Paul Cowan Papers, 1965-1971

Summary Information
Title: Paul Cowan Papers
Inclusive Dates: 1965-1971

  • Cowan, Paul
Call Number: Mss 557

Quantity: 0.2 c.f. (1 archives box)

Archival Locations:
Wisconsin Historical Society (Map)

Papers of Paul Cowan, a free-lance writer who was involved in the civil rights movement and who worked with the Peace Corps in Ecuador for two years. Included are incoming correspondence with letters from William F. Buckley, Jr., Nat Hentoff, David Riesman, and Theodore H. White; reviews of The Making of an Un-American (1970), an indictment of the Peace Corps; a few miscellaneous writings including Daniel Berrigan's letter to the Underground which Cowan edited; a transcript of comments at a meeting of returned volunteers in Cuba in 1969; and a few subject files.

Language: English

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Free-lance writer Paul Cowan was raised in a liberal Jewish intellectual milieu that stressed social concerns. After graduating from the Choate School in 1958 he enrolled at Harvard where he wrote for the Crimson and was a member of TOCSIN. In 1961 he left school, traveled to Great Britain, where he briefly studied at the London School of Economics, and to Israel, where he worked in a kibbutz. Cowan returned to the United States early in 1963. Before returning to finish his senior year at Harvard he spent the summer working as a tutor with black youth in Chestertown, Maryland. The following year he studied at the University of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought and then went south to work with COFO's Mississippi Freedom Summer project in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Cowan married in June 1965 and moved to New York City where he had a position on the Village Voice and his wife Rachel was a community organizer at the Hudson Guild Settlement. In 1966 the couple joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Ecuador. The two-year experience gradually undermined Cowan's conventional liberalism and led him to write The Making of an Un-American: A Dialogue with Experience (1970), an indictment of the Peace Corps. Since his return Cowan has been active in the Committee of Returned Volunteers and has continued his career as a free-lance writer, frequently contributing to the Voice, Ramparts, and Commentary. In 1979 a collection of these short stories appeared under the title The Tribes of America. He has also co-authored State Secrets: Police Surveillance in America (1974) with Nat Hentoff and Nick Egleson.

Scope and Content Note

The papers are a small, fragmentary collection consisting of correspondence, book reviews, a few miscellaneous writings, and subject files. The correspondence is entirely incoming and consequently not particularly revealing with regard to the Cowans' Peace Corps experiences or their activities in the Committee of Returned Volunteers. A few letters concern negotiations with publishers and others contain comments from readers about his articles. Among the prominent correspondents are William F. Buckley, Jr., Nat Hentoff, David Riesman, and Theodore H. White. Writings include a transcript of comments of returned volunteers at a meeting in Cuba in 1969 and Daniel Berrigan's letter to the Underground which Cowan edited for publication. His three books are available in the Historical Society's library. Also in the collection are numerous reviews of The Making of an Un-American and subject files collected on the Berrigan brothers and the Peace Corps.

Administrative/Restriction Information
Acquisition Information

Presented by Paul and Rachel Cowan, New York, New York, March 28, 1980. Accession Number: M80-120

Processing Information

Processed by Carolyn J. Mattern, July 1980.

Contents List
Box   1
Folder   1-3
Correspondence, 1965-1971, undated
Box   1
Folder   4
Writings, 1969, 1971, undated
Box   1
Folder   5
Reviews and publicity of The Making of an Un-American, 1970
Box   1
Folder   6
Philip and Daniel Berrigan, 1969-1971
Box   1
Folder   7
Peace Corps, 1965-1971
Box   1
Folder   8
Miscellany, undated