Ray Allen Billington

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Ray Allen Billington (September 28, 1903 – March 7, 1981) was an American historian focusing his work on the history of the frontier and the American West. He was born in Bay City, Michigan and died in San Marino, California. He became one of the leading defenders of Frederick Jackson Turner's "Frontier Thesis" from the 1950s to the 1970s.[1][2] Billington also expanded the field of the history of the American West, helping found the Western History Association in 1961.[3]

Early life, education, and family[edit]

Billington studied at the University of Michigan, but was expelled. He held two Ph.D. degrees from University of Wisconsin 1926, and Harvard University 1933. He taught at Clark University, Smith College, Northwestern University, and served as Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History at Oxford University (1953–54). He retired from his teaching career in 1964 and became the Senior Research Associate at the Huntington Library. He married Mabel R. Crotty; they had two children, Ann and Allan.[4][5]


  • Spur Award from Western Writers of America
  • 1974 Bancroft Prize for Frederick Jackson Turner: Historian, Teacher, Scholar, Oxford University Press, 1973[6]


To honor their former president and long-time member, the Organization of American Historians created the Ray Allen Billington Prize for the best book in American frontier history, "which is defined broadly to include the pioneer periods of all geographical areas, and comparisons between American frontiers and others."[7] The prize has been awarded biennially since 1981, except for in 1997.

In the 1970s, Billington served as a trustee of Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA and developed an affection for the school. With funding from his estate, the college's Department of History now hosts the Ray Allen Billington Visiting Professor in U.S. History, given to honor "the tradition of fine teacher/scholars at American liberal arts colleges."[8] The first award was given for the 1999-2000 academic year. The Department has also established a Billington Student Research Fellowship to support undergraduate history students at Occidental conducting primary source research.[9]



  1. ^ Billington, Ray Allen (January 1970). "The Frontier and I". Western Historical Quarterly 1 (1): 4–20. Retrieved 28 August 2014. 
  2. ^ Ridge, Martin (January 1988). "Frederick Jackson Turner, Ray Allen Billington, and American Frontier History". Western Historical Quarterly 19 (1): 4–20. Retrieved 28 August 2014. 
  3. ^ Lamar, Howard R. (October 1986). "Much to Celebrate: The Western History Association's Twenty-Fifth Birthday". Western Historical Quarterly 17 (4): 397–416. Retrieved 28 August 2014. 
  4. ^ "Memoirs", Proceeding of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1981 Richard W. Leopold
  5. ^ Gaiter, Dorothy J. (March 8, 1981). "Ray Billington, Chronicler of Nation's Move West". New York Times. Retrieved 29 August 2014. 
  6. ^ "The Bancroft Prizes: Previous Awards". Columbia University Libraries. Columbia University Libraries. Retrieved 29 August 2014. 
  7. ^ "Ray Allen Billington Prize". Organization of American Historians. Retrieved 29 August 2014. 
  8. ^ "Billington". Occidental College Department of History. Occidental College. Retrieved 29 August 2014. 
  9. ^ "Billington Student Research Fellowship". Occidental College Department of History. Occidental College. Retrieved 29 August 2014. 

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