How Carroll Quigley Came to Georgetown

Quigley 1966

Quigley with students. A photo from the 1966 edition of Protocol, the SFS yearbook.

December 16, 2016
by Matt Ellison

For 35 years, one Georgetown professor taught more students by far than any other instructor. But numbers alone do not tell the story. Surveys of alumni, and stories from those he taught and mentored, show how this man was most admired.

Carroll Quigley was born in Boston in 1910 and attended the Boston Latin School from 1924 to 1929.

Quigley at Boston Latin School in 1929

Quigley at Boston Latin School in 1929.

Quigley went on to Harvard where he graduated magna cum laude and as the top history student in his class. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Napoleonic public administration of the Kingdom of Italy (1805 to 1814). Quigley was a master of macro-history—development of civilizations, medieval history, modern European history—and of micro-history—English history since the Tudors, Russian History, and the History of France (1461 to 1815).

Perhaps the most famous of Quigley’s students, President Bill Clinton (SFS’68), recalled the impact Quigley had on him in him both in his 2004 memoir and famously in his speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.

In My Life, Clinton wrote, “The most legendary class at Georgetown was Professor Carroll Quigley’s Development of Civilizations, a requirement for all freshmen, with more than two hundred people in each class. Though difficult, the class was wildly popular because of Quigley’s intellect, opinions, and antics.”

One of Quigley’s most lasting insights, Clinton explained, concerned “the key to the greatness of Western Civilization, and its continuing capacity for reform and renewal.”

“He said our civilization’s success is rooted in unique religious and philosophical convictions: that man is basically good; that there is truth, but no finite mortal has it; that we can get closer to the truth only by working together; and that through faith and good works, we can have a better life in this world and a reward in the next.”

Many have written about Quigley’s illustrious tenure at the School of Foreign Service and the generations of students he taught and advised, but few know the story of how Carroll Quigley came to Georgetown.

In 1940, a Jesuit at Georgetown met an old retired Army colonel named George Catlin. Colonel Catlin worked in the old Munitions Building headquarters of the Department of War. Catlin, a New York native and graduate of Columbia University, had served in the Spanish American War.

Quigley said of Catlin in a 1974 interview, “He spoke fluent French [and was] very cultured. I had met him when he was in the Graduate School at Harvard when he was already about 60.”

As it happened, Father Walsh had already brought another history teacher, Paul R. Doolin, down from Harvard. Quigley recalled that while Doolin was good at teaching graduate students, his style did not suit undergraduates. “He talked too remotely and abstractly,” Quigley said. Father Walsh was looking for a teacher who could bring history alive for his undergraduates.

Catlin told the Jesuit he knew just the man from Harvard and his name was Carroll Quigley. Quigley recalled, “This Jesuit says to Fr. Walsh, ‘I hear there’s somebody good at Harvard and I think Paul Doolin knows him.’ So they asked Paul Doolin, and he said, ‘If you can get Quigley, you’re lucky.’”

“Everyone thought, since Fr. Walsh was an Irishman from Boston, that’s how I came down here, but it was the Harvard connection. In the fall of ’41, I thought I’d stay five years and write a book or two books, but the War came and caught me—in December—after a couple of months,” Quigley said.

Quigley remembered: In 1937 I went to France and to Italy, and did research. I was gone a year. And my wife went with me. She was a Princeton girl. She’s my wife now. She and her father lived in the town. I married her in May of 1937, and in July we went to Europe.

We got back about a year later. And before the boat docked in New York I got a message on the wireless from Harvard offering me a job. I did three years at Harvard and then Fr. Walsh got in touch with me and asked me to come down and teach here. But I couldn’t come. He asked me on the 7th of September, 1940, which was the day of the big destroyers deal.

I came down and interviewed, because I was at Princeton for the summer with my wife’s family. It was easy enough. And [Walsh] interviewed me and he wanted me to start that month in a few weeks. And I said I couldn’t do that, ‘I’m committed to Harvard for another year. He said: ‘All right. Come next year’.

I mean, I couldn’t move. I had an apartment that I had paid rent on already for September in Cambridge. So I came down here in September 1941, that’s three or four months before Pearl Harbor. I said, ‘I have been a tutor at Harvard for three years, as a private tutor, with honor students. At Princeton I did mostly what they call ‘preceptorials’. That’s discussion groups of seven.

But I had lectured at Princeton, maybe twice a year to big classes. Now, I knew there was something about my lecturing that was good, and I’ll tell you why. I lectured, for instance, upon two different topics, and in the final exam almost every student brought those things in, even when they weren’t relevant. I had made an impact on them.

I knew they didn’t have sense enough to know it didn’t really fit the answer. So I wanted practice, and this is what Walsh offered me. He said you will do nothing but lecture. And he said: ‘You have three classes’ and so forth. As a matter of fact, when this happened, the lecturing was much greater than I ever realized, and I’ll tell you why.

I came down in September of ’41. Pearl Harbor came. And half the faculty went off to war. They were called up that Monday. And they were all in Reserves and everything. I took over courses. I even taught college algebra, because we got word that our students from the Foreign Service School were having trouble getting officer candidate nominations, and so forth, because they couldn’t handle math.

The Second World War brought great change to the School of Foreign Service. Many of the civilian students were drafted. Quigley took on other professors’ courses as they went off to war.

“I was teaching European History but then Samuel Adams Dulany Hunter, who was the great teacher of United States History went off to war,” Quigley said. “And I took over one course after another because I was left here. I don’t know why I was left. Except that Fr. Walsh one time told me, ‘You were left here because I insisted on it.’”

In 1943, the Army Specialized Training Program came to SFS. They needed American soldiers trained for the impending military occupation of defeated countries. SFS rapidly transformed to meet the need. Father Walsh put Quigley in charge of Central European programs.

During one week in the summer of 1943, Quigley lectured for twenty-nine hours to a group of seven hundred soldiers on Central European history in Gaston Hall—with no air conditioning.

“I was in Gaston Hall, which had no air-conditioning, talking to seven hundred fifty men—who had just had their heavy mid-day meal—at 1 pm.  And I had to keep them alert, and alive, and excited. And on my platform (I had a thermometer up against the back of the platform) it was over 100 degrees all the time. And humid as hell. I was so stuffy in those days, that it was difficult for me to take off a jacket—this helped to break that.”

By the end of 1944, those soldiers had moved on to their foreign posts, and Professor Carroll Quigley was well on his way to earning his status as a legend of the School of Foreign Service—who would continue teaching at Georgetown until 1976.

As Austin Hyde (SFS’63) wrote in October 1961, “Dr. Quigley, in a unique way, bears out Henry Adams’ observation that, ‘A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.’”

“There are no means available to measure the intellectual impact and the far-reaching effects of his influence on the minds of his students. For this reason it is impossible to give Dr. Quigley recognition commensurate with his value to thousands of Georgetown students since his arrival here from Harvard in the Fall of 1941.”