PULLMAN, Wash. — Historians often admire the work of one another, but it is rare that one gets to write the biography of another. In 1957, Washington State University’s George A. Frykman was introduced by one of Washington’s notable historians, Charles M. Gates of the University of Washington, to the richest collection of papers that had belonged to yet another of the state’s eminent historians, Edmond S. Meany.
Frykman recognized the collection as not only a treasure trove of material about a single man, but also as a source of rich information about the formative years in writing the Pacific Northwest’s history.
Over the course of the next four decades, Frykman, who taught in the WSU history department from 1950 to 1987, exhaustively researched Meany’s life.
As a young man, Edmond Meany tried and failed at a couple of business ventures in Seattle before he found his niche as a promoter, specifically of Washington’s participation in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. He parlayed this success into a seat in the state legislature, and became one of the prime movers of Seattle’s first world’s fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909.
Many of the buildings from that fair later became incorporated into Meany’s beloved second home, the campus of the University of Washington, where he taught history for nearly four decades. Meany became an “institution” on the Seattle campus, often being voted the university’s most popular faculty member and keeper of many campus traditions. Two buildings on the UW campus have been named for him, and a Seattle hotel bears his name.
Even more important than his teaching was Meany’s efforts to preserve the history of the Northwest. Meany wrote the first scholarly work on Washington’s past, a volume that served students and the public for half a century. He also authored several shorter articles and books, and from 1906 until his death in 1935 edited the “Washington Historical Quarterly,” providing a forum for regional historians to circulate ideas and themes. Now named “The Pacific Northwest Quarterly,” the journal remains as it was under Meany’s tutelage — the most influential historical magazine in the region. In his role as teacher, editor, author and collector of pioneer reminiscences, Meany became the state’s most important early historian, one whose influence is still felt.
Frykman is author of “Creating the People’s University, Washington State University, 1890-1990,” which was published in 1990 by WSU Press to commemorate the university’s centennial.
“Seattle’s Historian and Promoter; The Life of Edmond Stephen Meany” is more than the culmination of nearly half a century of dedication to historical biography. It is a moving tribute to the state’s best-known historian of the first half of the 20th century by one of the state’s distinguished historians of the second half.
“Seattle’s Historian and Promoter,” a 288-page book with photographs, notes and index, is available in the United States for $28 at bookstores or directly from WSU Press at 800/354-7360. In Alaska and Canada, call 509/335-3518.
Editors note: For review copies or more information, please call Sue Emory at WSU Press, 509/335-3518 or 800/354-7360.