Mansfield Library places historic Montana literary journal online

H.G. Merriam

One-hundred years ago, H. G. Merriam, chair of the University of Montana’s English department, launched a journal “to serve as an outlet for the very living literary interest that is on the campus of The State University.”

Its editorial board consisted of the students enrolled in his new undergraduate creative writing course. By the 1930s that journal, The Frontier and Midland, had gained a national reputation for the quality of its contributions and for its intentional focus on regional writing.

Now UM’s Mansfield Library has made the entire run of Frontier and Midland available online.

The Frontier was one of the first journals to feature content from and about the Northwest. In a 1963 oral history Merriam recalled, “I was conscious of the necessity, if possible, of getting the Northwest states — that is, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana—to realize their common culture … It seemed as if the region had no sense of being a unit, and if possible I hoped that the Frontier might help establish some such unity.”

The Frontier sought out and published not only poems and short stories, but also diaries and memoirs. Contributors included Wallace Stegner, A.B. Guthrie Jr., Frank Bird Linderman, Grace Stone Coates, James Stevens, William Saroyan, Helen Addison Howard, Dorothy M. Johnson, John Mason Brown, Weldon Kees, Thomas McGrath, Helen Maring and many others.

The Frontier changed its name after merging with the Midland out of Iowa City in the 1930s. Together The Frontier and The Frontier and Midland were published until 1939, with Grace Stone Coates serving as assistant editor from 1927 to 1939.

In his editorial for the November 1927 issue of Frontier, Merriam wrote, “The Northwest is industrially alive and agriculturally alive; it needs to show itself spiritually alive. Culturally it has too long either turned for nourishment toward the East or accepted uncourageous, unindigenous “literary” expression of writers too spiritually imitative and too uninspired. We in this territory need to realize that literature, and all art, is, if it is worth anything at all, sincere expression of real life. And the roots for literature among us should be in our own rocky ground.”

Harold Guy Merriam studied at Oxford as a member of the first class of Rhodes Scholars. He taught at Whitman, Beloit and Reed Colleges before accepting a position at UM in 1919 to teach English literature and chair the UM English department.

In the decades that followed Merriam played an important role in the development of Montana and Northwest literature and in the development of UM’s creative writing program. He hosted writers’ conferences, helped to develop the Humanities program at UM, and helped to create and guide the Montana Institute of the Arts.

All issues of Frontier and Frontier and Midland are available online via ScholarWorks at the Mansfield Library. ScholarWorks provides access to the research, creative scholarship, and unique resources produced and curated by University of Montana faculty, students, and staff.