Notes from the Shoeboxes

Stanford University Archives

I was never Tom Bailey’s student. My loss.

The historian had retired from teaching before I came to know him in the mid-’60s. We met when I answered an ad in the Stanford Daily for weekend gardening work. Professor Bailey, ’24, MA ’25, PhD ’27, lived at the edge of Roble Field in a cottage he had purchased in the 1930s. He was always dressed in a suit, even on a Saturday at home, and we talked about the state of the world while I cut his grass.

Later I would become his research assistant and help him with several books, including The American Pageant, a leading United States history text then and now. Bailey, well into his 80s, climbed the stairs to the top floor of the History Corner and worked most of the day in an office impossibly stacked with books and papers, all of which seemed to lean toward him.

He was an old-fashioned scholar who insisted that I check and recheck every citation, even in successor editions of his books. He loved to demythologize American history, and during his teaching years he made a standing offer: a silver dollar to any student who could identify a new myth about American history.

In addition to good scholarship, Bailey taught me thrift and caution. The professor periodically bought a ream of inexpensive canary-yellow paper and took it to a printer to have it cut into 1,500 4-by-6 note papers. These, used in his extensive note taking, fit nicely in standard shoeboxes. Leftover strips all found use as bookmarks. His fear of fire was such that all his manuscripts were typed with four carbons. One copy was left with the typist, another at home, a third at the office. The fourth was in an asbestos box in his garage; the fifth in a Palo Alto safe-deposit box.

He was enormously proud of his wife, Sylvia, the daughter of the president of the University of Hawaii, where Bailey had his first academic position. Sylvia was a champion AAU swimmer. In his living room—where her trophies lined the mantel and his 18 books rested in leather cases on shelves that framed the fireplace—he told me that “long after all my books are dust, Sylvia’s trophies will still be around.”


-Stephen Mark Dobbs, ’64, PhD ’72