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McGovern, William Montgomery, 1897-1964



William Montgomery McGovern was born in New York City on September 28, 1897. Much of his early life was spent in the Orient; he was graduated with the degree of soro, or doctor of divinity, from the Buddhist monastery of Nishi Hongwanji in Kyoto, Japan, in 1917. After subsequent studies at the Sorbonne and the University of Berlin, he received his D.Phil. from Christ Church College, Oxford, in 1922. McGovern joined the political science faculty of Northwestern University in 1929, staying with the University until his retirement in 1964.

From 1919 to 1927, McGovern held appointments as lecturer and/or examiner in Oriental Studies at the University of London. His service there was interrupted by two extended expeditions, one to Tibet in 1922-23, the second through the upper Amazon basin and Peru in 1925-26. On the former trip, after being refused entry into the country via normal channels, he disguised himself as a Tibetan coolie and succeeded in entering the capital city of Lhasa, one of the first Westerners to do so. This adventure was recounted in McGovern's most popular work, To Lhasa in Disguise. In 1927 McGovern returned to the United State as Assistant Curator of the Anthropology Department at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. In 1929 he was appointed Associate Professor of Political Science at Northwestern; he was promoted to full professor in 1936 and held that position until his death in 1964, developing a reputation as an exceptionally entertaining classroom lecturer.

McGovern's service at Northwestern was interrupted by a stint as Far East correspondent for the Chicago Times in 1937-38; by a visiting appointment as lecturer in government at Harvard University in 1940-41; and by service in the United States Naval Reserve from 1941 through 1945. Beginning in 1952, he lectured periodically on military intelligence and strategy in the Naval, Air, and Army War Colleges. He was also in demand as a popular lecturer, and published numerous articles and nine scholarly books in addition to his travel narratives, To Lhasa in Disguise and Jungle Paths and Inca Ruins.

McGovern was married in 1927 to his second cousin Margaret Montgomery; the couple had two daughters and one son. McGovern died in Evanston of a heart ailment on December 12, 1964, at the age of 67.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

William Montgomery McGovern (1897-1964) Papers

Identifier: 11/3/22/3

McGovern joined the political science faculty of Northwestern University in 1929, staying with the University until his retirement in 1964. The William Montgomery McGovern Papers fill five boxes and span the period 1919-1967. They are arranged in five major categories: biographical materials; professional correspondence; manuscripts and notes; class materials; and personal records.

Dates: 1919-1967