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Francis Paul Prucha

Francis Paul Prucha (January 4, 1921 – July 30, 2015) was an American Jesuit, historian, and professor emeritus of history at Marquette University.[1] His work, The Great Father, was a finalist for the 1985 Pulitzer Prize in History, and is regarded as a classic among professional historians.[2]

Francis Paul Prucha
Born(1921-01-04)January 4, 1921
DiedJuly 30, 2015(2015-07-30) (aged 94)
Alma materUniversity of Wisconsin-River Falls, University of Minnesota, Harvard, and St. Louis University
OccupationPriest, Professor, Historian


Prucha was born in River Falls, Wisconsin, the first son of Edward J. and Katharine Prucha and the older brother of John J. Prucha. He graduated from River Falls High School in 1937 as Paul Prucha and was then educated at Wisconsin State Teachers College-River Falls, which awarded him a Bachelor of Science degree in 1941. After a year and a half of high school teaching and then three-and-a-half years of service in the United States Army Air Forces, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where he received an M.A. degree in 1947. Harvard University awarded him a Ph.D. degree in history in 1950 under the direction of Frederick Merk.[3] His dissertation, a study of the role of the peacetime army in the settlement process, was published in 1953 as Broadax and Bayonet: The Role of the United States Army in the Development of the Northwest, 1815-1860.[4]

Prucha joined the Society of Jesus in 1950 and was ordained in 1957 after studying at Saint Louis University and Saint Mary's College in Kansas. Three years later, he began teaching at Marquette and is remembered by generations of alumni as a model of the teacher-scholar. From 1960 until his retirement he was on the history faculty at Marquette University. He served as visiting professor at the University of Oklahoma and at Harvard and was the Gasson Professor at Boston College.[4] When the editor of Marquette Magazine asked readers to write about their greatest teachers, Prucha was identified among a group of classroom legends for instilling a love of learning in students.[5]

In the late 1960s, while studying under a Guggenheim Fellowship, Prucha began work on a comprehensive history of US Indian policy. His research culminated with the two-volume The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. The book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1985 and is regarded as a classic among professional historians.[6] The Great Father was awarded the Billington Prize by the Organization of American Historians in 1985. The recipient of six honorary degrees, Prucha was awarded his emeritus appointment in 1988.

Prucha died at the St. Camillus Jesuit Community in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.[2] At 94 years of age he was the oldest member of the Wisconsin Province. He was a Jesuit for 64 years and a priest for 58 years.


Marquette University's Archives and Special Collection's reading room in its Raynor Library was named in his honor.[7] Father Prucha was also inducted into the Milwaukee Central Library's Wisconsin Writers Wall of Fame.[8]


Prucha's books have been praised for their thorough scholarship and attacked for their treatment of government officials, such as President Andrew Jackson. Biographer Jon Brudvig summarizes Prucha's interpretation of that government policy:

Prucha's survey portrayed natives and Europeans clashing from the earliest period of cultural contact. To protect the American Indians, Prucha demonstrated how public officials use their authority to guard Indians against the destructive forces of the dominant culture. Prucha calls this paternalism, "a determination to do what was best for the Indians according to white norms, which translated into protection, subsistence of the destitute, punishment of the unruly, and eventually taking Indians by the hand and leading them along the path to white civilization and Christianity."[3]

Honorary degreesEdit


  • The Great Father ISBN 978-0-8032-8712-9 (Winner of the Ray Allen Billington Award)
  • The Churches and the Indian Schools, 1888-1912 ISBN 0-8032-3657-3
  • American Indian Policy in Crisis: Christian Reformers and the Indian, 1865-1900 ISBN 0-8061-1279-4
  • American Indian Treaties: The History of a Political Anomaly ISBN 978-0-520-08531-2
  • Indian Peace Medals in American History ISBN 978-0-8061-3218-1
  • Broadax and Bayonet: The Role of the United States Army in the Development of the Northwest, 1815-1860 ISBN 978-0-8032-5151-9
  • Documents of United States Indian Policy: Third Edition ISBN 978-0-8032-3728-5
  • The Sword of the Republic: The United States Army on the Frontier 1783-1846 ISBN 978-0-8032-3676-9

Archival collectionsEdit

Prucha was instrumental in acquiring for Marquette University the records of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions. There is also a collection that relates purely to Prucha and his work. The archival collections of Francis Paul Prucha includes his correspondence, books (1950–2002), articles, book reviews (1942–2002), public talks and lectures (1956–1998), courses taught (1952–1987), awards and honors (1971–2003), professional activities, research fellowships and grants (1954–2003), personal papers (1927–1993), and research materials (1955–2003).[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Marquette University. Faculty Activities Report. Milwaukee, Wis.: Marquette University Press, 2002.
  2. ^ a b "In Memory of Fr. Francis Paul Prucha, S.J." Becker Ritter Funeral Home. Archived from the original on August 14, 2015. Retrieved August 6, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Jon J. Brudvig, "Prucha, Francis Paul" in Kelly Boyd, ed. (1999). Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, vol. 2. Taylor & Francis. pp. 966–8.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b "Western History Association Prize Recipient, 1987: Francis Paul Prucha". The Western Historical Quarterly, 19:2 (May, 1988): 133-140.
  5. ^ a b McInerny, Paul M. "Historical Base for Indian Policy". Marquette Magazine, Spring 1988: 5-6.
  6. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes - Finalists". Retrieved August 6, 2015.
  7. ^ "Special Collections & University Archives". Retrieved August 6, 2015.
  8. ^ "Fr. Prucha named to Wade Chair". National Jesuit News, June 1990: 1.
  9. ^ "Special Collections & University Archives". Retrieved August 6, 2015.

Further readingEdit

  • Marten, James; Naylor, Philip. "Father Francis Paul Prucha, SJ 1921-2015". Perspectives on History vol. 53, no. 9 (2015): 343–351.