Biography and History

William Willard Thorp (1899-1990), literary historian, editor, educator, author, and critic, was born on April 20 in Sydney, New York. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Hamilton College in 1920, received an A.M. the following year from Harvard, and his Ph.D. in 1926 from Princeton University. That year he joined the faculty of Princeton and advanced from instructor of English in 1926 to the Holmes Professor of Belles Lettres in 1952, and was chairman of the English department from 1958-1963.

During his years at Princeton, Willard Thorp published a number of books, innumerable literary reviews and essays in philogical journals, and established himself as an editor. Included among his books are The Triumph of Realism in Elizabethan Drama (1928), Lives of Eighteen from Princeton (1946), A Southern Reader (1955), and American Writing in the 20th Century (1960). One of his best-known essays is "The Well of English, Now Defiled, or, Why Johnny Can't Write," a humorous piece with serious undertones in which Thorp laments the state of affairs of college writing. He edited with Howard Lowry the Oxford Anthology of English Poetry (Oxford University Press, 1935), and with various others edited Herman Melville, Representative Selections (American Book Company, 1938), and the widely-used Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (Oxford University Press, 1948), Literary History of the United States (first published in 1948), and Great Short Works of American Realism (Harper, 1968).

Aside from his literary accomplishments and his popularity with undergraduates, one of Willard Thorp's greatest contributions to Princeton University was the development in 1942 of the special program in American civilization, now called the American Studies Program. He directed this for the first thirteen years, and strove to bring American civilization to light through studying culture, institution, intellectual tradition, and relationships among groups. The program grew until it included faculty and undergraduates from nine cooperating departments. One of the special interest courses taught by Thorp in this program was "The Age of Dryden."

Willard Thorp also kept busy traveling to various universities as a visiting professor. He went to the University of Virginia in 1947, was the Anderson Visiting Professor at the Rice Institute in 1952-1953, and taught summers at the University of Hawaii, University of Washington, Seattle, and Duke University.

Thorp retired from Princeton University in 1967, remaining in Princeton until his death at age 90 in 1990. He was honored in 1972 with the establishment of the Willard Thorp Thesis Prize in American Civilization, and in 1978 was awarded an L.H.D.

Biography of Margaret Farrand Thorp

Margaret Louise Farrand Thorp (1891-1970), scholar, author, critic, and journalist, was born in East Orange, New Jersey, on December 3, 1891. She graduated from Smith College in 1914, received her M.A. from Smith in 1926, and her Ph.D. from Yale in 1934.

After receiving her B.A., Margaret worked on the staff of The Independent under the editorship of Hamilton Holt. A firm believer in the cause of the Allies, she was eager to get to France to serve in any way she could. The American Fund for French Wounded accepted her, and in late October 1917 she sailed for France on the Rochambeau. Once there, she edited The Weekly Bulletin issued by the Fund Cooperating with the American Red Cross for circulation in the United States. (Alice B. Toklas was one of its frequent contributors.) In her spare time Margaret worked in the canteens and as an unofficial nurse's aide in several hospitals. In March 1918 she transferred to the American Red Cross where she continued to do publicity work until after the Armistice. She was also a special correspondent to the Newark Evening Times and wrote faithfully in her own journals, recording all her experiences.

After returning from France, between 1921 and 1929, Margaret was Director of Publicity and Assistant Professor of English at Smith College. Also during this time she was a regular contributor to such publications as The Smith Alumnae Quarterly, the Christian Science Monitor, Scribner's Magazine, and the New York Evening Post. In 1929 she went to Yale to earn her Ph.D., and on June 12 of the following year married Willard Thorp, then an assistant professor at Princeton University.

Although Margaret did not continue teaching after her marriage, she continued to pursue her writing career. In 1937 she published Charles Kingsley, 1819-1875 with Princeton University Press. In 1969 Yale University Press published her popular film study, America at the Movies. In 1944 she collaborated with Willard on a textbook, Modern Writing, followed by another biography, Female Persuasion: Six Strong-Minded Women in 1949. Later writings include Neilson of Smith (1956), The Literary Sculptors (1965), and Sara Orne Jewett (1966).

In 1957 Smith College made Margaret Thorp an honorary Doctor of Letters. She died in Princeton on October 2, 1970, at the age of 79. She was a niece of Beatrix Farrand, Princeton's landscape artist.

Source: From the finding aid for C0292

  • Selected Papers of William Meredith. 1937-1967 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0175

    Consists, for the most part, of letters to American poet William Meredith (Princeton Class of 1940) from American authors, most of whom have been associated with Princeton.

  • Willard Thorp Papers. 1886-1981 (inclusive), 1930-1970 (bulk).

    Call Number: C0292

    The Willard Thorp Papers consists of material which reflects the long careers of American educators, authors, and literary critics Willard and Margaret Thorp. Willard's papers (1923-1981) include correspondence, writings, class lecture notes, documents, journals and diaries, printed matter, photographs, and papers of others during his writing and teaching years at Princeton University. Margaret's papers (1917-1960) include writings, correspondence, journals, notebooks, and family sketchbooks and photographs.