Hamilton Holt on Surveys

President Holt (1872-1951), Busy at His Desk

One of the series in the Archives’ collection of the Hamilton Holt papers consists of 35 scrapbooks, containing newspaper clippings on topics related to or of interest to him.    The scrapbooks’ subject index is over 17 pages long and wide-ranging.  Of course, many of the longest entries pertain to Rollins, to education, and to world peace, a cause to which he was particularly dedicated (he attended the Hague Conference in 1907, the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and worked for years in support of the League of Nations and the United Nations).  There are also clippings pertaining to the Independent, a progressive magazine he edited from 1913 to 1921.

Some of the clippings reveal a playful side to President Holt, however, such as this one from an unnamed newspaper, dated October 1930 and bearing the headline “Hamilton Holt Rebels Against Questionnaire.”  This article reports that President Holt had had enough of “the continuous influx of questionnaires that flowed across his desk,” and had finally “devised a retaliatory method which he hopes will help to stem the tide.”  This consisted of “a ‘stock form’ reply to be sent. . . to all authors of questionnaires”:

Dear Sir (or Madam):

The academic mind now seems to be passing through a questionnaire craze.  Almost every mail brings us requests to fill out questionnaires on every conceivable subject.  If we comply with these it will take a great deal of our valuable time.  Therefore, before we reply to your questionnaire just received, will you kindly fill out the following questionnaire yourself.

  1. What are your qualifications for asking these questions?
  2. What are your qualifications for analyzing the answers received?
  3. What guarantee will you give that the information furnished will be put to any use?

Very sincerely yours. . .

Despite having taken this position against questionnaires, Holt did reply to one sent to him in 1930 by a pioneer in the field of market research.  The writer stated that he was “compiling opinions by those qualified to have them, on the subject of cosmetics.”  Since “such staggering sums” were being spent to purchase these, he wanted to “find out the best thought of our leaders on this subject.”

In reply, President Holt first of all said, “Never having used cosmetics myself, I am afraid I cannot answer your inquiry of February 24 from personal experience.”  He then went on to answer as follows:

Q.  Is the present use of cosmetics a passing fad, or is it here to stay?

A.  No human being knows.

Q.  Is it a phenomenon of any social significance?

A.  It surely is.  Striving for effect through artificial methods.  Is wholly good if the effect is enhanced; bad if the effect is worse than the original.

Q.  Is it a waste or a benefit?

A.  Both.

For the record, President Holt did not take the time to collect all the articles in his scrapbooks himself.  He used a clipping service.

For more information on Hamilton Holt, please visit our “Golden Personalities” page at .  Information on the Papers of President Holt is available at .

~by D. Moore, Archival Specialist

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