Arthur Bestor

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Arthur Bestor
Born September 20, 1908
Chautauqua, New York
Died December 13, 1994
Seattle, Washington
Education Horace Mann School
Yale University
Occupation Historian
Spouse(s) 3, including Dorothy Alden Koch
Children William Porter Bestor
Thomas Wheaton Bestor
Theodore C. Bestor
Parent(s) Arthur E. Bestor
Jeannette Lemon

Arthur Bestor (September 20, 1908 – December 13, 1994) was a historian of the United States, and during the 1950s a noted critic of American public education.


Early life[edit]

Arthur Eugene Bestor, Jr. was born on September 20, 1908 in Chautauqua, New York.[1] He was the eldest son of Arthur E. Bestor and Jeannette Lemon. His father was the president of the Chautauqua Institution, an educational and religious community in western New York State.

He was raised and educated in Chautauqua and New York City, where he attended the Horace Mann School. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Yale University (Ph.D. in History, 1938), where he received the John Addison Porter Prize.[2]


He taught at Teachers College, Columbia University; the University of Wisconsin; Stanford University; and the University of Illinois. In 1963 he joined the faculty of the University of Washington, Seattle, where he taught until his retirement. He was the visiting Harmsworth Professor of American History at Queen's College, Oxford in 1956-57, and taught at the University of Tokyo, Rikkyo University (Tokyo), and Doshisha University (Kyoto) as a visiting professor sponsored by the Fulbright Program in 1967.

His early research was on the history of 19th-century American utopian and communitarian experimental settlements (especially New Harmony, Indiana, founded by followers of the Welsh communitarian philosopher Robert Owen). Bestor's study of New Harmony was published as Backwoods Utopias. In 1946, he received the prestigious Albert J. Beveridge Award of the American Historical Association for this work.[3]

In the mid-1950s, he became well known in educational circles as a critic of then common educational doctrines; Educational Wastelands (1953) was his manifesto about declining educational standards. From the late 1950s, his scholarly research shifted to issues of the constitutional basis of sovereignty, the war powers clauses of the US constitution, and the power of impeachment. "The American Civil War as a Constitutional Crisis " ( is a much noted and quoted essay of Bestor. Until his death in 1994, he published widely in historical and law journals on constitutional history and was several times invited to testify before Congress on constitutional matters. At the time of his death he was working on an intellectual history of European philosophical influences on the framers of the US constitution, with particular focus on the writings of Montaigne.

He was one of the first specialists on American constitutional law to publicly call for the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, in a piece published in The Nation.[1]

Personal life[edit]

He married his third wife, Dorothy Alden Koch, in 1951. He had two sons from a previous marriage, William Porter Bestor and Thomas Wheaton Bestor, and one son, Theodore C. Bestor, from his third marriage.


He died on December 29, 1994 in Seattle, Washington.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Saxon, Wolfgang (December 17, 1994), "Arthur Bestor, a Leading Scholar On the Constitution, Dies at 86", The New York Times (New York, New York) 
  2. ^ Historical Register of Yale University, 1937-1951 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952), p. 80.
  3. ^ American Historical Association