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Harvard. Taussig’s assessment of the French economist Charles Rist for a Harvard lectureship, 1919



After Edwin F. Gay resigned his position at Harvard, Abbott Payson Usher took over his courses in 1921-22. (e.g. Economics 2a: European Industry and Commerce in the Nineteenth Century). From the files of President Lowell of Harvard we find that the French economist Charles Rist was seriously considered for that position. Frank Taussig‘s brief letter, transcribed below, was apparently sufficient to get a green-light from the President’s Office. I don’t know (yet) what was the deal breaker or even whether an offer actually ever went out.


Letter of Economics Chairman E. E. Day to President Lowell


Cambridge, Massachusetts

March 4, 1920

Dear President Lowell:

I spoke to you some time ago of the Department’s wish that an invitation be extended to Professor Charles Rist to come as Lecturer in the Department for at least one half of the next academic year. I have not broached the subject again, because Mr. Gay has thought he might have other suggestions to make. It now appears that the expectations Mr. Gay had in mind will not materialize, and that he has no proposal to make which seems to him to promise better than that the Department had in mind. I consequently renew at this time the Department’s suggestion. In view of Mr. Gay’s resignation, the offering of the Department is obviously deficient. I understand that you will support the Department in its endeavor to discover a man who may be brought in permanently to fill in part the serious gap which Mr. Gay’s departure has created. The suggested invitation to Professor Rist is one of the measures in this direction which the Department thinks most promising.

Professor Taussig is the only member of the Department who has had an opportunity to become personally acquainted with Professor Rist. I enclose herewith a statement of Professor Taussig’s impressions of the man. The other members of the Department know Rist only through his publications. These appear to be of highest quality.

It is the proposal of the Department that an invitation be extended to Rist to lecture here during the first half of 1920-1921. Possibly he may be secured on an exchange arrangement. If not, the Department would like to see him appointed as Lecturer in Economics for not less than the first half of the year.

Sincerely yours,
Edmund E. Day

President A. Lawrence Lowell


From a typed copy of Taussig’s statement


Cambridge, Massachusetts
November 28, 1919

            Professor Charles Rist is a member of the staff of the Sorbonne in the Department of Law. Economics is one of the subjects required of law students in France, hence there is a considerable economic staff for the law students. Rist is a man of 40-45 years, an extremely temperate, clear-headed, scholarly person. Of all the French professors with whom I came in contact in France he seemed to me the most promising. He has a most attractive personality, and is a clear as well as pleasing writer. His scholarly standing is assured. He is married, and has a family of several boys. For the sake of the boys, as well as for his own advantage, he remarked to me that he would very much like to come to the United States. If tolerable pecuniary arrangements can be made, he would doubtless come.

Rist’s command of English is not now sufficient to enable him to lecture in English. He would have to arrange to come over here a couple of months in advance and acquire a reasonable command of the spoken language. I should myself strongly advise him to do this, in case an invitation were extended.

Rist is the only man whom I saw in France who seemed to me a serious possibility for a permanent member of our staff. I think very highly of the man and his work, and have this possibility in mind in recommending him.



Copy of Lowell’s Response to E. E. Day

March 9, 1920

Dear Mr. Day:

It seems to me that the best thing would be to have Professor Rist sent here as the exchange professor from the University of Paris next year. We do not like to ask authoritatively to have a particular person sent, because we should not like it if they did the same to us. Therefore the best plan would be to have Professor Taussig write to him, suggesting that he should ask to be sent here next year as exchange professor, and he might add that he, M. Rist, feels confident that his selection would be acceptable at Harvard.

Very truly yours,
[name stamp] A. Lawrence Lowell

Professor E.E. Day
Department of Economics
Massachusetts Hall
Cambridge, Mass.


Source: Harvard University Archives, President Lowell’s Papers, 1919-1922, Box 155, Folder 293.

Image Source: Charles Rist at BnF Gallica website.

Irwin Collier

Posted by: Irwin Collier

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