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James A. Michener Art Museum Archives exhibition materials from James A. Michener: A Living Legacy


Held at: James A. Michener Art Museum Archives [Contact Us]138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, PA, 18901

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the James A. Michener Art Museum Archives. 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

James A. Michener (1907-1997) was a best-selling American author of more than forty books, a large number of which were historical novels based in specific locations around the world where Michener had traveled. Michener was known for his extensive research of each location's history, culture, and geology. Michener was a generous philanthropist and donated over one hundred million dollars to various educational programs, arts related institutions, and other organizations.

James A. Michener (1907-1997) was born in 1907 in New York, New York. Michener claimed that his birth date and biological parents were unknown. Brought up as a Quaker in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Michener believed that he was raised by an adoptive mother. After graduating from Doylestown High School in 1925, Michener attended Swarthmore College in Delaware County, PA and graduated with the highest honors in 1929. Following graduation, he traveled and studied throughout Europe for two years and then worked in several teaching positions in the following years. He earned a master's degree from Colorado State Teachers College (now University of Northern Colorado). He married his first wife, Patti Koon, in 1935 and went on to teach for one year at Harvard University in Massachusetts.

Michener was called to active duty for World War II and traveled throughout the South Pacific with the United States Navy. In 1962, Michener unsuccessfully ran as a Democratic candidate for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. Later, he served as the Secretary for the 1967-1968 Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention. Michener's writing began during World War II while serving in the South Pacific. Not long after, he wrote The Tales of the South Pacific and it was published in 1947. This book later became the basis for the Broadway and film musical South Pacific. Tales of the South Pacific won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948. That same year, Michener divorced his wife, Patti, and married his second wife, Vange Nord. In 1959, Michener's novel Hawaii, based on his extensive research from living several years on the islands, was published and became an immediate best-seller. Most, if not all, of his subsequent novels were based on detailed historical, cultural, and geological research conducted during his travels, resulting in over four dozen historical novels, including Centennial, a novel about Colorado, Texas, Alaska, and Chesapeake. During his lifetime, Michener sold an estimated 75 million copies of his fiction and non-fiction books worldwide.

Michener's success made him a wealthy man, but he was a philanthropist and gave away large amounts of his money. His third and final wife, Mari Yoriko Sabusawa, whom Michener married in 1955, directed her husband's donations, which totaled more than $100 million. Among the beneficiaries were the University of Texas, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and Swarthmore College. He supported many different groups, including NASA. From 1979 to 1983, he was a member of the Advisory Council to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Other positions he held included appointments as cultural ambassador to various countries and volunteering with the International Broadcasting Board. As the result of his philanthropic service, Michener was awarded many medals, plaques, honorary degrees, and other memorabilia. He was an avid collector of Japanese prints, as well as souvenirs from all over the world. In connection with his books and articles, he visited most of the countries in the world, staying long enough to become familiar with the customs and the people.

Michener's wife, Mari, passed away in 1994. In October of 1997, Michener ended his dialysis treatment and died of kidney failure at the age of 90. He is buried in Austin, Texas and is honored by a monument at the Texas State Cemetery.


American Academy of Achievement. "James A. Michener." Last revised on November 6, 2015. Accessed September 16, 2016.

James A. Michener: A Living Legacy is a permanent exhibit at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. James A. Michener Art Museum Archives exhibition materials from James A. Michener: A Living Legacy, 1907-1997, include numerous objects, some manuscript materials, photographs and negatives, books from Michener's personal collection, books written by Michener, art reproductions, records and reel-to-reel tapes, video clips of Michener's work that was adapted for film and television, printed matter and ephemera, awards and certificates, and other materials.

The James A. Michener: A Living Legacy collection contains a large assortment of Michener's personal possessions, ranging from furniture and writing materials to framed awards and medals. In the center of the permanent exhibition room are Michener's desk, Olympia Werke AG typewriter, and rolling chair, over which his Doylestown High School t-shirt is draped. Atop his desk are Michener's dictionary, his original manuscript for The Novel, a 1985 issue of The Tinicum Bulletin, and various office supplies. Opposite Michener's desk are several shelves of books from his personal collection, including works by eminent French authors such as Honore de Balzac, Emile Zola, and Gustave Flaubert. Also lining the shelves are several of Michener's books, many of them translated into foreign languages.

Other items around the room bear witness to Michener's interests and passions, notably the visual arts, music, politics, and traveling. Michener's extensive collection of art reproductions, containing works by both American and European painters, his self-built music system and large compilation of operatic records and reel-to-reel tapes, his Democratic campaign posters from the early 1960s, and his road maps of distant places (such as Moscow, Israel, Tahiti, and Saigon) are all showcased in the Living Legacy permanent exhibition.

Many of the objects in the collection pay tribute to Michener's literary contributions, such as the 1977 Presidential Medal of Freedom presented to Michener by Gerald Ford (the highest civilian award an American can receive), a NASA distinguished service medal, and a 1983 framed certificate given to Michener by Ronald Reagan. Other items are more biographic in nature, such as John Hoenstine's photographs of Michener's eight childhood homes and the 1917 registration book of Melinda Cox Library, the institution that issued Michener his first library card.

A more detailed finding aid, biographical note, or inventory for this collection may be available on-site.

Gift of James A. Michener, circa 1992

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact James A. Michener Art Museum Archives directly for more information.

James A. Michener Art Museum Archives
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Sarah Leu and Anastasia Matijkiw through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories using information provided by the James A. Michener Art Museum Archives
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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