North American Scholar

STEWART, Manson Alexander

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1874-01-03
  • Born City: Elba
  • Born State/Country: MI
  • Parents: Robert and Emily Pierson S
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1951-11-20
  • Death City: Yankton
  • Death State/Country: SD
  • Married: Ada Grace Hemingway, September 15, 1908 (died 1925); Ruth E. Reed, June 27, 1929.
  • Education:

    A.B., Michigan State Normal College (now Michigan State U.), 1899; B.A., U. of Michigan, 1903; M.A., 1904; Ph.D., 1908; study in Europe, 1913-14.

  • Professional Experience:

    Principal, Gobelville (MI) HS, 1899-1902; actng. prof. Latin, Ripon Coll. (WI), 1904-5; Prof. Greek, Bethany Coll., (Bethany, WV), 1908-9; prof. classics and chair of department, Yankton (SD) College, 1909-12; prof. Greek & Latin, 1912-48; registrar, 1917-45; Dean of the College, 1927-45. 

  • Dissertation:

    “A Study in Latin Abstract Substantives” (Michigan, 1908); published (New York: Macmillan, 1910).

  • Notes:

    At Michigan State, Stewart was greatly influenced by his teacher Benjamin D’Ooge, who had a doctorate from Bonn and twice took leave to spend a year in Europe. Following his early teaching experience at Ripon Bethany Colleges, he was hired by Yankton College, a small liberal arts college associated with the Congregational Christian Churches (now the United Church of Christ) in1909 as chair of the Classics Department. He later served as Registrar and Dean of the College. His sole publication was his dissertation, which argued that substantives in prose are as abstract as those that appear in the sermo plebeius. No class of abstracts is particularly characteristic of either popular or literary language as a whole and the most common words in everyday speech are also the most common in literary prose, with a few recherchéexceptions. Even the revival of pre-classical words by classical writers,he argued, does not mean that these words were used in sub-literary speech, only that Roman literary artists loved archaisms. His book was praised by no less than Roland G. Kent as a “valuable piece of work…[that] must be carefully consulted by everyone who hereafter attempts to deal with Roman sermo plebeius.”

    Following D’Ooge’s example, he took leave in 1913-14 for study at the American School of Classical Studies in Rome and travel around Europe. He and his wife toured Great Britain and even bicycled to the sites of battles described by Julius Caesar. At Yankton he served in many roles. While Registrar, he was also College Representative to the South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference (1917-39), Principal of the Normal Department (1917-21), Principal of the Academy (1920-2), and Acting Secretary of the College (1918). He took leave again (1918-19) to work in France with the YMCA, during which time he also investigated Roman ruins and brushed up his French, which came in handy when he was asked to teach French briefly at Yankton.  

    Following the death of his first wife in 1925, he married Ruth Reed, who had been Dean of Women at Yankton (1916-18) and was then Dean of Women at Drury College (now Drury University, Springfield, IL). In 1936, Yankton awarded him the honor of “Friend of Youth” for all his many services to the College.

    Stewart believed that a thorough grounding in any subject (especially Greek) enables one to excel at any other activity. When his home burned to the ground  on Christmas 1935, Stewart rebuilt it with his own hands (and a little help from friends). During World War II, Stewart not only cultivated a Victory Garden, he taught a course in Airplane Engines in the Naval V-5 Program, all while teaching seventeen hours of coursework per week in Greek and Latin. 

    He took special pride in the nine Rhodes Scholarship winners from Yankton, all of whom he prepared in Latin. On his death, the Yankton Faulty wrote this in a resolution for him: “As one of the last defenders of the Classics as a system of Education he endowed the study of Greek and Latin with an enduring vitality. President J. Clark Graham wrote of him: “He was more than academic counselor, than moral guide: he was the instant friend of youth in need of guidance, and as with all great helpers of human kind, what he was spoke louder than what he said.” A student wrote, “You were a classicist, yet you entered into the life of the American boy as an athlete. You tore apart words, but you lived a poem and loved poetry too….You defy the idea of specialization: you can lay a floor, hang a door; plow corn, open alike the minds of the ancients and contemporaries—you lived in every corner of the world and because you have so lived you have helped to give the world sons and daughters who can cope with the whole of life, too.”

    Manson Stewart was a loyal member of CAMWS. The Stewart family had accumulated funds from the sale of Mrs. Stewart’s Iowa farmland and invested it in General Motors stick. Ten years after his death, his wife Ruth revised her will on August 9, 1962, giving the major portion to Yankton College to endow the Manson A. Stewart Professorship in Classical Languages and Literature. Should Yankton College fail, one-third of the estate was to be given to the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, one-third to the Classics Department at the University of Michigan and the final third to the Classics Department of Grinnell College, all three in the name of Manson A. Stewart. 

    Yankton College, founded in 1881 as the first institution of higher learning in the Dakota Territory, closed in 1984 and its campus became the site of a federal prison camp. The Stewart funds, untouched by Yankton’s failure, were split evenly between CAMWS and the University of Michigan (Grinnell did not pursue its interest). After 12 years in the courts, CAMWS received a total of $102,000, certainly the largest grant received by any classics organization, which helped it through the difficult recession and declining membership of the early 1990s. Beginning in 1995, CAMWS was able to offer $1000 each year to undergraduates majoring in classics at the sophomore or junior level at a college or university in the CAMWS area.

  • Sources:

    Roland G. Kent, CJ 7 (May 1914) 206-8; Yankton College Bulletin 46,1 (January 1952) 1-2; Brent M. Froberg.

  • Author: Ward Briggs