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James Norman Schmidt Collection

Manuscript Collection No.52
Overview | Biography | Scope and Content | Container List


6.6 cu. ft. in 20 boxes. 1934-1983

Provenance: The Ohio University Library received the James Norman Schmidt collection as a gift in two separate accessions. The first (ac. no. 84-141), from the James Norman Schmidt estate, was received from Professor Emeritus John Baldwin on November 19, 1984. Melissa Thompson, of Cincinnati, Ohio, stepdaughter of James Norman Schmidt and executor of the Schmidt estate, donated a smaller set of similar materials (ac. no. 84-142; recorded November 30, 1984) which were brought in the next day by Professor Peter Heidtmann. Alan Van Dyne processed the collection in April 1986.

Property Rights: The Ohio University Library owns the property rights to this collection.

Copyrights: The executor of the Schmidt estate has made no provisions as to the copyrights and/or literary rights of this collection.

Access: The collection is open under the rules and regulations of the Ohio University Library.

Photoduplication: The Ohio University Library will entertain requests to photocopy reasonable amounts of material from the collection for the convenience of individual researchers.

Citation: Researchers are requested to cite collection name, collection number, and Ohio University Library in all footnotes and bibliographical references.

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James Norman Schmidt, the son of Hugo and Laura (Blais) Schmidt, was born January 10, 1912, in Chicago. He married his second wife, Margaret Fox, in 1961. He had two children, Paul and Melissa Thompson (stepdaughter). Schmidt died September 26, 1983 at University Hospital, Columbus, OH.

Schmidt received a B.A. from Loyola University of Chicago in 1932 and a certificate from the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris, in 1934. From 1953-54, he attended Centro Universitario Mexico. In 1957 he received a bachelor of arts from the University of the Americas, Mexico City, and in 1967, a masters degree from the Institute Allende, Mexico.

Schmidt remarked that he had long been interested in literature and the peoples of distant lands, but his career as a writer began as a fluke. While studying sculpture in Paris, he ran out of money and obtained a job with the Chicago Tribune and United Press as a reporter from 1933-36. He was assigned to cover the Spanish Civil War and soon quit his job to serve in the struggle against the Fascists as a member of the International Brigade. After being injured, he worked at a pro-Republic short wave radio station where he met Ernest Hemingway. Near the end of the war, Schmidt escaped from Madrid and returned to Chicago and then moved to California. He worked as an editor of Compton's Pictured Encyclopedia from 1939-40. After the U.S. became involved in WW II, he served in the Army for three years as a military correspondent on the Pacific front, covering the fighting on the island of Leyte, the fall of Manila, and the later occupation of Japan. He became first lieutenant and was awarded the Bronze Star.

After his service in the Army, Schmidt returned to Los Angeles for a year and then moved to Mexico City in 1948 where he worked as a freelance writer. He met many rapidly rising Latin American writers and poets including Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Octavio Paz. While in Mexico, he also met Margaret Fox.

Schmidt became a lecturer on Mexican history and customs at the Academia Americana. He served as director of creative writing at the Instituto Allende from 1958-61 and later, from 1980-83.

As the market for fiction and magazine writing declined in the early 1960s, Schmidt decided to return to the U.S. and applied for positions at several universities. In the spring of 1965, he was a writer in residence at Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana. Ohio University, Athens, hired Schmidt on the recommendation of art professor Dr. John Baldwin, who had known Schmidt in Mexico. At Ohio University, Schmidt was a lecturer in English, 1965-66 and a professor of creative writing, 1967-79.

Schmidt was a prolific writer. His published works, dating from the 1930s to the 1970s include many novels, short stories, journal articles, and television stories. At the time of his death, he was working on the final draft of a biography of Cassius Marcellus Clay, a nineteenth century American abolitionist, Civil War general, and Lincoln's appointment as minister to Russia.

The subject matter of Schmidt's literary work varied widely. Much of it was geared toward young people. Also, the topic of Mexico was a frequent theme in his writings. Schmidt twice won La Pluma de Plata (the Silver Pen) award from the Mexican government for articles that appeared in National Geographic, ("The Tarahumaras," 1977 and "The Huichols - Mexico's People of Myth and Magic," 1978).

Very frequently Schmidt used the pen name, James Norman. Other aliases found in this collection are: J. Norman Schmidt, J. Norman S., J. Norman Szweig, and possibly John Wisdom -- an alias not definitely identified to be Schmidt by this processor.

Clark, Jacob R. "Professor Fought in and Fled from Franco's
Spain," The Post, 6 November 1981.
Commire, Anne, ed. Something About the Author: Facts
and Pictures about Authors and Illustrators of Books for Young People, Vol. 21. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1980.
Evory, Ann, ed. Contemporary Authors; New Revision
Series, Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1981.
Jaques Cattell Press, ed. Directory of American
Scholars, 8th ed., Vol. 2. New York: R. R. Bowher Co., 1982.
"Retired Prof, Author Dies," Athens Messenger,
27 September 1983.
Thompson, Steve, "And He also Writes Novels," Athens
Magazine, Fall 1974.

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The James Norman Schmidt collection is contained in twenty archival boxes. The collection deals primarily with Schmidt's literary endeavors. It covers the years from around 1934 to the time of his death in 1983.

The collection, which is approximately 6 1/4 cubic feet in size, is divided into two major series and a third, much smaller series.

The first series concerns Schmidt's research and writings about Cassius Marcellus Clay. Clay (Oct. 19, 1810 - July 22, 1903), the youngest son of Green Clay and Sally (Lewis) Clay, was born on his father's estate, "White Hall," in Madison County, Kentucky. Leading a very turbulent life, he was often involved in fights and in all his early political campaigns he carried a bowie knife and two pistols.

Clay received a good education and became involved in politics in the 1830s as a state representative. He early developed a bitter hatred toward slavery, a hatred that became a crusading passion. In June 1845, he set up an abolitionist newspaper, the True American (later called the Examiner).

Clay became a Republican and was a close friend of Lincoln who made him the minister to Russia. On his way there in April 1860, he raised 300 men to protect Washington D.C., which had been cut off and left undefended. He went on to Russia, but was recalled in 1862 and made a major-general. Clay was also a veteran of the Mexican War. He returned to Russia in 1868 and remained there until 1869. After this, he retired to his estate in Madison County. A few weeks before his death, the Richmond court determined him to be a lunatic.

The Clay series totals more than one third of the collection and could be most valuable for any general research concerning Clay's life. The series includes five books written by or about Clay, which are catalogued in Special Collections. It also includes draft manuscripts of Schmidt's unfinished biography of Clay (approximately 2/3 cu. ft.), and about one cu. ft. of research notes.

The research materials are predominantly made up of files and note cards but also include four cassette tapes, two albums, and two Clay family trees. The notes are quite detailed and contain information covering Clay's entire life. In addition to all of the handwritten and typed notes, there are, dispersed throughout the series, numerous photocopies of excerpts from books, articles, and newspapers, and copies of letters to and from Clay. The location of any original documents is usually written on the copy. Much of Schmidt's research was done at universities in Kentucky.

Interfiled with the notes are letters and correspondence concerning business transactions on this project. It seems that no publisher ever accepted the proposed biography.

The second series is contained in about 4 1/3 cu. ft. It concerns Schmidt's general literary work and is more useful to researchers of Schmidt himself. In order to provide a general overview of the character of Schmidt's work, the series is divided into smaller units. Thus, materials for any one particular work could be located in some or all of these subgroups.

The approximately two cu. ft. of manuscripts are primarily drafts of books or novels, but also contain articles, short stories, and television scripts. The notes, totaling about 1/2 cu. ft, are composed of handwritten and typed notes, drawings, note pads, and 1/3 cu. ft. of note cards. These notes deal with any of the Schmidt projects other than research on Clay. The letters and correspondence are primarily business oriented and are placed in chronological order. One section deals with Schmidt's divorce from his first wife Judith. There are 1 1/3 cu. ft. of printed matter. It includes published newspaper articles and over forty journal articles by Schmidt (the entire journal in which an article appeared is retained unless otherwise indicated on the inventory). Also included here are many newspaper clippings, mostly book reviews, about Schmidt, and various printed materials that he probably used for research purposes. The photograph section is comprised of over one hundred pictures and includes family portraits, snapshots, a 1930 class picture, and several photographs that appear to have been taken in Mexico and may have been used in some of the published works. Finally, there is a scrapbook containing additional information about Schmidt, primarily clippings from newspapers.

The third and much smaller series of the collection, approximately 1/4 cu. ft., contains manuscripts and research materials from Margaret Fox Schmidt.

Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, Dictionary of American
Biography, under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies, Vol. IV. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1930), pp. 169-170.

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