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William McDevitt papers


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. 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 McDevitt was an author, bookseller, and Socialist political agitator who operated bookstores on Sutter and Fillmore streets in San Francisco for more than forty years in the first half of the twentieth century. He was an active public orator on Socialist issues and a pamphleteer on both literary and political subjects. In addition to his literary and bookselling activities, McDevitt was politically active both as a member of the Socialist Party and as an election commissioner while James Rolph was Mayor of San Francisco. He and Upton Sinclair became correspondents based upon McDevitt carrying Sinclair's works in his bookstore and their shared interests in Socialist politics.

Upton Sinclair, author, muckraking journalist, and Socialist political figure, was born 1878 in Baltimore, Maryland. He entered the City College of New York in 1892, publishing in boys' weeklies and pulp magazines to pay his tuition. Upon graduation, he briefly enrolled at Columbia University, majoring in law but pursuing an eclectic field of study. He later lived in New Jersey, where he founded a short-lived Socialist commune called the Helicon Home Colony, and then California, where he lived for nearly four decades.

After leaving Columbia, he wrote four books which were commercially unsuccessful though critically well-received: King Midas (1901), Prince Hagen (1902), The Journal of Arthur Stirling (1903), and a Civil War novel titled Manassas (1904)—but it was his politically oriented works The Jungle (1906) and King Coal (1917), as well as a series of novels featuring the main character Lanny Budd, which gave him popular success. The third book in the Lanny Budd series, Dragon's Teeth (1942) won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1943.

In addition to his literary work, Sinclair had an active political career as an agitator and a candidate for public office. During his time in California he ran for a seat on the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate, and for Governor of California, all on the Socialist ticket, and was active in radical politics in Los Angeles, speaking at demonstrations and rallies. In 1934, he won the nomination for Governor of California on the Democratic ticket, but faced strong resistance from mainstream interest groups, including the major Hollywood studios, and lost to the incumbent Governor, Frank Merriam. Because of his nomination, Sinclair was expelled from the Socialist party of California, along with many of his supporters, effectively destroying the party. Late in life, Sinclair moved to Buckeye, Arizona and then to Bound Brook, New Jersey, where he died in a nursing home on November 25, 1968.

This collection includes correspondence, promotional material for books and lectures (many, though not all, of them by McDevitt himself), and copies of pamphlets written by McDevitt.

The bulk of the correspondence in this collection is from Upton Sinclair to William McDevitt, mostly concerning sales of Sinclair's books but touching briefly on the Socialist issues which concerned both men. The collection also includes general correspondence between McDevitt and other booksellers and readers.

There is one folder of material promoting books which McDevitt offered for sale at his bookshop, as well as public lectures and debates by McDevitt himself. Much of the dating is approximate.

Finally, the collection contains pamphlets written and published by McDevitt in the 1940s, on both literary and political subjects. It is arranged chronologically. Two of the pamphlets relate to Jack London.

Sold by Oak Knoll Books, 2017.

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Sam Allingham
Finding Aid Date
2018 August 20
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

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Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

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Letters from Upton Sinclair to McDevitt, 1910 July 21-1947 December 22.
Box 1 Folder 1
Letters concerning book orders between McDevitt and others , 1905 July 5-1947 December 22.
Box 1 Folder 2
Promotional materials for lectures and publications, circa 1928.
Box 1 Folder 3
Writings: When Coxey's "Army" March on Washington, 1894, 1944.
Box 1 Folder 4
Writings: Jack London's First, 1946.
Box 1 Folder 4
Writings: Jack London as Poet and as Platform Man: did Jack London commit suicide?, 1947.
Box 1 Folder 4
Writings: Ambrose Bierce on Richard Realf, 1948.
Box 1 Folder 4

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