John MacKay Shaw

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John MacKay Shaw (1897–1984) was a business executive, bibliophile, philanthropist, and writer. He was keenly interested in the tradition of poetry in the English language from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. He was especially attentive to its treatment of the theme of childhood.


Shaw was born 15 May 1897 at 60 Lumsden Street, dirk Overnewton, in Glasgow's west end. He was the son of Neil and Catherine Ann (Mackenzie) Shaw. His father's family was from the Island of Jura in the Inner Hebrides; his mother's family was from the Isle of Lewis, one of the Outer Hebrides. Shaw was educated at the Willow Bank School in Glasgow.

Neil Shaw immigrated to America in 1910, and in April 1911 John Shaw, his mother, and sisters Margaret and Anna followed. The Shaw family settled in Philadelphia. Feeling that he was too advanced for the grade level in which he was placed in the public schools, John Shaw departed from formal schooling and took the initiative in educating himself in various libraries, taking his cue from the institutions established by Scotsman Andrew Carnegie.

Shaw's involvement in business began at the age of sixteen, when he enrolled in a program of business training organized by John Wanamaker. This involved a summer camp and also experience working in Wanamaker's Philadelphia store, where, among other responsibilities, he sorted and delivered mail. His activities with Wanamaker extended from 1911 to 1913. During this period Shaw taught himself stenography, in part by transcribing Sunday sermons into shorthand. He was soon working in the steno pool at Union Casualty Company and afterwards at Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company.

With the coming of World War I, John Shaw enlisted in the Army. He served in Europe from 1917 to 1919. As an ambulance driver in France, he took part in the Second Battle of the Marne and the Meusse-Argon Offensive. He was in Paris on Armistice Day, 11 November 1918.

On his return from Europe, he worked with Mitten Management, serving first as private secretary to Thomas Mitten (1865–1929) and afterwards as vice-president of the company. Mitten Management operated the Philadelphia street railway through Philadelphia Rapid Transit. Shaw was associated with the firm from 1925 until Mitten's death in 1929. Shaw's specialty was in the field of public relations and advertising.

Although remaining on the board of Mitten Management, Shaw next accepted an appointment with American Telephone & Telegraph in 1930 and remained with the Bell Telephone system until his retirement in 1959. He served as assistant vice-president for public relations and marketing from 1944 to 1959. He played a key role in the introduction of the dial telephone, testifying before Congress in its behalf. As head of public relations at AT&T's headquarters at 195 Broadway in New York, he was in charge of the Bell Telephone Hour broadcasts and the preparation of the Bell system's telephone directories. In the latter endeavor, he worked with Chauncey Hawley Griffith in the development of the Bell Gothic typeface.

John Shaw founded the Public Relations Society of New York in 1945. He was active in various charities including Community Chest (1940–1950), National Council, Boy Scouts of America (1947–1966), and the Joint Council of Economic Education (1948–1955). He was active in the St. Andrews Society of New York and in 1976 served as first president of the St. Andrew's Society of Tallahassee, Florida.

On 19 June 1926 John M. Shaw married Lillian Reamer. Shaw soon began writing witty poems to amuse their son and daughter, and this interest led to his broad search for the treatment of childhood in the works of the British and American poets.

The Childhood in Poetry Collection[edit]

In 1929 John MacKay Shaw began in earnest in collecting British and American poetry. Although his interest was in identifying passages relating to the theme of childhood, his collection extended far beyond the confines of children's literature. In 1959, at the time of his retirement from Bell, he had assembled over 5,000 first and rare editions as well as manuscripts which he related to the subject of childhood in poetry. Included were virtually all of the major poets in English as well as a great number of minor authors, represented in their own books, in anthologies, Victorian gift books, children's periodicals, biographies, and criticism. Many of the books were first editions, many were association copies, or otherwise distinguished for their, illustrations, bindings, or other features.

Upon his retirement, Shaw placed his library at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. Here he continued to build on his holdings, and to speak and write about the collection and its research potential. He received the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 1972. He served as voluntary curator of his collection until 1980.


Birchfield, James D. "The John MacKay Shaw Collection: Two Decades at Florida State." Florida State, Vol. 4, No. 3, Summer 1980, pp. 17– 19.

Evory, Ann, ed., "John MacKay Shaw," Contemporary Authors. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1978. Vol. 29-32, p. 629.

Hendrickson, Norejane J. and Nancy Taylor Coghill. "Nineteenth-Century Children's Poetry: A Reflection of the Age." Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 11, Number 2, Summer 1986, pp. 72–77.

Korn, Frederick. Poetry of the Great War: A Descriptive Catalogue of Resources in the Shaw Collection. Tallahassee: Florida State University Library, 1984.

Patrick, Lucy. "The John MacKay Shaw Childhood in Poetry Collection," Florida Libraries, Vol. 49, No. 2, Fall 2006, pp. 13–15.

Shaw, John MacKay. Childhood in Poetry; A Catalogue, With Biographical and Critical Annotations, of the Books of English and American Poets Comprising the Shaw Childhood in Poetry Collection. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1967. 5 vols. Supplement of 3 vols. (1972); Supplement of 2 vols. (1976); Supplement (1980).

Shaw, John MacKay. "Childhood in Poetry: The Forty-Year History of a Collection, 1929-1969," Antiquarian Bookman, 22–29 December 1969, rpt. as a monograph, Tallahassee: Florida State University, 1970.

Shaw, John MacKay. "The Life of Thomas Eugene Mitten of Philadelphia (1874-1929)," unpublished manuscript in Free Library of Philadelphia.

Shaw, John MacKay. The Parodies of Lewis Carroll and Their Originals. Tallahassee: Florida State University Library, 1960.

Shaw, John MacKay. The Poems, Poets & Illustrators of St. Nicholas Magazine 1873-1943: An Index. Tallahassee: Florida State University Library, 1965.

Shaw, John MacKay "Poetry for Children of Two Centuries" in Research About Nineteenth Century Children and Books. Monograph No. 17. University of Illinois, 1980.

Shaw, John MacKay. Poetry of Sacred Song: A Short-Title List Supplementing Childhood in Poetry – A Catalogue. 1972.

Shaw, John MacKay. The Things I Want. Darien, GA: The Ashantilly Press, 1967.

Shaw, John MacKay. Zumpin; More Poems for Two Children. Tallahassee: Florida State University Library, 1969.

Shaw, John MacKay and Frederick Korn. The Newspaper Poets: An Inventory of Holdings in the John M. Shaw Collection. Tallahassee: Florida State University Library, 1983.

Shaw, John MacKay and Frederick Korn. Robert Burns: An Inventory of Burnsiana in the John M. Shaw Collection. Tallahassee: Florida State University Library, 1982.

Tanzy, Conrad E. "The John MacKay Shaw Collection of 'Childhood in Poetry,'" The Journal of Library History, Vol. 1, No. 4, October 1966, pp. 220–233.


External links[edit]

  • Shaw Collection: Special Collections, Florida State University Libraries, retrieved 8 January 2016;
  • Childhood in poetry catalogue: Shaw, John MacKay; Florida State University Libraries; 1967; ISBN 0-8103-0480-5; ISBN 978-0-8103-0480-2; retrieved 13 March 2011.