Fred Lewis Pattee

Fred Lewis Pattee was an author, literary scholar, and English professor at Penn State. He wrote the alma mater and made numerous other contributions to the college. The Pattee Library is named for him.

Pattee was born in Bristol, New Hampshire, on March 22, 1863. As a child, he worked on the family farm and in a printing shop, a job that first sparked his interest in writing. Pattee enrolled in Dartmouth College in 1884, graduating in 1888. Three years later, he received a master of arts degree from Dartmouth.

Pattee married Anna Laura Plumer in 1889, and the couple had one child, Sarah Lewis Pattee, born in 1893. He taught at a grammar school in New Jersey and then spent five years as a school principal.

Professor Fred Lewis Pattee

Pattee joined Penn State as a professor of English and Rhetoric in 1894, adding instruction in modern literature to a program that had been largely based on English composition. He was an original member of the State College Literary Club, Penn State’s first faculty association, and co-founded the Penn State Thespians. He also served as a college chaplain and taught Sunday School.

Pattee worked tirelessly to expand Penn State’s library collection. He was the college’s first nationally-recognized humanities scholar.  In 1918, he was appointed Professor of American Literature, possibly the first person in the United States to hold such a title.

One of his best-known contributions to Penn State is the alma mater. When Pattee first joined the college, it had no school song. Pattee composed his lyrics in six verses and set them to the hymn “Lead Me On” in April 1901. The piece was played for the first time later that year at an alumni dinner. Pennsylvania Governor James Beaver, the president of the Board of Trustees, pronounced it the “official song of Penn State.”

Pattee later acknowledged that some of his original lyrics, in particular the use of “Boyhood’s Gate” and “molded into men,” no longer fit modern Penn State. The college was coed but predominantly male when Pattee wrote the song, a fact reflected in the lyrics. In his posthumous memoir, Penn State Yankee, Pattee had proposed changing “boyhood” to “childhood” and “molded into men” into a repeat of the “Dear Old State” verse. In 1975, the Board of Trustees officially changed the lyrics as they are sung today.

Pattee was a prolific author. He published his first book in 1891, Literature in the Public Schools. He published two verse collections, The Wine of May and Beyond the Sunset, in 1893 and 1934.

His three novels include Mary Garvin, The House of the Black Ring, and The Breaking Point. Mary Garvin told a story set on his own childhood farm. Pattee acknowledged that “alone of all my fiction, Mary Garvin has me in it.” The House of the Black Ring was a romance set amongst feuding families in Central Pennsylvania and was dedicated to the students and faculty at Penn State.  

His 1896 textbook A History of American Literature saw significant commercial success, as one of the first college textbooks about American literature. His 1915 textbook, A History of American Literature Since 1870, became his most popular work. In it, Pattee argued that the Civil War was a turning point for American literature.

Pattee finished his autobiography, Penn State Yankee, in 1948. The book was published posthumously in 1953. Pattee retired from Penn State in 1928 as a professor emeritus. After his first wife’s death, he married his second wife, Grace Garee. The couple decided to move to Florida, where Pattee became a professor at Rollins College.

Pattee’s retirement and move did not end his involvement with Penn State. In 1941, he returned to the campus for the dedication of the new library. He donated his 2,000 volumes of American literature to the library’s collection.

He died on May 6, 1950, at the age of 87. Later that year Penn State’s library was named the Fred Lewis Pattee Library.

Juliana Hart


Sources:

Fred Lewis Pattee papers. https://aspace.libraries.psu.edu/repositories/3/resources/866. (Accessed April 11, 2024).

Martine, James J.  Fred Lewis Pattee and American Literature.  University Park: Penn State Press, 1973.

Pattee, Fred Lewis. A History of American Literature Since 1870. New York: The Century Co., 1915.

Pattee, Fred Lewis. The House of the Black Ring: A Romance of the Seven Mountains. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2012. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=462716&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Penn State University Park Campus History Collection. “The Penn State Alma Mater.” (Accessed April 11, 2024). https://libraries.psu.edu/about/collections/penn-state-university-park-campus-history-collection/penn-state-alma-mater.

Scopinich, Dave. “What Are the Words?”  The Penn Stater.  March/April 2001: 34-39.


First Published: May 27, 2024

Last Modified: July 13, 2024