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Manuscript Group 005: Dr. George Swetnam (1904-1999) Collection (Historian)

Identifier: MG005


  • Majority of material found within 1800 - 1999


13 boxes Linear Feet (George Swetnam (March 11, 1904-April 3, 1999), was an ordained minister, teacher, photographer, and newspaper journalist, and was regarded as the Pittsburgh region's most outstanding historian. A writer for the Pittsburgh Press from 1943 to 1973, Mr. Swetnam wrote several books on Pittsburgh history and folklore, including Pittsylvania Country and Where Else But Pittsburgh? To learn more about George Swetnam, visit George Swetnam: Chronicler of all things Pittsylvanian, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. George Francis Swetnam was born in Hicks Station, near Cincinnati, Ohio. He was the youngest son of William Wylie Swetnam (December 21, 1863-September 1940) and Flora May Stafford Swetnam (January 14, 1874-March 25, 1943) who were married on November 22, 1890; his older brother was Rev. Walter Stafford Swetnam (October 22, 1900-July 30, 2000). William Wylie Swetnam was a Kentucky school teacher and principal; and his first wife, Flora May Stafford Swetnam, was a well-known author at the turn of the century. Sometime after George Swetnam’s birth in Ohio, the family returned to Kentucky and went on to live successively in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi. George Swetnam attended the University of South Carolina, the University of Alabama, and graduated as an English major from the University of Mississippi. He attended Columbia Theological Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, where he received a Bachelor of Divinity degree. He studied archaeology, Hebrew and other Semitic languages. At Auburn Theological Seminary (now Union Theological), he received his Master of Theology. In 1930, he earned a Ph.D. in Assyriology from the Hartford Seminary Foundation. For his doctoral dissertation, Swetnam deciphered 100 Sumerian clay tablets. Swetnam, throughout his long life, experienced several careers, including being ordained a Presbyterian minister and serving as a pastor in Alabama and Mississippi. He began free-lance writing while he was still in high school. At the University of Alabama he taught English and German. For a while he operated a photo studio. He was a barker at the Chicago World's Fair--for Sally Rand. Serving as a staff cameraman for the University of Alabama football team, he covered the 1935 Rose Bowl. He was a Professor of English and German at the University of Alabama. He ran a photography studio, went on the road as a hobo for three years earning a living as an itinerant fruit picker, and ran weekly newspapers in several states including Tennessee before coming to Pennsylvania. He married Ruth Isabel Kulamer on December 31, 1936. The Swetnams had three children – George, Anne, and John. George Swetnam founded the Institute of Pennsylvania Rural Life and Culture near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In 1954 Swetnam was presented the Lawrence S. Mayers National Peace Award by Vice President Richard Nixon at the White House. He wrote and produced 3 historical dramas, authored a Light Rail Transit historic survey and a variety of industrial, medical, religious and music histories. George Swetnam authored an infinite number of feature articles during his years at the Press. Many of these were under pseudonyms such as "Francine Avery," "Duke Barton," "B. Duke," "Frank Mantews," and "Acker Petit." Edging his way closer to Pittsburgh, he served as staff writer and managing editor for the Uniontown, Pennsylvania Evening Standard. In 1943, Swetnam accepted the position as feature writer and eventually became an editorial staff member of the Sunday Magazine for the Pittsburgh Press. For decades, he researched and wrote a weekly series of two page feature articles, documenting not only the history and folklore of Pittsburgh, but focused also on the accomplishments of the city's most notable citizens. Between 1959 and 1965, he was editor of the Keystone Folklore Quarterly. A writer for the Pittsburgh Press between 1943 and 1967, Swetnam wrote several books on Pittsburgh history and folklore, including Pittsylvania Country and Where Else but Pittsburgh? He retired in 1973. In his long and varied career, George Swetnam was a commercial professional photographer, college professor, salesman, free-lance writer, businessman, preacher, a real-life hobo, newspaper journalist, dramatist, folklorist, and historian. Swetnam, regarded as one of Pennsylvania's outstanding historians, published several books featuring the history and folklore of the Pittsburgh area. In addition, Swetnam wrote many articles on the history of other counties in western Pennsylvania.) : This collection includes George Swetnam's correspondence, pre-published versions of many of his published manuscripts, his research materials for many of his writings, and other miscellaneous materials. The papers are housed in 13 archival boxes. A group of 3,000 books, mainly documenting the history and folklore of Pennsylvania and collected for the donor's personal use, was also presented to the Library. While most of these volumes are available for circulation, many rare or fragile books are housed in Special Collections. In addition to the books, six boxes of materials were also donated that year. The first six boxes containing the Swetnam Collection consist of various types of materials, correspondence, original Swetnam manuscripts with the author's revisions, manuscripts of other writers used as source materials, photographs, personal memorabilia, and miscellaneous items acquired by Swetnam over a period of thirty years. The Swetnam Collection is a rich store of primary materials for in-depth study of the city of Pittsburgh and its industrial development. In addition, the collection offers a wide range of items including correspondence, pre-published versions of many of his published manuscripts, his research materials for many of his writings, personal diaries, and newspaper clippings, which record the remarkable career of an outstanding journalist and collector of rare books. Boxes 1-6 were donated in 1968; boxes 7-12 were acquired in July 1995 (at that time, Dr. Swetnam was still active in community events and continuing research and writing on various topics, as well as traveling abroad each summer).

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Part of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Repository

Indiana Pennsylvania