Ari Hoogenboom (1927-2014)
Charles W. Calhoun, May 2015
Historian of the Gilded Age and AHA 50-Year Member
Ari Hoogenboom, Broeklundian Professor of History emeritus at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of CUNY, died on October 25, 2014, of complications of mesothelioma. His death closed a distinguished career spanning more than half a century.
Hoogenboom was born in 1927 in Richmond Hill, Queens, the son of a carpenter. In 1949, he received his BA from Atlantic Union College, where he met Olive Youngberg, whom he married two months after their graduation. Olive soon became his indispensable partner in history.
Hoogenboom earned a master’s degree at Columbia in 1951. In 1956, he accepted a position as instructor (later assistant professor) at the University of Texas at El Paso. Two years later he completed his doctoral work at Columbia under the supervision of David Donald. In 1961, the University of Illinois Press published his revised dissertation, Outlawing the Spoils: A History of the Civil Service Reform Movement, 1865–1883. Examining the Liberal Reformers through the lens of their favorite project, Hoogenboom argued persuasively that their fight for reform partook largely of an assault of the “outs” against the “ins.” The book remains the standard work on the subject.
In 1958, Hoogenboom moved to Penn State, where he rose rapidly from assistant professor to professor. While there he published The Enterprising Colonials: Society on the Eve of Revolution (1965), coauthored with William S. Sachs, and The Gilded Age (1967), coedited with Olive Hoogenboom. He also served three years as the secretary of the Pennsylvania Historical Society. In 1968, Brooklyn College recruited him to chair its history department, and he returned to his roots, one borough away. He led the department with his usual good sense and good humor for six years. After he relinquished his administrative duties in 1974, he resumed administrative history, publishing with Olive Hoogenboom A History of the ICC: From Panacea to Palliative (1976). This case study of the rise and fall of the regulatory endeavor in the first such federal entity won plaudits for its unflinching analysis, which assigned much of the agency’s difficulty to its own ineffectual bureaucracy.
Hoogenboom next turned his attention to Rutherford B. Hayes, publishing two important books that showed his skill as a historian in full flower. The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes appeared in 1988 in the American Presidency series published by the University Press of Kansas. No apologia, the book offered a respectful reconsideration of Hayes’s single term. Hoogenboom’s deft treatment portrayed Hayes not only as a man of personal rectitude who restored respectability to the White House but also as a president who exerted executive authority and took the initiative in formulating policy, especially regarding the South and civil service reform. Although Hayes took office under a cloud and encountered many vicissitudes, Hoogenboom showed that he left the White House more popular than when he went in, a rare feat for presidents.
Hoogenboom expanded on these themes in his magisterial biography Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President, published by Kansas in 1995. Based on an exhaustive exploration of primary sources, this book stands as his premier achievement as a historian. Its substantial length allowed him to examine in full the roots of Hayes’s character, especially his service as an intrepid and oft-wounded general during the Civil War, as well as the development of his political persona in the battleground state of Ohio. The biography also explored Hayes’s post-presidential career, during which, like a 19th-century Jimmy Carter, he devoted himself to good works, especially advocating increased educational opportunity for African Americans, Native Americans, and others. The book won the Ohioana Book Award. In the words of Fred Woodward of Kansas, “Working with Ari Hoogenboom was an unalloyed pleasure. An accomplished scholar, an indefatigable researcher, he turned out work on our 19th president that is without peer.”
After retirement, he focused on Civil War topics, publishing Rutherford B. Hayes: “One of the Good Colonels” (1999) and Gustavus Vasa Fox of the Union Navy (2008). He received a Fulbright Lectureship Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and served as George Bancroft Professor of American History at the University of Gottingen in 1991–92.
Friends and colleagues delighted in Ari’s playful sense of humor. “To publish Ari,” Fred Woodward said, “was satisfying, rewarding, and fun.” In 1960, the Wisconsin Magazine of History published his memorable article arguing that “beards provided the aggressiveness that brought on the Civil War.” Elaborating at length on the menace of the hirsute face, he saw a lesson for his own time: “There is hope for the world as long as the bottom of Eisenhower’s and Khrushchev’s chins remain as smooth as the top of their heads.” His expertise won him the spot as chief commentator for the Hayes episode of C-SPAN’s American Presidents series. Friends who viewed the show recognized at once the twinkle in his eye when, on the grounds of the Hayes Presidential Library, Ari hugged the tree that had been named in his honor. Colleagues across the country remember Ari Hoogenboom as a man of great wit, bonhomie, good will, and kindness. History has lost a gentleman.
Charles W. Calhoun
East Carolina University (Emeritus)
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