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Ernest O. Melby papers

 Record Group
Identifier: UA-17.70

Scope and Contents

The papers of Ernest O. Melby document his career as an educator, and are arranged into five series: Northwestern University (1934-1941), Montana State University (1941-1945), New York University (1945-1956), Michigan State University (1956-1973), Florida Atlantic University (1956-1971), and the Cleveland Conference sub series under these headings include correspondence, class materials, articles, and talks, and newspaper clippings. Two special sub series were created: one, in the NYU series entitled "Attacks on Education," is a detailed file of correspondence and articles (1948-1954), dealing with attacks on progressive education, and Melby's defense of his theories. The other special sub series appears in the MSU series, and relates to the formation of the Mott Program for Community Improvement (1957-1971).


  • Creation: 1936 - 1974


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish material from this collection must be obtained from University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University.

Biographical Note

Born and raised in Minnesota, Ernest Oscar Melby attended St. Olaf College, receiving his B.A. in 1913. From 1913 to 1915 he taught school in rural Minnesota, later becoming School Superintendent in, successively, the cities of Brewster, Blackduck and Long Prairie, Minnesota, 1915-1926. Melby earned his M.A. in 1926 from the University of Minnesota, where he received his Ph.D. in Education and Administration two years later.

In 1928, Melby joined the faculty of Northwestern University's School of Education, becoming Dean of the School of Education in 1934. In 1941 he was appointed President of Montana State University. During his tenure at Montana State University, Melby initiated the "Montana Study", an experimental research program designed to enrich life in small rural communities through continuing education. The study was completed in 1945.

Melby resigned his position in Montana in 1945 to become Dean of the School of Education at New York University. Melby, who had been greatly influenced by the teachings of John Dewey and had applied Dewey's methods of progressive education, found himself the target of criticism during the 1950s because of these views. In the era of McCarthyism and the Cold War, Melby was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee and other groups who questioned his patriotism as well as his teaching methods.

Melby retired from New York University in 1956, and in the same year, came to Michigan State University as Distinguished Professor of Education. While at MSU, Melby became a major force in the development of the Mott Institute for Community Improvement (MICI). Largely based on a concept Melby developed for the Montana Study, the goal of the Mott Program was to open the entire community to education and the benefits of educational services. Melby was one of the first coordinators of the Mott Intern Program in which Masters and Doctoral candidates worked for a year on the administrative level in the school system of Flint, Michigan, under the auspices of the Mott program and their respective universities. The program was discontinued in 1974.

During the late 1960s, Melby divided his time between MSU and Florida Atlantic University where he taught and helped to establish a program similar to the Mott program.

For most of his career, Melby was a member of the Cleveland Conference, an annual meeting of educators from all parts of the nation. This conference served as a forum for discussing educational problems and exchanging ideas and ideals.


6 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Legal Status

Copyright: Michigan State University.

Property Rights: Michigan State University.

Ernest O. Melby Papers
4 Published And Cataloged
Susan J. Levy
September 1977
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives and Historical Collections Repository

Conrad Hall
943 Conrad Road, Room 101
East Lansing MI 48824 US