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William Savage Johnson papers

Call Number: MS 115


The collection includes a few manuscripts by University of Kansas English faculty member and author William Savage Johnson, letters received from and sent to notable writers by Johnson, and a small number of materials from Johnson's wife, Claudia Pendleton Johnson.


  • Creation: 1898-1942, 1966, 1970


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of William Savage Johnson (1877-1942)

William Savage Johnson was born in Portsmouth, Ohio to Sherman Gilbert and Emily Harriet (Savage) Johnson. He was educated in the classics and Latin and Greek before intensifying his study of English Literature while at graduate school at Yale University, from which he earned his doctorate in 1905.

Johnson remained at Yale for three years as an instructor in the English Department before moving to Lawrence, Kansas to teach at the University of Kansas. While at KU, Johnson achieved full professorship status in 1920 and served as department chairman for the English Department for 16 years, from 1924 to 1940.

Johnson had a wide variety of scholarly interests and published on several different themes and authors, including Thomas Carlyle, Ben Jonson, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Kansas-based poetry, Matthew Arnold, and Robinson Jeffers. This included book-length works as well as shorter articles. Late in his career, he focused primarily in contemporary British and American poets, and the Irish writer A.E., or George William Russell (1867-1935), became one of Johnson's lifelong friends. Through Russell, Johnson met William Butler Yeats, and otherwise, Johnson interacted with a variety of British and American poets of his era.

While Johnson won the Albert S. Cook poetry prize while he was a student at Yale, he only dabbled with writing poetry himself. Some of his poems were published during his lifetime, and several more poems were published posthumously.

William Savage Johnson married Claudia Clara Pendleton in 1920. Claudia Pendleton Johnson had graduated from the Univerity of Kansas in 1908. The Johnsons gave a variety of rare books and manuscripts to the University of Kansas Libraries, and in 1964 the reading room for the Special Collections Department at Watson Library was named in honor of William Johnson. A classroom at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library was later named for him after Special Collections moved to the new building in 1968.


.75 Linear Feet (2 document cases)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

The bulk of the collection consists of incoming correspondence sent to Johnson from a variety of British, Irish, and American authors and other literary and artistic figures. Several letters are in relation to Johnson asking poets to serve as a judge for the Carruth Poetry Prize, over which committee Johnson served as chairman from 1927-1942. The collection also includes a few letters that Johnson apparently collected, rather than were sent to him, as well as a very small number of drafts or copies of outgoing correspondence from Johnson.

There are a few handwritten and typed manuscripts written by Johnson, including poems, a play, and an account of AE's visit to Kansas. Also in the collection are a few miscellaneous personal items, including tree leaves gathered from authors' homes and a notebook containing book titles Johnson read for several years. There are a small number of personal items from his wife, Claudia Pendleton Johnson, in the collection.

Physical Location

MS 115

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift, William Savage Johnson estate, 1972.

Related Materials

Consult library staff regarding the availability of related photographs, biographical files, and scrapbooks in the University Archives.

Guide to the William Savage Johnson Collection
William Savage Johnson papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
William Savage Johnson papers, MS 115, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States