Yale University from 1908-1914 and in 1914 he returned to Harvard where in 1920 he became the Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity.
In the summer of 1916 he enlisted with the Civilian Training Camp at Plattsburgh, New York and in 1917 went to England and France as a member of the first detachment of American military engineers to reach the front during World War. He was appointed inspector of "War Issues" courses in the U.S. Army training camps in the northeast U.S. in 1918.
From 1930-1932 he was chair of a Commission of Appraisal for the Laymen's Foreign Mission Inquiry, which studied the foreign mission work of six Protestant denominations in India, Burma, China and Japan. Hocking was principal author of the much debated report of this commission, Re-Thinking Missions. In 1936 he gave the Hibbert Lectures at Oxford and Cambridge and these were later published as Living Religions and a World Faith (1940). In the late 1930s he was also the Gifford Lecturer at University of Glasgow, Scotland.
Hocking returned to Harvard in 1938 and continued teaching five years past retirement by offering a course in religion and civilization and one in logic for Freshmen. After retirement in 1943, he held guest professorships at the University of Leiden in Holland (1947-1948), at the Goethe Bicentennial in Aspen, Colorado (1949), at Dartmouth College (1949-1950), and at Haverford College (1950-1951).
Hocking was married for 50 years to Agnes Hocking (d.1955) and had three children: Richard Hocking (1906-2001), Hester Campbell (b. 1909), and Joan Kracke (b.1911). He died at his home in Madison, New Hampshire on June 14, 1966. Hocking and his wife Agnes founded the Cooperative Open-Air school in the spring of 1915 located at their home in Cambridge. This school became the Shady Hill School in 1916.
Hocking, a disciple of Harvard philosopher Josiah Royce, was an American idealist philosopher who related idealism and pragmatism in an "Absolute Idealism" grounded in human experience. His writings, which emphasize in particular the religious aspects of philosophy, include: The Meaning of God in Human Experience (1912), Human Nature and Its Remaking (1923), The Lasting Elements of Individualism (1937), Science and the Idea of God (1944), The Coming World Civilization (1956), and The Meaning of Immortality in Human Experience (1957). [Taken from: Rouner, Leroy S., editor. Philosophy, religion, and the coming world civilization. Essays in honor of William Ernest Hocking. The Hague: Martinue Nijhoff, 1966].


The following books concern the life and work of William Ernest Hocking: Gilman, Richard C. The bibliography of William Ernest Hocking, from 1898-1951. Waterville, Me.: Colby College, 1951. Rouner, Leroy S., editor. Philosophy, religion, and the coming world civilization. Essays in honor of William Ernest Hocking. The Hague: Martinue Nijhoff, 1966. [Includes revision of Gilman's 1951 WEH bibliography]. Rouner, Leroy S. Within human experience; the philosophy of William Ernest Hocking. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969.


Materials in Series I, Correspondence, are described at the item level, while materials in Series II-VII are described at the box level. Organized into the following series: Please note that item numbers 2717, 3646, 4647, 5269, 6838, 7372, and 7670 were inadvertently omitted from this finding aid.

Scope and Contents

The WEH general correspondence series includes over 6000 correspondents and reflects all aspects of Hocking's life and work, both professional and personal. Correspondents include: Pearl S. Buck, John Dewey, Edmund Husserl, William James, Carl Jung, Hugo Münsterberg, George Herbert Palmer, Josiah Royce, Alfred North Whitehead, and many others. Correspondence with his wife, Agnes Hocking, is separated into its own sub-series.
Other correspondence sub-series include: letters to and from Agnes Hocking, both her personal and professional interests, including Shady Hill School and her extensive correspondence with writer Clarence Day; Hocking family correspondence; and "Correspondence of others" consisting of third party correspondence gathered from other sections of the papers.

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