John Franklin Jameson (1859-1937), professor of history, was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, on September 19, 1859. After graduation from Roxbury Latin School, he was admitted to Harvard, but spent the next year out of school, and when the family moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, he entered Amherst College without enthusiasm, noting in his diary, “Father and I decided that I must go to Amherst, much against my will.” After graduation in 1879, unable to finance graduate study in Germany as he had hoped, he taught Latin and history in the high school in Worcester, Massachusetts, and then went on to the newly founded Johns Hopkins University to study with Herbert B. Adams and to earn the first doctorate in history from that institution in 1882. He had already written an essay, “The Origin and Development of the Municipal Government of New York City,” in the Magazine of American History, and his doctoral dissertation, “Montauk and the Common Lands of Easthampton,” appeared in the same periodical. He remained at Johns Hopkins until 1888, teaching history and a new graduate course in historical criticism. In 1888 he came to Brown as professor of history. At first he taught all undergraduate courses in history, but later he was able to teach only advanced courses. In 1891 he started the Historical Seminary for graduate students and upperclassmen. Jameson was active in the American Historical Association from the time of its founding in 1884 and was president of the association in 1907. In 1895 he took part in the founding of the American Historical Review, and served as its editor from its beginning until 1928 with the exception of 1901 to 1905. In 1895-96 he became the first chairman of the Association of the Historical Manuscripts Commission. In 1899 he delivered at Barnard College a series of lectures which were published as The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement in 1926. During Jameson’s time at Brown, President E. Benjamin Andrews tendered his resignation as a result of the Corporation’s disapproval of his views on the free coinage of silver. Jameson, through his authorship of an “Open Letter ... to the Corporation of Brown University by Members of the Faculty” on July 31, 1897, initiated a protest by faculty, alumni, and academic persons throughout the country, whose petitions were instrumental in convincing the Corporation to request the withdrawal of his resignation.
When William Rainey Harper offered him the chairmanship of the department of history, Jameson left Brown in 1901 for the University of Chicago, where he remained until 1905. After the Carnegie Institution of Washington was established in 1902, Jameson approached its director, Daniel Coit Gilman, with a plan which resulted in the establishment of the Institution’s Bureau of Historical Research in 1903. Two years later he succeeded Andrew C. McLaughlin as director of the Bureau. The resulting exploration of government records caused him to begin a campaign which led to the founding of the National Archives. Another campaign, launched by his article, “Gaps in the Published Records of United States History,” in 1906, led to the establishment of the National Historical Records Commission. He participated in the organization in 1919 of the American Council of Learned Societies, and later took part in planning the monumental Dictionary of American Biography. In 1927 he was named to the newly created chair of American history in the Library of Congress and also chief of the Library’s Manuscript Division. At a time when he might have retired, he undertook the new active position which was to last for the rest of his life. He enjoyed social relations with his fellow historians, which he enhanced by initiating an informal annual “convivium historicum” held in Branford, Connecticut. He died in Washington on September 28, 1937. Waldo G. Leland ’00 wrote in the Dictionary of American Biography:
“Jameson was a man of imposing appearance, six feet in height, lean, well proportioned. His features were large; his gray eyes, with flecks of color, looked out through rimless spectacles. His hair was reddish brown, turning gray and becoming sparse, and his full beard, at first rounded, was closely trimmed to a point in his later years. His habitual expression was austere, cold, even stern, and belied his true nature, which was revealed by frequent warm and friendly smiles. ... Jameson disclaimed for himself the title of ‘historian,’ and it is true that he did not produce a magnum opus or found a school. His writings, including his few books, were in the smaller forms. ... As a teacher Jameson was at his best with graduate students, many of whom held him in warm affection and admiration. As an organizer of programs of documentation – the exploration and description of great bodies of source materials and the publication of selected groups – and in his leadership of the campaign for the National Archives, he served the needs and interests of generation of scholars far into the future.”