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Simon J. McPherson Papers

Identifier: DC034
The bulk of the Simon J. McPherson Papers consist of sermons and addresses delivered by McPherson throughout his professional life. The correspondence pertains largely to his work as pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Documents pertaining to The Lawrenceville School include Headmaster's Reports and correspondence with various trustees, the bursar's office, other administration, faculty, alumni, the Headmasters' Association, and administration from private secondary schools and colleges. Other materials include articles written by McPherson and documents pertaining to various phases of life at Lawrenceville during his term of service. Lawrenceville topics of note include school athletics, chapel, lectures and entertainment, the gambling episode of 1904, honor system, military instruction, and the Calliopean Society and Philomathean Society.


  • 1868 - 1947

Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies and digital photographs may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish materials from the collection must be requested from the Archivist. Researchers are responsible for determining any other copyright questions.


8.76 Linear Feet (21 boxes)

Biographical / Historical

Simon John McPherson was born in 1850 near Mumford, New York, the son of a farmer and the grandson of Scotch immigrants. He was educated privately from the age of 14, and graduated from Princeton with an outstanding academic record. He entered seminary at Princeton, and became a preacher. He was employed at several notable Presbyterian churches, including the prestigious Second Presbyterian Church in Chicago. In 1899 he was unanimously elected by the Lawrenceville School Board of Trustees as successor to John Cameron Mackenzie.

The school’s reaction to its new headmaster was quite positive from the beginning. He was known by the students and faculty as a firm but fair leader, “preeminently and majestically Scotch”, but not without warmth or humor. McPherson tightened up discipline, which had previously been rather informal, and imposed previously-absent structure to the student government that had been founded under his predecessor. He also extended new privileges, including permission for the boys to smoke, and oversaw the creation of new spaces for recreation, including a state-of-the-art gymnasium, and a dedicated building for student societies. He encouraged students to engage in a wide variety of extracurricular activities, and was deeply passionate about school athletics.

Under McPherson the school celebrated its Centennial, a grand celebration at which future president Woodrow Wilson gave an address. This represented the first occasion where the alumni of the “Old School” of the 19th century joined with those of the “New School” reorganized by the John Cleve Green Foundation.

Following the chaos of World War I, the school found itself in the grip of the deadly Spanish influenza epidemic. Throughout the fall and winter of 1918, McPherson took a personal role in the care of sick boys, nursing them himself, and sending a letter or telegram every day to the parent of every sick boy. Unlike so many communities, Lawrenceville did not lose a single student to the disease. Tragically, McPherson’s heroic efforts overtaxed his already failing health. On January 9th, 1919, he died in Foundation House of the influenza from which he had worked so hard to spare his school. For his final acts of devotion, and for his years of successful leadership, Simon John McPherson is remembered as a brilliant and passionate force within the school community.


The Simon J. McPherson Papers are arranged into three series: Series 1: General Correspondence, 1883-1919; Series 2: The Lawrenceville School, 1895-1947; Series 3: Sermons, Addresses, and School Work, 1868-1919. The current arrangement closely follows the original arrangment conceived by A.R. Evans in the mid-1960s.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The acquisition history of the McPherson papers is unclear. It is likely that they were collected by Charles Henry Raymond after McPherson's death. Portions of Raymond's papers were found interfiled with Head Master McPherson's sermons. There are also indications that papers were rearranged by A.R. Evans in the early 1960s and transferred to the Archives shortly thereafter. Portions were a gift from Susan McPherson.


Appraisal has been conducted in accordance with The Lawrenceville School Stephan Archives guidelines.

Information in the biographical note was gathered from material within the McPherson papers. The Lawrenceville Lexicon: A Compendium of All Things Lawrenceville, Merrell Noden, editor, was also consulted.

Processing Information

These papers were collected by Charles Henry Raymond and initially processed by A.R. Evans in the mid-1960s. It was either Raymond or Evans that developed the numbering system for the sermons. They were reprocessed according to current archival standards by Casey Babcock in November of 2011. The biographical note was written by Zoe Vybiral.
Simon J. McPherson Papers: Finding Aid
Casey Babcock, A.R. Evans, and Zoe Vybiral
October 9, 2012
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Lawrenceville School Stephan Archives Repository

Box 6128
2500 Main St.
Lawrenceville 08648 U.S.A. US