Alfred John Pearson

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Dr. Alfred John Pearson (Sept. 29, 1869 - August 10, 1939)

Originally submitted by: Susan Breakenridge Fink, Drake University, Nov 3, 2010. Last Updated, Jan 6, 2012.

Dr. Alfred John Pearson - copyright - Drake University

Drake Connections and Significant Accomplishments

Dr. Pearson's career at Drake University started in 1907 when he joined the faculty as a Professor of German Language and Literature. In 1924, he took a leave from Drake when he was appointed Minister to Poland by President Calvin Coolidge. In 1925, he was then appointed Minister to Finland and served until 1930. On his return to Drake, he was appointed Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. He remained in this position until his death.

Dr. Pearson had another noted historical experience in his life which time has made more notable. During his travels to Germany in 1934, he interviewed Chancellor Adolph Hitler of Germany on July 6th. Upon his return to the US, he consulted with President Roosevelt and was "asked to give his views regarding the national recovery program and a report on the economic Situation in Germany" [1]. Dr. Pearson wrote an article about the interview which was published in the New York Herald in July 11, 1934. See Articles. Another significant point about this interview was its historic timing. The interview was conducted "just days after the Chancellor ordered the political assassinations of the infamous 'Night of the Long Knives'[2]. Other comments by Dr. Pearson regarding Adolph Hitler can be found in the April 27, 1933 edition (page 4 - "Pearson Cites the Hitler Regime as Being 'Jungle-like'") of the Drake Times Delphic, the February 11, 1938 edition (page 1 - "Pearson Talks on Germany - Cites Hitler's Motives") of the Drake Times Delphic, and October 4, 1938 edition (page 2 - "Pearson Describes Hitler as 'Complexity in Itself'") of the Drake Times Delphic.

Copyright - Drake Univeristy

Club Involvement at Drake

Dr. Pearson was the faculty representative to different groups/clubs on campus. "The German Corner" or Die Deutsche Ecke was featured in the 1924 Quax and 1925 Quax (Drake University Yearbook).

Dean of the College of Liberal Arts

As part of Dr. Pearson's appointment announcement as the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, his photo was featured on the front of The Drake Alumnus in September of 1930. Quote from Drake University President, Daniel W. Morehouse:

Seven years ago the faculty of the College of Liberal Arts tendered a farewell reception to Dr. Alfred J. Pearson, head of the German Department, and congratulated him on the distinguished honor that had come to him through his appointment as United States Consul and Envoy Plenipotentiary to a European nation, Poland.

Today, with renewed enthusiasm we welcome him home and congratulate ourselves that he has accepted the deanship of our college, as he terminates his leave of absence[3].

Early Years & Education

Alfred John Pearson was born September 29, 1869 in Landskrona, Sweden. His family moved to Illinois when he was an infant eventually settling in Kansas in 1875. He graduated from Bethany College, Lindsborg, Kansas in 1893 with an A. B. and in 1896 with a M. A. He earned his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1896 [4].

From 1896-98, Dr. Pearson was a German instructor at Upsala College in Kennilworth, New Jersey and from 1898-1907 was Professor of English and German at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. He joined the Drake University Faculty in 1907 as a Professor of German Language and Literature [4].

In 1918-1919, Dr. Pearson was one of the Directors of the overseas service of the American Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in France, and, after the Armistice, directed the "Y" work in the occupied sections of Germany, pending the negotiations for peace oat Versailles[4].

Years of Diplomatic Service

From 1924-1925, Dr. Pearson was a Minister to Poland and from 1925-1930 served as a Minister to Finland. His friends were "urging him as worthy of representing us at the royal court of his native Sweden. ... [so on] March 9, 1922, Dr. F.I.Herriott was drafted to go to Washington with Mr. Charles J. Engleen, then President of the John Erickson League, to present Dr. Pearson's candidacy to the President" (p.13) [4]. "Our immediate objective at Washington, namely the Swedish Embassy, was not achieved, because Dr. Pearson was born in Sweden, and that fact under our diplomatic practice barred his appointment to that post" (p.14) [4].

Copyright - Des Moines Register


Dr. F.I.Herriott (1941): His sudden passing gives one cause for thankfulness; Dr. Pearson has been spared the distress he would have suffered in reading of the dire fate which has been inflected on Poland by Hitler's brutal ultimatum to the Polish government and his ruthless invasion and destruction of her cities and slaughter of her helpless population. (p. 17)

Since his death, we have learned that as early as 1934 he was aware of the danger to his health which finally struck him down. But he gave us no hint of its seriousness. He was not one of the social bores or pests who enjoy ill-health and are adepts in publicizing their aches and aliments, seeking sympathy wherewith to feed and sustain an ailing ego. (p. 4) [4]

Drake Times Delphic coverage of Dr. Pearson's death - September 19, 1939 edition (page 1 & 8 - "AJ Pearson Dies from Heart Attack at Home, Aug 10th).

Additional connections with Drake University

Dr. Pearson’s daughter, Thea Elaine Pearson, earned a BA in Arts and Sciences from Drake in 1925 and a Master of Arts in 1930. She was a member of Chi Omega and the Varsity Debate team. After graduation, she taught French at the University of Minnesota. She married Daniel W Ernst, who attended Drake (ALND 1924). Elaine Pearson Ernst died April 2, 1993.

Their son, Daniel Pearson Ernst, earned his BA from Dartmouth in 1953 and his JD from the University of Michigan in 1956.

The Pearson family papers were donated to the State Historical Society of Iowa by Daniel and Ann Ernst in 2007. The materials include diaries, correspondence, articles, scrapbooks and photographs. It includes letters written by Dr. Pearson to his wife, Thea, and to his daughter during his diplomatic assignments. Elaine’s diaries and letters from her future husband are included. More information on the family papers can be found at


  • [1] Alfred J Pearson educator 43 years. (Aug 11, 1939). New York Times, p. 19.
  • [2] Pearson papers reveal the life of a U.S. diplomat. (Sept-Oct, 2007). Iowa Historian: The Newsletter of the State Historical Society of Iowa. Des Moines, IA: State Historical Society.
  • [3] The president says. (1930). The Drake Alumnus, 15(1), p.3.
  • [4] Herriott, F.I. (January, 1941). Alfred John Pearson: An appreciation of a scholar, teach, and diplomat. [reprint from] Annals of Iowa. [Available via Cowles Library's Archive Collection]