Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Harry) Dana


Harry Dana

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Harry) Dana was the second son of the poet's daughter Edith (of golden hair fame in Longfellow's poem The Children's Hour) and her husband Richard Henry Dana III, the son of the author of Two Years Before the Mast.

Dana received A.B., A.M., and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard and became a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University. He was dismissed in 1917 because of his association with the People’s Council of America for Democracy and Peace, an anti-war organization. Following this, he wrote a number of articles and letters about academic freedom, stored in the collection.

After leaving Columbia, Dana lectured at universities, forums, and workers’ institutes around the country on socialism, literature, and Russian drama and history. He became involved in the union movement, helped found the Trade Union College in Boston in 1919, and taught at various workers’ colleges in Boston, New York, and Pennsylvania, such as the Worker’s University of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in New York City and the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women in Industry. He was so moved by the Sacco and Vanzetti case that he visited Bartolomeo Vanzetti’s family in Italy and tried to bring his sister to the U.S. One of the last letters that Vanzetti received in prison before he was executed was from Harry Dana.

Dana may have met John Reed when they were both students at Harvard, and by the 1920s Dana supported communism and was an active member of the John Reed Club of Boston. Harry Dana admired and collected photos of Reed, author of the gripping journalistic narrative of the events of the Russian Revolution, Ten Days That Shook the World.

In order to study its culture and government, Dana lived in the Soviet Union from 1927-28 and went back four more times by 1935. He was a regular contributor to the periodicals New Masses and Soviet Russia Today.

Harry Dana also took a strong interest in historic preservation, especially of his family home. He actively collected the papers of his antecedents on both sides of the family, organized, and researched them. He not only encouraged other family members to make the House a repository for family papers, but also purchased related documents from dealers with his own money.

Generous also with his time and knowledge, Dana helped researchers use the collection.

Although he was born and spent his childhood next door, Dana moved into the House in 1917 (the Longfellow House Trust established in 1913 allowed any Longfellow descendant to reside there) and lived with his aunt Alice Longfellow until she passed away in 1928. He stayed on alone, with the exception of visitors and occasional boarders, until his death in 1950.

During his years at the Longfellow House, Dana acted as caretaker and accepted donations of objects, letters, manuscripts, and books relating to the Longfellows. When the Longfellow House Trust sought an organization to administer the House, he led the family opposition to donating it to Harvard, Radcliffe, or the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, who considered turning it into a private residence and dispersing the contents.

Dana insisted that the House be kept intact as a place for the public to come for inspiration and education complete with furnishings, library, and archives. Due largely to Harry Dana’s efforts to collect and preserve, we have the archives at the House today.


© 2004 Longfellow National Historic Site