Who Was Alvin Josephy?

Who Was Alvin Josephy?

Centered around the works of historian and author Alvin Josephy, the Josephy Library houses more than 2000 books, journals, manuscripts, and artifacts from Josephy home libraries in Greenwich, Connecticut and Joseph, Oregon. For more information about our Brown Bag Lunch series, the Library Archives and other programs, check here.

Contrary to popular belief, the Arts Center is not named after the town of Joseph, but after Alvin Josephy, leading historian of the Nez Perce Indians, who lived on the plains of the Wallowa Mountains from time immemorial until 150 years ago, when whites began illegally settling in the area.

Be sure to check out our beautifully designed, permanent exhibit upstairs at Josephy By Joan Madsen, debuted in June 2015. It features all the major life events and books during Alvin Josephy Jr’s life

Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. (May 18, 1915 – October 16, 2005) was an American historian who specialized in Native American issues.New York Times reviewer Herbert Mitgang called him in 1982 the “leading non-Indian writer about Native Americans.”

Josephy was born in Woodmere, New York. His mother was a daughter of publisher Samuel Knopf and a sister of Alfred A. Knopf. He graduated in 1932 from the Horace Mann School in New York City and attended Harvard College, but family misfortune forced him to withdraw after two years.

He worked as a Hollywood screenwriter, New York City newspaper correspondent, radio station news director, the Washington Office of War Information, and in the Pacific theater as United States Marine Corps combat correspondent, where he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for “heroic achievement in action… [making] a recording of historical significance” during the U.S. invasion of Guam.

After the war, Josephy returned to Hollywood where he wrote for the movies, for a local newspaper, and for veterans groups. There he married his second wife, Elizabeth Peet. They moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, around 1952 when Alvin joined Time as the photo editor. One assignment sparked interest in the history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, especially the Nez Perce people who lived primarily in Oregon and Idaho. He developed that interest largely in his free time and from 1960 worked for the magazine American Heritage.

Josephy’s works include The Patriot Chiefs (1961); Chief Joseph’s People and Their War (1964); The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest (1965); The Indian Heritage of America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968); Red Power: The American Indians’ Fight for Freedom (1971); and Now That the Buffalo’s Gone (1982); also Black Hills, White Sky; The Civil War in the American West and History of the Congress of the United States.

Josephy served as an advisor to both Stewart Udall and Richard Nixon on Federal Indian Policy. He had strongly disagreed with Eisenhower Administration policy, as President Nixon did in retrospect. (More than 100 tribes had lost federal recognition and their land holdings under “termination” and forced assimilation. The Nixon administration adopted “self-determination” and encouraged cultural survival.)

Alvin and Elizabeth Peet Josephy were married 56 years until her death in 2004. He died at home in Greenwich one year later, survived by one child from his first marriage, three from his second, and their descendants.

One of his books, The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest, was included on the list of 100 Oregon Books by the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission.[6] His papers are held at the Knight Library at the University of Oregon.


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