1787-1819 Footnotes

The History of English at the University of Pittsburgh, Highlights

Defining Moments

  • 1787 – Founding of the Pittsburgh Academy
  • 1810 – Founding of the student literary society, the Thespians, to be followed by the Philomathean Literary Society, the Irving Society, and the Franklin Society.
  • 1819 – Founding of the Western University of Pennsylvania
  • 1822 – Rev. Joseph M’Elroy is appointed the first Professor of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres at the Western University. He lasts one year. John Henry Hopkins is hired to replace him.
  • 1881 – P.V. Veeder becomes the first Professor of English. His title is “Professor of Logic, Rhetoric, English Literature and History.”
  • 1882 – American literature is brought into the curriculum.
  • 1882 – First designation of a Department of Rhetoric and English Literature.
  • 1895 – Women are admitted to the Western University. One of them, Margaret Stein, wins the Chancellor’s Literature Prize in 1896.
  • 1904 – The university awards its first PhD degrees in English to Thomas Charles Blaisdell (“Composition Rhetoric”) and George William Gerwig (dissertation topic unknown).
  • 1907 – English is defined as a major area of study in the undergraduate curriculum of the College.
  • 1908 – The Western University of Pennsylvania becomes the University of Pittsburgh.
  • 1910 – George William Gerwig teaches the “Art of the Short Story,” the first fiction writing class to be taught at the university. This course is picked up and taught by the next two department chairs, Lincoln Robinson Gibbs and Percival Hunt.
  • 1918 – Sarah Agnes Scutter Neld, Instructor, first woman to join the faculty in English.
  • 1922 – John Bowman, Chancellor, and Percival Hunt, Professor of English, begin to build a large and comprehensive department of English (Composition, Literature, Writing, Speech and Media).     
  • 1924 – Ellen Mary Geyer, first woman to join the tenure track faculty in English; Geyer retires in 1949 as a Full Professor. 
  • 1933 – Emily Irving teaches the first course in Children’s Literature.
  • 1935 – Journalism becomes a “division” of the English department.
  • 1946 – The English department created an undergraduate Writing Major, perhaps the first in the county, and sponsored its first annual Conference for Writers. The curriculum includes a course in “Verse Writing,” the first course in poetry writing.
  • 1948 – Buell Whitehill teaches the first course in Film Studies, “The Motion Picture.”
  • 1948 – First African American PhDs (?), Lewis Henry Fenderson and James Oliver Hopson
  • 1949 – The “Speech Division” of the English department breaks off to become an independent department of Speech.
  • 1959 – The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust gave $12 million to the University to establish ten distinguished professorships and 50 pre-doctoral fellowships. The English department was named as a recipient. The graduate program in English triples in size in the 1960s.
  • 1964 – Linguistics becomes an independent department.


Some Key Figures in English, 1787-1970

  • 1787-1789 – Hugh Henry Brackenridge, judge, author, Principal of the Academy
  • 1823-1831  John Henry Hopkins, Professor of Belles Lettres
  • 1862-1865 – Samuel Findley, First Professor Rhetoric, Western University of Pennsylvania
  • 1866-1882 – Edward Payson Crane, Professor of Rhetoric and Logic
  • 1881-1883 – P.V. Veeder, first Professor of English Literature
  • 1870-1889 – Theodore Moses Barber, Professor of Latin and English Literature
  • 1896-1918 – Alexander Stewart Hunter, Professor of English Literature and Ethics
  • 1910-1922 – Lincoln Robinson Gibbs, becomes Professor of English, Department Head
  • 1922-1948 – Percival Hunt, Professor and Department Head
  • 1923-1936 – Wayland Maxfield Parrish, Professor of Public Speaking, later at the U of Illinois
  • 1929-1968 – Frederick Philip Mayer, English department chair (1941-1948)
  • 1930-19??  Putnam Fennell Jones, Department chair (1948-1954); Dean, Graduate School.
  • 1935-1964 – Agnes Lynch Starrett, Professor of English, Director of the University Press, author of Through 150 Years: The History of the University of Pittsburgh (1937).
  • 1935-1968 – Edwin “Pete” Peterson, central figure in composition and writing, brought considerable national attention to the department and its students.
  • 1937-1968 – W. George Crouch, department chair (1955-1966).
  • 1939-1949 – Buell Whitehill, created significant programs of study in theater, radio, and film; became the first chair of the newly formed Speech dept.
  • 1947-1973 – Charles Crow, important to the development of graduate studies in the 1960s; one of the last to teach literature, composition, and writing.
  • 1949-1973 – Laurence Lee, poet and essayist, was one of the first to be hired to the tenure track for his record as a published writer.  
  • 1953-1991 – Montgomery Culver, lead figure in Writing Program after Peterson retires.
  • 1957-2006 – Richard Tobias,  Victorianist, President of the University Senate.
  • 1958-1987 – Robert L. Gale, Director of Graduate Studies, directed many dissertations in 60s.
  • 1960-1988 – Robert F. Whitman, Department Chair (1967-1973).
  • 1962-1984 – Thomas Philbrick, Americanist, important figure in graduate program in 60s.
  • 1964-1999 – Robert D. Marshall, departmental Coordinator of Innovation, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
  • 1966-present – James F. Knapp, Senior Associate Dean, Deitrich School of Arts and Sciences.
  • 1967-present – Marcia Landy,  Distinguished Professor of English/Film Studies with a secondary appointment in French and Italian, winner Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award, key figure in the development of Women’s Studies and Film Studies in our department.


Selected from a long list of notable students


  • Morgan Neville, author of “The Last of the Boatmen”


  •  Wilkins Tannehill, author of Sketches of the History of Literature from the Earliest Period to the Revival of Letters in the Fifteenth Century


  • William D. Brickell, journalist
  • Charles Romyn Dake, author of A Strange Discovery


  • John Milton Duff, president of the Irving society, Professor of medicine
  • C.V. Thompson, journalist


  • Edward E. Eggers, librarian


  • William A. Johnston, novelist


  • Robert L. Vann, editor of the Pittsburgh Courier
  • Robinson Jeffers, poet
  • Thomas Charles Blaisdell (PhD 1904) one of first two Pitt PhDs in English, President of Alma College, Dean of School of Liberal Arts, Penn State


  • William Hervey Allen, author of Anthony Adverse
  • Marie McSwigan, journalist, author of books for children
  • Elizabeth Levin Stern, author of My Mother and I, a novel of the immigrant experience.


  • Bertram L. Woodruff (BA 1929; MA 1930) taught at Johnson C. Smith University.
  • Mary Martha Purdy (BA 1915, MA 1921), Prof. and department chair, Westminster College.
  • Stanley Burnshaw (BA 1925), poet and critic.
  • Frank D. Curtin (BA 1927, MA??), English department chair at St. Lawrence Univ.
  • Frederick Enos Woltman (BA 1927), Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. 


  • Gladys Schmitt (BA 1932), novelist, Co-Director CMU Writing Program
  • Marie Hochmuth Nichols (BA 1931, MA 1936), Professor of Speech and Rhetoric, U of Illinois    
  • John Gerber (BA 1929, MA 1932) Professor and Dept Chair, U of Iowa, head of Project English, Chair of CCCC, Executive Council MLA, Francis Andrew March award (ADE).
  • Richard Murphy (PhD 1939), Professor of Speech and Rhetoric, U of Illinois
  • Thomas Matthews Pearce, Jr. (MA 1925, PhD 1930) Professor and Department Chair, University of New Mexico
  • Clarke Olney (PhD 1933), Professor, University of Miami.
  • Katherine Gillette Blyley (PhD 1937). Professor and English department chair, Dean, and first woman President (1947-1958) at Keuka College, Canandaigua, NY.


  • Gerald Stern (BA 1947), poet, was not an English major—he majored in Political Science with the thought of becoming a lawyer—but we claim him anyway.
  • Richard Earl Amacher (PhD 1947) Hargis Professor of American literature, Auburn Univ.
  • Thomas Elliott Berry (PhD 1949) director of graduate studies, West Chester Univ.
  • Lewis Henry Fenderson (PhD 1948) journalism faculty, Howard University.
  • Charles Doren Tharp (PhD 1940). Dean of Liberal Arts, Dean of Administration, and Vice President for Academic Affairs, the University of Miami.
  • John Negley Yarnall (PhD 1941) English department chair, Wilson College, Chambersburg, PA.
  • Robert Lewis Zetler (PhD 1944) Director, Division of Language and Literature, U of South Florida.


  • Myron Cope (BA 1951) sports writer, author, voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • Thaddeus Mosley (BA 1950), sculptor
  • Sylvester (Lester) Goran (BA 1951, MA 1961), novelist
  • Jack Gilbert (BA 1954), poet
  • Lloyd Edward Kropp (BA 1957, MA 1962), novelist
  • Arthur P. Ziegler (BA 1958), Founder, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation
  • Peter S. Beagle (BA 1959), novelist
  • Vera Lillian Mowry (PhD 1950), Professor of Theater History, Hunter College
  • Sophia Phillips Nelson (PhD 1951), Professor and English department chair, West Virginia State University
  • George Bleasby (PhD 1952) Professor and English department chair, Westminster College
  • Helen-Jean Moore (PhD 1952), Director of Libraries, Chair of the Liberal Arts, Point Park College.
  • Robert Charles Slack (PhD 1953), Head of the Department of Humanities at Carnegie Tech and, later, head of the CMU Curriculum Center.
  • Donald Eugene Swarts (PhD 1953).  Academic Dean, U of Pittsburgh, Johnstown; President, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, where Swarts Hall bears his name.
  • Samuel John Hazo (PhD 1957).  Poet,  Professor and Associate Dean, Duquesne University; first state poet of the Commonwealth of PA.
  • Lawrence Francis McNamee (PhD 1957), Professor of Literature and Languages at Texas A&M.


  • Ralph G. Johnson (PhD 1961), taught at Le Moyne College, Dillard University, Rust College and retired as a Professor of English from the University of Memphis.
  • Eben Edward Bass (PhD 1962), Chair of the English department at Slippery Rock University, where there is a memorial scholarship in his name.
  • Ronald Burt Ribman (PhD 1963), dramatist, Guggenheim fellow, Obie award winner, Emmy nominee.
  • Albert Schmittlein (PhD 1963), department chair, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Slippery Rock U.
  • Thomas F. Staley (PhD 1963), Professor of English, Director of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, and the Harry Huntt Ransom Chair in Liberal Arts, U of Texas, Austin.
  • Bernard Schroder Adams (PhD 1964), ninth President of Ripon College.
  • John Pierce Watkins (PhD 1964)  English department chair, Vice President for Academic Affairs, President of California University of PA.  Watkins Hall is named in his honor.
  • Ralph Armando Ciancio (PhD 1965), Professor and Department Chair, Skidmore College, where there is now a Ciancio Prize for Excellence in Teaching.
  • Betty Smith Cox (PhD 1965), chair of the Department of English, Gardner-Webb University.      
  • Michael Anthony Murphy (PhD 1965), Professor of English, Brooklyn College.
  • Peggy A. Knapp (PhD 1966), Professor of English, Carnegie Mellon University. 
  • Eric Van Tine Ottervik (PhD 1967), Vice Provost and Vice President for Planning, Lehigh U.
  • Irving Nathan Rothman (PhD 1967), Professor of English, U of Houston. 
  • Constance Ayers Denne (PhD 1968), Professor of English at Baruch College, CUNY.
  • James Gray Watson (PhD 1968), Frances W. O'Hornett Professor of Literature, Univ. of Tulsa.
  • Paul  Zolbrod (PhD 1968), Frederick Seeley Professor of English, Allegheny College. In 1994, Zolbrod retired early to teach at the Crownpoint Campus of the Diné College, N.M.
  • William Wirt French (PhD 1968) Professor, West Virginia University. 
  • A. Carl Bredahl (PhD 1969), Professor of English, U of Florida. 
  • David Ellsworth Eskey (PhD 1969), Professor and Director of the TESOL program in the Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California
  • Edward S. Grejda (PhD 1969), Professor and English department chair, Clarion State U. 
  • Granville Hicks Jones (PhD 1969), Professor, Carnegie Mellon University.
  • Dorothy Kish (PhD 1969), Professor and English department Chair, Point Park College.
  • Elayne Antler Rapping (PhD 1969), Professor of English and Director of Women’s Studies at Robert Morris University.
  • Donald Thomas Reilly (PhD 1969), Professor and Chair of the Humanities Division, U of Pittsburgh, Greensburg.
  • Barbara Hochster Solomon (PhD 1969), Professor of English and Women's Studies and Director of Writing, Iona College.
  • Andrew Welsh (PhD 1969), Professor of English, Rutgers U, winner of the 1978 MLA James Russell Lowell Prize for Roots of Lyric: Primitive Poetry and Modern Poetics.
  • Eleanor Buntag Wymard (PhD 1969), Director, Carlow’s MFA in Creative Writing.
  • Gregory Frank Goekjian (PhD 1970), Professor Emeritus, Portland State University
  • John H. Miller (PhD 1970), Vice President of Advancement and Fellow of the Kerr Center for Chesapeake Studies, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.  
  • Robert Pack (PhD 1970), Vice-Provost, University of Pittsburgh
  • Silvia Ruffo-Fiore (PhD 1970), Professor of English, University of South Florida
  • James P. O’Brien (BA 1964) author, sportswriter, journalist.
  • Don DeCesare (BA 1967), CBS Vice President of Operations.
  • Lee Gutkind (BA 1968), author, U of Pittsburgh Professor, editor of Creative Nonfiction
  • Andrew Joseph Solomon (BA 1967, MA 1970, PhD 1974), Professor of English, University of Tampa
  • Martha Hartle Munsch (BA 1970). Lawyer; trustee, University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees


For this section and the next (1819), we relied heavily on Agnes Lynch Starrett, Through One Hundred and Fifty Years: The University of Pittsburgh (U of Pittsburgh Press, 1937).

For a full account of Morgan Neville’s career, see John T. Flanagan, “Morgan Neville: Early Western Chronicler,” The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, Volume 21, Number 4, December 1938, 255-266.