Edmond S. Meanyfootnote 1

Table of Contents Previous Next

The name is familiar to many residents of the Puget Sound region: the Meany Tower Hotel in the University district of Seattle; Meany Hall for the Performing Arts on the UW campus; Mount Meany in the Olympic Mountains; and Meany Crest on Mount Rainier.

[Photo of Edmond S. Meany]
Edmond S. Meany. Photo courtesy of the Special Collections Division, UW Libraries

While these landmarks may be familiar, details of the life and career of the UW alumnus and professor after whom they were named may have faded from popular memory.

Edmond S. Meany was an indefatigable historian and collector, a prolific writer, a prominent and popular civic leader who played a key role in the early history of the University and the region--perhaps the most influential and beloved figure of the University's history. In 1894, Meany became the UW's first registrar while also holding positions as an instructor and secretary to the UW Board of Regents. In 1897, he became a full professor and head of the UW history department, teaching courses in forestry, American history, and Pacific Northwest history.

Meany was born in 1862 in East Saginaw, Michigan. He moved west with his family, arriving in Seattle in 1877. At the time, the UW was still the Territorial University; Meany graduated from it as valedictorian of his class of 1885 with a bachelor's degree in science. He obtained a master's degree in science in 1889.

During this period, Meany had earned a living in newspaper delivery. Soon he had worked his way up in the newspaper business to become editor and publisher for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. By 1890, Meany had started his own news service called the Washington State News Bureau, and had been hired as press agent to represent Washington State at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Meany served as a Washington State legislator during the 1891 and 1893 sessions. He initiated legislation that set aside 355 acres to be used for the new campus of the UW. Meany was instrumental in bringing the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition to the University's campus in 1909. This led to the clearing of portions of the new campus for the construction of buildings, some of which later were used by the University.

By studying at the University of Wisconsin during the summers, Meany earned a master of letters degree in 1901. His thesis on Chief Joseph was the beginning of Meany's research on the Indians of the Northwest and northern plains. In 1907, Meany collaborated with Edward S. Curtis in his research on the Sioux Indians in South Dakota and later wrote portions of the historical background on these native peoples in Curtis's The North American Indian.

Meany was secretary of the Young Naturalists' Society, an early research society on campus;footnote 2 he served as vice president of the American Forestry Association; president of the Washington State Forestry Association; and president of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Society. He was president of the Mountaineers from 1908 until his death in 1935. In his book, Mount Rainier, A Record of Exploration, Meany presents interviews with early explorers of the mountain, including Edward S. Ingraham and David Longmire.

Meany was particularly interested in Pacific Northwest history, especially Washington State history, on which he wrote many books and countless articles and speeches. Through his research, he became a collector of documents and photographs important to the history of the region. In 1929, he donated most of these rare and important documents to the UW library.

During the last 25 years of his life, Meany collected materials on many early Washington pioneers. He amassed thousands of items, ranging from simple obituary notices to lengthy reminiscences by pioneers in letters or on specially devised forms. With the help of research assistant Victor J. Farrar, Meany conducted interviews and created extensive files on these pioneers. And from 1916 to 1921, he wrote a series of articles for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer entitled "Living Pioneers of Washington."

In 1906, Meany became editor of the short-lived Washington Magazine, and shortly thereafter became managing editor of the journal Washington Historical Quarterly, a position he held for the rest of his years. The Washington Historical Quarterly was the official publication of the Washington State Historical Society.

By working with the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Meany helped Seattle obtain a statue of William H. Seward. And in conjunction with the Daughters of the American Revolution, he helped to secure a commission for Loredo Taft to create a statue of George Washington for the UW campus.

  1. Adapted from an introduction to the Meany Papers, a special collection of the papers, files, and other works of Edmond S. Meany in the Manuscripts and University Archives Division of the Suzzallo and Allen Library of the University of Washington. Assistance furnished by Gary Lundell, Reference Specialist, is gratefully acknowledged.
  2. See Pathbreakers: A Century of Excellence in Science and Technology at the University of Washington, Deborah L. Illman, Series Editor Alvin L. Kwiram, University of Washington, Office of Research, Seattle, 1996.

Table of Contents Previous Next