Enid Douglass, oral history pioneer, dies at 81

Historians in the News

Enid Hart Douglass, who was largely responsible for developing the oral history program at Claremont Graduate University and led it for more than three decades, has died. She was 81.

Ms. Douglass, a former mayor of Claremont (Los Angeles County died Oct. 17 at a care facility in Sunnyvale from complications of Alzheimer's disease, her family said.

As a graduate student at the school in the 1950s, she became interested in how history is preserved as she studied the letters of Americans who founded the United States.

Oral history was still a fairly new academic pursuit - the field was founded at Columbia University in 1948 - when Ms. Douglass joined Claremont's program a year after it began in 1962. She was the program's director from 1971 until she retired in 2003.

In explaining the importance of preserving spoken history, Ms. Douglass told the Los Angeles Times in 1986, "You're as close to the event or incident as you can be with a primary source; there's nothing closer."

In 1969, the program embarked on its first major project, interviewing missionaries who had been in China before World War II. The goal was to study how Western values had influenced China.

In the 1980s, she started recording the voices of California's recent political heritage, a project fueled by the discovery "that people weren't keeping records anymore," she said in the 1986 Times article. "We have no feeling for what went into the decision-making."

She interviewed politicians including Jerry Voorhis, who served five terms representing California in the U.S. Congress before losing his seat to Richard Nixon in 1946, and Walter Stiern, who was the dean of the state Senate when he retired in 1986....

comments powered by Disqus