Paul Wallace Gates

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Paul Wallace Gates
Born (1901-12-14)December 14, 1901
Nashua, New Hampshire
Died January 5, 1999(1999-01-05) (aged 97)
Oakland, California
Occupation Historian
Known for Foremost authority on history of United States land law

Paul Wallace Gates (1901–1999) was a professor of history and general historian who is widely considered to be the foremost authority on the history of federal land policy in the United States. Gates wrote 10 books and 75 academic articles, and his magnum opus was History of Public Land Law Development.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Gates was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, son of a Protestant minister.[2] His undergraduate work was chiefly at Colby College, although he also attended Clark University and the University of Wisconsin.[3] He earned is PhD from Harvard University in 1930, working under the direction of Frederick Merk. Gates' PhD thesis was the basis of his first book, The Illinois Central Railroad and Its Colonization Work (1934),[4] for which he was awarded the David A. Wells Prize at Harvard. After receiving his PhD he worked for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and taught briefly Bucknell University.

In 1935 Gates began his career at Cornell University, where he did the majority of his academic work. From 1946 to 1956 he was the Chair of the Department of History. He eventually earned the honor of being named the John Stambaugh Professor of History. Aside from his research, he was a renowned professor of undergraduate courses and had 23 PhD students, many of whom became leaders in the profession as well. He emphasized with these students interdisciplinary studies, a characteristic of Gates himself. After he retired in 1971, he continued writing many seminal works on the subject of land law and well into his 90s was still being honored as the foremost leader in this field.[2]

Gates wrote on many separate regions, with a focus on the upper Midwest and California. Although his early career interests were in federal land policy in general, as he himself once said, "It soon became apparent that before a history of the Public Domain could be written, special and regional studies would have to be prepared to show the functioning of the land system in a number of fairly typical states and smaller subdivisions."[5]

Gates was married for over 60 years to Lillian Cowdell Gates, who had an independent academic career and also collaborated with Paul on several books. They had 4 children and 17 grandchildren. After Lillian died, Paul remarried. He died in Oakland, California, where he had lived briefly late in his retirement.[2]


In addition to the references above, the following selected list of works is provided since his writings define who Gates was. Most of these works are by Gates but some of them are about Gates.

Books and other monographs[edit]

Journal articles[edit]