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Harold Guy Merriam introduced the Creative Writing Program to University of Montana in 1920, making it the second of its kind in the United States after Harvard. Famed poet Richard Hugo established the MFA at UM 47 years later. Today, Missoula students in the MFA writing program rank top in the nation with awards and publications.


  • A photo of Merriam from 1938
  • A 1942 letter Merriam wrote to the University President advocating for English students
  • Textbooks used by Merriam at UM in 1938
  • A 1954 letter to Merriam about his retirement
  • A letter of praise for the Frontier
  • A 1942 letter comparing the English faculty to kindergarteners
  • Flyer mentioning Merriam returning to UM after teaching in Oregon
  • A 1924 letter in which Merriam suggests a change to the grading system
  • A 1942 letters expressing concern about English professors' salaries

Born 6 September 1883 in Westminster, Massachusetts, Harold Guy Merriam moved westward throughout his life. He received a BA from Wyoming University in 1905 and earned more degrees at several other institutions, including his MA at Oxford University in 1907. He briefly studied at Harvard, but moved on to teach in Wisconsin and Oregon. During World War I, he taught France and London. He returned the U.S. in 1919 to become the chair of the English Department at the University of Montana. He introduced Creative Writing courses to the curriculum by 1920. 

 

Merriam was influential in shaping the creative writing curriculum. The H.G. Merriam Papers includes letters to university officials expressing serious concerns about faculty quality, low salaries, grading patterns, and financial instability. Merriam cared deeply for students, expressing a desire to provide the English students with a “focal place for . . . group life.” Merriam also had a wry sense of humor. In another letter, he joked: “P.S.: I understand that the English staff looks, when assembled, like a kindergarten group!!!”


Merriam oversaw the introduction of new classes, included in course catalogs beginning in 1920, including Shakespeare and story writing. He designed and taught many of these courses himself. In 1920, he created the magazine The Frontier and Midland to encourage students from all around the west to write. The journal was published until 1939.

 

Simultaneously, Merriam left UM to teach at at the University of Oregon. Merriam founded several writers' conferences from 1930 through 1960. He became the state supervisor of the Federal Writers Project in 1935. He also participated in the creation of the Montana Institute of the Arts, serving as editor and president from 1957 to 1964. On March 26th of 1980, Merriam passed away at the age of 96 in Missoula, Montana.

 

Although the College of Humanities and Sciences remains under financial stress today, the Creative Writing Program offers more than 30 courses in Creative Writing, as well as requiring literature courses. Missoula, Montana has been home to numerous published authors, including Richard Hugo, Kim Barnes, Michael FitzGerald, and James Welch, among others. Today, undergraduates publish and edit The Oval, and graduate students manage Cutbank, both literary journals housed at UM.


1967-1968 Course Catalog, University of Montana. Accessed November 24th 2019. https://scholarworks.umt.edu/coursecatalogs_asc/3/.

About Our Program, College of Humanities and Sciences / Creative Writing. University of Montana. Accessed November 3rd 2019. http://hs.umt.edu/creativewriting/about.php.

Creative Writing (CRWR), University of Montana. Accessed November 3rd 2019. https://catalog.umt.edu/course-pages/crwr.

H.G. Merriam, CloudPedia. Accessed November 3rd 2019. https://cloudpedia.org/h-g-merriam.

H.G. Merriam Papers. Archives and Special Collections, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library., especially "Concerns for the University of Montana, Correspondence & Proposals 1921-1950 " Box 6, Folder 5.

Publications and Organizations. State University of Montana (Missoula, Mont.), "The Sentinel, 1920" (1919). University of Montana Sentinel Yearbook, 1904-1989. 71. https://scholarworks.umt.edu/sentinel/71

Regionalism: Commentary 6. The Frontier, Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington. Accessed November 3rd 2019. https://www.washington.edu/uwired/outreach/cspn/Website/Classroom%20Materials/Reading%20the%20Region/Aggressive%20Regionalism/Commentary/6.html

"University of Montana Budget Cuts of 20% in 3 Years Bite College of Humanities and Sciences." The Missoulian (Missoula). 2019.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Photo # 487.XII.001, “H.G. Merriam,” 1938, H.G. Merriam Papers; Mss 487, Archives and Special Collections, Archival Photographs from the University of Montana, Missoula, Montana Memory Project, https://mtmemory.org/digital/collection/p16013coll27/id/6986/rec/1.

“Concerning a Center for English Major Students,” H. G. Merriam Papers, Box 6/5, 22 November 1942, Archives and Special Collections, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, The University of Montana-Missoula

“Reserve Book List, Spring 1938,” H. G. Merriam Papers, Box 7/8, Archives and Special Collections, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, The University of Montana-Missoula.

Merriam, H. G. Correspondence - Retirement 1954, ser. Box 8/7, vol. H.G. Merriam Papers. Archives and Special Collections.

Merriam, H. G. Personal to Clapp. Concerns for the University of Montana, Correspondence & Proposals 1921-1950 , ser. Box 6/5, vol. H.G. Merriam Papers. Archives and Special Collections.

Merriam, H. G.. 28 June, 1942. Concerns for the University of Montana, Correspondence & Proposals 1921-1950 , ser. Box 6/5, vol. H.G. Merriam Papers. Archives and Special Collections.

Merriam, H. G.. English Leaflet, Dismissal from UM 1940 (April - December), ser. Box 7/6, vol. H.G. Merriam Papers. Archives and Special Collections.

Merriam, H. G.. 1 February, 1924. Concerns for the University of Montana, Correspondence & Proposals 1921-1950 , ser. Box 6/5, vol. H.G. Merriam Papers. Archives and Special Collections.

Merriam, H. G.. 28 June, 1942. Concerns for the University of Montana, Correspondence & Proposals 1921-1950 , ser. Box 6/5, vol. H.G. Merriam Papers. Archives and Special Collections.