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Isaiah Bowman papers

Identifier: MS-0058

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Scope and Contents note

Isaiah Bowman's papers offer a fairly complete view of his many-faceted professional life. His early years as a teacher are reflected in the class notebooks (1902-1912) found in Box 7-1. His early geographical field work is represented by his field notebooks (1902-1941) in Boxes 8-1 and 8-2 and the photographs in Series 10.

Bowman's years as Director of the American Geographical Society (1915-1935) are not as well represented in the papers. The best record of this work would be through the American Geographical Society archives. However, Bowman's correspondence files in Series 2 contain much that sheds light on the American Geographical Society years. There is a scrapbook tribute to Bowman entitled "Amgraphics" detailing his years with the Society. This is in Series 6.

Bowman's work (1935-1948) as President of the Johns Hopkins University is also under-represented. His official records are housed in the University's Hamburger Archives with the University records. Again, the correspondence in Series 2 contains letters from this period. His thoughts on educational administration also can be gleaned from his speeches and writings in Series 3. His topical files in Series V also have some material on education.

Dr. Bowman was a member of several professional organizations or commissions. In Series 6 is material on his work with the Economic Cooperation Administration, the Council on Foreign Relations, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Resource Board, the National Research Council Science Advisory Board, the Office of Scientific Research and Development, and the committee on the Structure of the Maryland State Government. These files are augmented by correspondence in Series 2.

Several times during his career Isaiah Bowman served as an advisor to the U.S. government. He preserved the papers of each of these missions separately. In 1919 Bowman was a member of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace. This work is well-documented with correspondence, notes, printed material, scrapbooks, and memorabilia. Bowman and his secretary Margaret O. Young divided this material into topical categories, and these have been retained. The file folder headings are listed in the container list for Series 13.

Bowman's second governmental mission was as an advisor to what was known as the M-Project. This project, begun in the early l940s, was designed to study the relocation of refugees.

The work of the project resulted in nearly 600 documents analyzing geographic areas throughout the world for their potential in supporting refugees. As an advisor to the project, Bowman received copies of the documents. When the project closed down, the M-Project office files were stored in Bowman's office at Johns Hopkins. The M-Project files in Series 9 consist of the final reports, translations, and lectures as well as the project's office files.

During the 1940s Bowman also served as an advisor to the U.S. State Department in several capacities. When he completed these missions, Bowman again sorted the material into topical categories. The categories have been retained and are listed in the container list. Series 14 is the material on State Department committee work. Series 15 contains the papers on the Edward Stettinius mission to London in April l944. Series 16 contains Bowman's papers on the Dumbarton Oaks conference in 1944, and Series 17 has the material on his participating in the San Francisco Conference which led to the founding of the United Nations.

Bowman was a prolific author. Copies of many of his books and articles can be found in Series 4. He also constantly was collecting material for future works. These notes, abstracts of other works, correspondence, memoranda, and book reviews were filed topically by Bowman. There appear to have been two separate topical systems, and they have been intermingled in Series 4 and 5.

Bowman was awarded many honorary degrees and awards, and these are in Series 18.

The collections spans from 1902 to 1950.


  • Creation: 1823 - 1968
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1902 - 1950


Conditions Governing Access note

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Please contact Special Collections for more information.

Collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use note

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical/Historical note

Isaiah Bowman, fifth president of the Johns Hopkins University and geographer, was born in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, December 26, 1878, the third of eight children of Samuel Cressman and Emily Shantz Bowman. Shortly after his birth his parents moved to Michigan. He graduated the State Normal College in Ypsilanti, Michigan in 1902 and Harvard University (B.S.) In 1905. He was instructor in geography at the State Normal College (1903-1904); assistant in Physiography, Harvard (1904-1905); and instructor in geography at Yale University where he received the Ph.D. degree in 1909. He was special lecturer in geography at Wesleyan University (1907-1909); the University of Chicago (1908); and assistant professor of geography, Yale, (1909-1915). His first important field work was as leader of the Yale South American geographical expedition in 1907. He was geographer and geologist of the Yale Peruvian expedition in 1911, and in 1913 he was leader of an expedition to the Central Andes under the auspices of the American Geographical Society of New York.

In 1915 Isaiah Bowman resigned his position at Yale to become Director of the American Geographical Society where he remained for 20 years. During his administration he made the American Geographical Society one of the leading organizations of its kind. Its chief publication, The Geographical Review, became under his direction one of the country's foremost scientific journals. In 1920 the Society undertook the preparation of a map of Latin America on a scale of 1:1,000,000 called the Amillionth map. This huge project required 20 years to complete. Another outstanding work with which Bowman was associated was the atlas of the historical geography of the United States, a monumental work that required 24 years of preparation. It was produced by the American Geographical Society uner Bowman's supervision, in association with the Carnegie Institution.

In 1919 Bowman accompanied President Woodrow Wilson to Paris as chief territorial specialist to the American Commission to Negotiate Peace and served on various territorial commissions appointed by the Conference. In addition he was physiographer to the United States Department of Justice in the Red River boundary dispute between Texans and Oklahoma. He was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1930. From 1933-1935 he was chairman of the National Research Council and vice chairman of the Science Advisory board which was established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Bowman's suggestion.

Bowman became president of the Johns Hopkins University in 1935 and retired in 1948. His administration at Hopkins was marked by progress. He balanced the budget, raised an endowment fund of more than a million dollars, and strengthened the undergraduate departments, especially those devoted to physics, chemistry, biology, English, and geography. He stabilized the faculty and was responsible for merging the Boards of Trustees of the University and of the Hospital. The Johns Hopkins University under Bowman's leadership abolished athletic scholarships, the first major university to do so.

Bowman was also known for his anti-Semitic views and actions. He was reluctant to hire and retain Jewish faculty and staff at Hopkins, in addition to implementing a quota on the admission of students of Jewish descent. This viewpoint likely colored many of his policies in his activities outside of Hopkins as well.

During World War II Bowman served on the Policy Committee of the State Department and as Special Advisor to the Secretary of State. From 1942-1943 he was Chairman of the Territorial Committee, Department of State, and Vice-Chairman of the Post War Problems Committee, Department of State in 1944. He was a member of the Stettinius Mission to London in April 1944. He was a member of the American delegation to the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in 1944 and of the San Francisco Conference in 1945 when the United Nations was founded. After Bowman's retirement from Hopkins, he served as chairman of the Economic Cooperation Administration's Committee on Overseas Territories. He was a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard; a member of the Committee on Studies of the Council of Foreign Relations in New York; directed the Maryland unit of the Hoover Reorganization Plan; head of the National Resources Commission; and was active in many civic and governmental affairs in Maryland. Bowman was the author of many books among which were Forest Physiography (1911); South America (1915); The New World: Problems in Political Geography (1921); Desert Trails of Atacama and An American Boundary Dispute (1923); The Mohammedan World (1924); International Relations (1930); The Pioneer Fringe (1931); Geography in Relation to the Social Sciences (1934); Design for Scholarship (1936); and Graduate School in American Democracy (1939). He also wrote many papers on South American geography and settlement.

Bowman was considered a humanist, philosopher, research scientist, and was sought after as a speaker. He married Cora Olive, daughter of James Walter Goldthwait, in Lynn, Massachusetts on June 28, 1909. They were the parents of three children: Walter Parker, Robert Goldthwait, and Olive Bowman Gerwig (Mrs. Walter H.)

Isaiah Bowman died in Baltimore on January 5, 1950.


114.09 Cubic Feet (32 record center cartons, 15 letter size document boxes, 2 letter half-size document box, 130 legal size document boxes, 4 legal half-size document boxes, 8 flat boxes (15.5 x 12 x 3 inches), 2 flat boxes (25 x 21 x 3 inches), 3 flat boxes (11 x 9 x 3 inches), 1 flat box (21 x 17 x 3.5 inches), 2 pamphlet boxes (7.25 x 4 x 10 inches))

Language of Materials



Isaiah Bowman, fifth president of The Johns Hopkins University and geographer, was born in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, December 26, 1878. The Isaiah Bowman papers offer a fairly complete view of his many-faceted professional life, and Bowman's service as an advisor to the U.S. government and U.S. State Department, particularly in relation to World War I and II, are well-documented in the papers. The papers span from 1902 to 1950.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

By the terms of his will, Isaiah Bowman bequeathed to the Johns Hopkins University "all my biographical and international conference papers...relating to the Peace Conference at Paris, 1919, to the Conference at Dumbarton Oaks in 1944 and to the United Nations Conference at San Francisco in 1945." These papers were brought to the University in four locked safes and under the terms of the will, closed to researchers until January 1975. These papers comprise Series 13 through Series 17 of the papers. Along with the locked safes, the University received in 1950 "other unlocked cases of papers and correspondence of a non-confidential nature." These were the nucleus of the Isaiah Bowman papers. In 1982 a group of Bowman's personal papers were transferred from the Hamburger Archives.

Dr. Bowman bequeathed to his son Robert G. Bowman, also a geographer, his "professional" or "working" library consisting of 4000 books, journals and monographs and about 15,000 to 20,000 items of correspondence, reprints, and papers. In 1985, after some weeding, Robert G. Bowman donated this additional material to the Johns Hopkins University. The manuscript material has been incorporated into this collection.


The following publication cited or described this collection: Martin, Geoffrey J. The Life and Thought of Isaiah Bowman. Archon Books, 1980.

Processing Information note

Finding aid prepared by Cynthia H. Requardt in 1987. Series 9 and 13 were reprocessed by Annie Tang in August 2017.

Guide to the Isaiah Bowman papers
Annie Tang
2017 August
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA