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William J. Harsha Papers


Held at: Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division [Contact Us]

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections


William Justin Harsha was born in Illinois in 1853. He graduated from Princeton University in 1874 and the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago in 1877. For the next fifteen years, he served as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Omaha, Nebraska. After several subsequent years at the Reformed Low Dutch Church in Harlem, New York, he returned to the West, spending the remainder of his life in Colorado, where he was a pastor at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Denver. Harsha also wrote numerous books and articles asserting the need to respect the humanity of Indigenous peoples. According to an obituary, he was "instrumental in having the Indian declared a person in the eyes of the law." His best-known work was a historical novel, "Ploughed Under: The Story of an Indian Chief," in which he aimed to arouse the sympathies of white settlers to the plight of Native Americans suffering under colonialism. He died in 1938.

This collection consists of four volumes of sermons, lecture notes, diary entries, and clippings, as well as correspondence, broadsides, a pamphlet, and a photograph belonging to William J. Harsha (1853-1938), a Presbyterian minister from Illinois who worked in Nebraska, New York, and Colorado, and who was an advocate for Indigenous civil rights.

Three of the four volumes contain sermons and lecture notes, interspersed with clippings. Two of these are from Harsha's time at Princeton University in 1873 and include his notes on various religious lectures; the third is from the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. A fourth volume is a combination of a diary and scrapbook, documenting his time in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1889. Harsha records sermons he preached, interactions with congregants, and major events, and pastes in numerous newspaper clippings about his ministry. A manuscript chart included in the book notes, "Financial Statement 1st Pres Church Omaha from Apl. 1, 1877 to Apl. 1, 1889," and details the number of home and foreign missions, church maintenance and ministry expenses, as well as a category for "Freedmen," possibly listing aid given to Black residents of Omaha. The chart also records the congregational population, which Harsha grew from 138 people in 1877 to 600 in 1889.

Of particular interest is an eight-page essay titled, "Helen Hunt Jackson, Century of Dishonor," which loosely recounts Harsha's dealings with Standing Bear, a chief of the Ponca Nation. Standing Bear had successfully argued before the U.S. District Court of Omaha that Native Americans were people under the law and had the right to habeas corpus. Standing Bear's activism was the subject of Harsha's book "Ploughed Under: The Story of an Indian Chief."

The correspondence present in the collection primarily concerns the publication of Harsha's sermons, articles, and books. The two broadsides are both from Omaha, one advertising a lecture by Harsha and the second the publication of a new book by him, "The Story of Iowa." There is also one photograph that shows the First Presbyterian Church of Tecumseh, Nebraska, and a pamphlet including Harsha's lecture "Why Preach the Gospel?"

Arranged by material type.

Purchased from McBride Rare Books in 2022 (AM 2023-065).

This collection was processed by Kelly Bolding in December 2022. Finding aid written by Kelly Bolding in December 2022, incorporating some description provided by the dealer.

No materials were removed from the collection during 2022 processing.

Manuscripts Division
Finding Aid Author
Kelly Bolding
Finding Aid Date
Processing of this collection was sponsored by the Delafield fund.
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Single copies may be made for research purposes. No further duplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to Special Collections Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Collection Inventory

Notebooks Containing Sermons and Lecture Notes, 1873-1875. 3 folders.
Physical Description

3 folders

Diary and Scrapbook, 1889. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

Correspondence, 1889-1891. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

"Helen Hunt Jackson, Century of Dishonor" Essay on Standing Bear, 1880. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

Advertisements and Printed Address, circa 1889-1899. 1 folder.
Scope and Contents

Includes a booklet containing Harsha's "Why Preach the Gospel?" address to the students of the Theological Seminary at Omaha, an announcement for his book "The Story of Iowa," and an advertisement for a lecture titled "Leisure Days in Italy."

Physical Description

1 folder

Photograph of the First Presbyterian Church in Tecumseh, Nebraska, circa 1873-1891. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

Print, Suggest