George Oliver Curme, 1860 - 1948


George Oliver Curme was born in Richmond, Indiana, on January 14, 1860, the son of Arthur Allen and Elizabeth Jane (Nicholas) Curme. He received his early education in the Richmond schools and attended DePauw University intermittently from 1876 to 1881. Curme graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1882. In 1885 he received a Master of Arts degree from DePauw University.

Curme began his professional career in 1882 when he became an instructor in German and French at Jennings Seminary, Aurora, Illinois. From 1884 until 1886 he was Professor of Modern Language at the University of Washington at Seattle, Washington. Curme then joined the faculty of Cornell College, Mt. Vernon, Iowa as an instructor in German and French. In 1887 he was promoted to Professor of German Language and Literature and continued in that capacity until 1896. In 1890 he studied for one year at the University of Berlin. During the years at Cornell College he laid the foundations of his two monumental works, grammars of the German and English languages. In 1896 he was appointed Professor of German Philology at Northwestern University and remained in that post until he retired as professor emeritus in 1933. During 1934 to 1939 he lectured in German at the University of Southern California.

Curme was a man of rare devotion to his chosen field of research, German and English philology. Through his publications he won international acclaim. In addition to scores of scholarly articles which were published in the language journals of Germany and America, he was the author or editor of a number of important works. He edited Selected Poems from Premieres et Nouvelles Meditations of Lamartine, 1888, and Lessing's Nathan der Weise, 1898; he wrote A Grammar of the German Language, 1905, Grillparzer's Libussa, 1913, A First German Grammar, 1913, College English Grammar, 1925, two of the three volumes of an English grammar English Syntax, 1931, Parts of Speech and Accidence, 1935, and Principles and Practices of English Grammar, 1946. Curme's large A Grammar of the German Language was the most complete work of its kind in English. It was revised in 1922 and later translated into Japanese.

Curme's scholarship brought him much recognition. Four institutions conferred upon him honorary doctor's degrees: DePauw University 1908, University of Heidelberg 1926, University of Southern California 1935, and Northwestern University in 1937. A lifetime member of the Modern Language Association of America, Curme, was for one year president of its western branch and became president of the national organization in 1931. The Linguistic Society of America, the National Institute of Social Sciences, and Phi Beta Kappa were among the other associations in which he also maintained active membership. George Oliver Curme died on April 29, 1948 in White Plains, New York.

Source: Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL. 2010

Copies of Curme’s papers-correspondence and news paper clippings-pertinent to the Kensington Rune Stone (see below) are in the Kensington Area Heritage Society archives.

Northwestern University Archives Evanston, Illinois
George Oliver Curme, Sr. (1860-1948) Papers, 1899-1950
Series 11/3/15/2
1 Box

Description of the Series

The George Oliver Curme Papers consist entirely of a small amount of biographical material and the manuscript for A Grammar of the English Language. Included with the biographical material are newspaper clippings, press releases, and obituaries.

Also included are two sets of correspondence, one involving the donation of a portrait of Curme to the university and another between the Minnesota State Historical Society [Theodore Blegen] and various university officials concerning Curme's involvement in the discovery of the Kensington Rune Stone in 1898.

The most significant part of the collection is a manuscript of A Grammar of the English Language which clearly reflects the meticulous care and depth of approach Curme took in writing and revising his work.