McQuown - DeVoto papers, 1933-1948

Overview of the Collection

McQuown, Madeline, 1906-1975
McQuown - DeVoto papers
1933-1948 (inclusive)
2 boxes, (.5 linear ft.)
Collection Number
Mostly letters written by Bernard DeVoto to Madeline McQuown (1933-1948) focusing on writing techniques of both authors. Also includes a series of letters written by Robert S. Hillyer to Madeline McQuown (1933-1946). The other correspondence in the collection is written by McQuown to DeVoto and McQuown to Hillyer. Written essays and articles by DeVoto make up the remainder of the collection.
Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections and Archives Division
Special Collections & Archives
Merrill-Cazier Library
Utah State University
Logan, UT
Telephone: 4357978248
Fax: 4357972880
Access Restrictions

Open to public research.

Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, 2007-2008

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Madeline Reeder Thurston McQuown

Madeline Reeder Thurston McQuown author and researcher was born in Ogden, Utah March 31, 1906 and passed away on May 29, 1975 in Ogden Utah. She grew up in Ogden, attended college at Weber State and the University of Utah and spent the majority of her 69 years in Utah. McQuown throughout her lifetime fostered a deep respect for the culture and the history of the West. Her contributions to the scholarly world came from writing, but most important was her research in western history and the advice that she gave noted historians throughout her career.

During the 1930s she worked with Dale Morgan on the Works Progress Administrations' Federal Writer's Project. She was responsible for finding many outstanding diaries and journals, especially in the area of Mormon history. An example of this was the diary of Hosea Stout. Some of this information she passed along to Bernard DeVoto who incorporated it into his section on Mormons in his book The Year of Decision: 1846.

McQuown's correspondence with DeVoto shows her aspirations as a writer. She attended the Breadloaf Writer's Conference in 1933 with the invitation of DeVoto. Little of McQuown's written work has found its way into print, but this was not to be her most important work.

McQuown's major impact was in her research and through this research her contributions to noted historian. Her major work was a biography of Brigham Young which she never completed. However she sent DeVoto material quite frequently and was asked to comment on his work from time to time. This input was also given to other scholars such as Dale Morgan and Fawn Brodie.

Bernard DeVoto

Bernard DeVoto was born in Ogden, Utah January 11, 1897. He spent his youth in Ogden graduating from high school in 1913. DeVoto continued his education at the University of Utah and later transferred to Harvard where he graduated Phi Betta Kappa in 1920. From this point DeVoto entered the literary world becoming a noted novelist, historian, literary critic, and teacher.

After graduating from Harvard, DeVoto returned home to Ogden before leaving the West for good. In the middle 1920s DeVoto accepted a teaching position in the English Department at Northwestern. While at Northwestern DeVoto honed his teaching skills, but also began to publish essays in several of the nation's top journals. From this point DeVoto moved to Massachusetts and launched his career as a writer.

This collection of DeVoto letters begin once DeVoto had moved to Massachusetts and continue through 1948. This period, from 1933 through 1948 was a very productive period in DeVoto's life. From 1932 through 1936 he lived in Lincoln, Massachusetts. He began to write the "Easy Chair" column for Harper's Magazine, as well as edit the Saturday Review of Literature from 1936 through 1938. In 1938 DeVoto moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he lived for the remainder of his life. DeVoto passed away in 1955.

To do DeVoto justice in this short space is impossible. For a more thorough biographical account of DeVoto, Wallace Stegner's The Uneasy Chair is recommended.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The DeVoto-McQuown papers consist of a collection of Bernard DeVoto letters, articles and manuscripts, plus a small set of letters written between Harvard English professor Robert S. Hillyer and Madeline Reeder Thurston McQuown. The papers were in the possession of McQuown, but because of the amount of DeVoto material in the collection, the decision was made to give it the names of both principals.

The collection divides into two categories, the first being correspondence and the second being the collected material about DeVoto and his manuscripts. The correspondence has been arranged chronologically by author. The collected material, mainly newspaper clippings, had been foldered together and placed after the correspondence in the first box. The second box contains manuscripts written by DeVoto.

The DeVoto material makes up the heart of the collection. The correspondence between the two in this collection began with a 1932 letter in which DeVoto tried to place the then Ogdenite, Madeline Reeder into the Ogden he remembered as a child. DeVoto initially was trying to find information for his research on the west. The correspondence possibly began because Madeline's job in the Works Progress Administration's Federal Writers Project made her privy to a lot of new source material desired by DeVoto. However started, a friendship and correspondence blossomed between the two. This relationship at times took on a turbulent air, but, in this collection, lasted for a fifteen year period. Specifically DeVoto sought information about the Mormons from Madeline, which was part of the groundwork for his book The Year of Decision: 1846. At some point in 1933 DeVoto began to teach Madeline the art of short story writing. Thereafter the correspondence, for the most part, dwelled upon an instruction in writing technique.

This portion of their correspondence is of extreme interest because of the opportunity to read DeVoto's analysis of his own writing technique. Undated, but presumably part of this correspondence, are three drafts of the short story "The Timid Professor," by DeVoto. Attached to the front of each draft is a page of notes in which DeVoto explained his methodology in preparing each draft. In the text of the story are explicit remarks by DeVoto explaining word usage, the development of scenes, and the construction of dialogue. In addition to using this story as a model for Madeline, he critiques her work with similar explicitness.

Five undated letters have been placed into the 1933 correspondence because their content fit into the context of the other 1933 letters. One of the undated letters from DeVoto, mentioned an article about Wilfredo Pareto's Traite de Socioloqe Generale that DeVoto had been working on for Harper's Monthly Magazine. This article about Pareto, appeared in the October 1933 issue of Harper's Two of the undated letters fit into DeVoto's schooling of Madeline's writing technique. In addition, the Vermont based Breadloaf Writers Conference, which Madeline attended in 1933, provided a common thread throughout the 1933 and some of the undated correspondence.

The entire correspondence between the two reflects the emotional and fast paced life of DeVoto. DeVoto at times, in a self protective manner slashed out at Madeline claimed that she and others misunderstood his work. In addition, DeVoto occasionally gave his opinion on such notables as Robert Frost, Sinclair Lewis, Fawn Brodie and Dale Morgan. The letters also reflect an uncanny ability of DeVoto to fire off a conciliatory letter to Madeline within days of sending a harsh letter.

The letters offer some interesting historical observations from DeVoto. Madeline McQuown while working for the Federal Writers Project turned up a number of Mormon journals and letters. At this same period DeVoto was working on his historical trilogy The Year of Decision: l846 published in 1943; Across the Wide Missouri published in 1947; and The Course of Empire published in 1952. Thus through these letters DeVoto offered insight about newly surfacing western history material.

Overall this small collection demonstrates the importance DeVoto placed upon letter writing. To him it was another forum in which to express himself and his ideas. The quality of and the length of these letters show the seriousness in which DeVoto practiced the art of letter writing.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use


It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission to publish from the owner of the copyright (the institution, the creator of the record, the author or his/her transferees, heirs, legates, or literary executors). The user agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the Utah State University Libraries, its officers, employees, and agents from and against all claims made by any person asserting that he or she is an owner of copyright.

Permission to publish material from the McQuown - DeVoto papers must be obtained from the Special Collections Manuscript Curator and/or the Special Collections Department Head.

Preferred Citation

McQuown - DeVoto papers, 1933-1948. (COLL MSS 54). Utah State University. Special Collections and Archives Department.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


Arranged in numeric sequence according to box and folder.

Acquisition Information

Deposit from the Cache Valley Historical Society; 1956

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
1 1 Correspondence DeVoto to McQuown 1933
1 2 Correspondence DeVoto to McQuown 1938
1 3 Correspondence DeVoto to McQuown 1940
1 4 Correspondence DeVoto to McQuown 1941
1 5 Correspondence DeVoto to McQuown 1942 January - March
1 6 Correspondence DeVoto to McQuown 1942 April - May
1 7 Correspondence DeVoto to McQuown 1942 June - December
1 8 Correspondence DeVoto to McQuown 1945
1 9 Correspondence DeVoto to McQuown 1946
1 10 Correspondence DeVoto to McQuown 1947
1 11 Correspondence DeVoto to McQuown 1948
1 12 Correspondence Hillyer to McQuown 1933-1946
1 13 Correspondence McOuown to DeVoto 1947
1 14 Correspondence McQuown to Hillyer 1933
1 15 Correspondence W.W.S. to DeVoto 1933
1 16 Published essays by DeVoto undated
1 17 Newspaper articles about DeVoto undated
2 1 Essay entitled, "Sentiment and the Social Order." undated
2 2 "The Timid Professor," first draft undated
2 3 "The Timid Professor," second draft undated
2 4 "The Timid Professor," third draft undated
2 5-18 Draft of We Accept With Pleasure, chapters VIII through chapter XXI undated

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Authors, American--Correspondence.

Personal Names

  • De Voto, Bernard Augustine, 1897-1955. (contributor)
  • De Voto, Bernard Augustine, 1897-1955. Sentiment and the social order. (contributor)
  • De Voto, Bernard Augustine, 1897-1955. Timid professor. (contributor)
  • De Voto, Bernard Augustine, 1897-1955. We accept with pleasure. (contributor)
  • De Voto, Bernard Augustine, 1897-1955.
  • Hillyer, Robert, 1895-1961 correspondent.
  • Lewis, Sinclair, 1885-1951 correspondent.
  • McQuown, Madeline, 1906-1975.
  • Morgan, Dale Lowell, 1914-1971 correspondent.

Corporate Names

  • Bread Loaf Writers' Conference of Middlebury College.