Paul Franklin Boller, Jr., historian, son of Paul Franklin Boller and Olive “Grace” Enolia (Hall) Boller was born in Ann May Memorial Hospital in Spring Lake, New Jersey, on December 31, 1916. Boller’s father was a well-educated Presbyterian minister, and his career took the family to various congregations throughout New York and New Jersey from 1913 to 1956. Throughout his childhood, Paul Boller often played the organ at the various churches his father pastored. His father’s career in the church and academic interest in literature provided a clear example of discipline and inquiry that later underpinned much of his son’s professional career.
Boller excelled in his education and, after receiving his bachelor of arts from Yale University in 1939, continued on to Yale Graduate School. The outbreak of World War II interrupted his pursuit of a doctoral degree, and Boller joined the United States Navy as a Japanese language interpreter. He began learning elementary Japanese in a summer session at Columbia University in 1942 and finished his training over the course of a year at the U. S. Navy Japanese Language School at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Boller deployed to the Pacific Theater of Operations in 1943. His service in the navy eventually carried him to the Advance Intelligence Center at Guam. He made his most memorable contribution to the war effort when he helped create the campaign of leaflets (dropped from B-29 bombers) that urged Japanese citizens to surrender and evacuate cities that Americans planned to bomb.
Boller returned from the war to complete his doctoral degree under Ralph Henry Gabriel at Yale in 1947. His dissertation took advantage of his experience with Japanese culture during the war to explain the significance of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and the Doshiha University in Kyoto. Boller quickly found a job at Southern Methodist University (SMU), where he taught from 1948 to 1966 with only a brief break to teach at the University of Texas from 1963 to 1964 and at Queens College in the summer of 1964. Boller left Southern Methodist University in 1966 to take a position at the University of Massachusetts from 1966 to 1976. In 1976 he eagerly returned to Texas to take up the inaugural Lyndon B. Johnson Chair of United States History at Texas Christian University (TCU), where he worked until retirement and then continued to be an almost daily fixture within the history department as an emeritus professor.
During this long academic career, a general interest in American studies that led Boller to a dissertation on Americans in Japan distilled into a professional expertise over the American presidency. After his appointment at TCU, Boller began to research some of the more peripheral aspects of former presidents beyond policy and ideology. He began a very popular series of books with Presidential Anecdotes in 1981 then went on to Presidential Campaigns in 1984, Presidential Wives in 1988, Presidential Inaugurations in 2001, and Presidential Diversions in 2007. Boller’s work at TCU represented a shift away from some of his earlier work that emphasized intellectual history, such as American Thought in Transition: The Impact of Evolutionary Naturalism in 1969 and American Transcendentalism 1830–1860 in 1974. Boller’s writings while at TCU explored some of the dailiness behind the American presidency that made for interesting stories while also providing significant insight into the men that held the office.
The quintessential public intellectual, Boller submitted numerous articles and letters to local newspapers. He often tried to provide historical context for a contemporary political event or argue in favor of a particular interpretation out of historical orthodoxy rather than partisan loyalty. Although he was a dedicated liberal in his personal politics, Boller disliked the excesses of the extreme right and left that plagued his academic pursuits on political topics, and he consistently tempered the prevailing rhetoric with historical perspective. Boller’s book, Memoirs of an Obscure Professor (1992), covered such varied topics as stories about Calvin Coolidge, Boller’s views on the use of Nihongo (the Japanese language) during World War II, and his particular distaste for the tactics of McCarthyism that he experienced during his time at SMU, including his long-running public debate with English professor John O. Beaty.
Boller received numerous awards throughout his career, including an honorary doctorate in literature from Texas Wesleyan University in 1993. His retirement from teaching at TCU in 1983, or the “big sabbatical” as he called it, simply gave the unmarried professor emeritus more time to write, and he worked right up to the weeks before his death at the age of ninety-seven. Paul F. Boller, Jr., died in Fort Worth after a short illness on March 16, 2014.
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Paul F. Boller, Memoirs of an Obscure Professor (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1992). Paul F. Boller, Jr. Papers, Special Collection, Mary Couts Burnett Library, Texas Christian University. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 5, 1977; August 21, 23, 1984; March 1, 1988; March 23, 2014. Kenneth Stevens, “Paul F. Boller Jr.: 1916–2014,” Perspectives on History, October 1, 2014.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Boller, Paul Franklin, Jr.,”
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