The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

MHS Remembers Longtime Member

David Herbert Donald, the Charles Warren professor of history emeritus at Harvard and a member of the MHS since 1960, died on Sunday at the age of 88. Mr. Donald's many books included Lincoln's Herndon (1948); Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War (1960); Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man (1974); Look Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe (1987); Lincoln (1995); and 'We Are Lincoln Men' (2003). With his wife Aida DiPace Donald, he edited a two-volume edition of The Diary of Charles Francis Adams, 1820-1829 (1964). He won Pulitzer Prizes for the first volume of his Sumner biography and for Homeward.

Dr. Donald was at work on a study of John Quincy Adams' post-presidential career, which he spoke about during his last public lecture at the Historical Society, on 11 October 2006. He reported that he was delighted by the digital collection of JQA's diaries, because they meant that he could work comfortably from home. In my notes from that talk, I wrote that a member of the audience asked a question after Donald's lecture about how he’d decided to write the book, and he said his agent told him that the publisher wanted it done. “But I’m too old,” Donald said, to which the agent replied “You’re no older than Adams was and he kept at it.” Donald told the crowd that he kept saying no until the agent said “Listen, you have to write this book, you’re just as cranky and cantankerous as Adams ever was!” “And then,” Donald quipped, “I couldn’t say no.” In my notes from that night I also wrote how much I enjoyed listening to him speak - he had a wonderfully rich, Southern voice.

The first mention of David Herbert Donald in the MHS Proceedings was at the annual meeting in 1957, when Librarian Stephen T. Riley reported that he had visited the library for research purposes that year (Riley described Donald as having "been long engaged on his life of Charles Sumner"). The MHS elected Donald a corresponding member at the December 1960 meeting, and a resident member in January, 1975. Since 1963 he has been a member of the Adams Papers Editorial Advisory Board.

Donald, a native of Mississippi, was a graduate of Millsaps College (B.A., 1941) and the University of Illinois (Ph.D., 1946). He taught history at Columbia University, Smith College, Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University, as well as Harvard University. A full obituary appears in today's Boston Globe.

permalink | Published: Tuesday, 19 May, 2009, 10:00 AM


Commenting has closed for this post. Thank you for participating.