Hartley Burr Alexander

Hartley Burr Alexander, PhD (1873–1939), was an American philosopher, writer, educator, scholar, poet, and iconographer.

Family and early yearsEdit

Alexander was born in Syracuse, Nebraska, on April 9, 1873. His father, the Rev. George Sherman Alexander (1823–1894), was a Methodist minister and pioneer newspaper editor in Nebraska. These twin sources were to implant in young Hartley a delight in the written word and a distrust of Christianity. His mother, Abigail Smith Alexander (1835–1876), died when he was three and in 1877 his father remarried Susan Godding (1829–1893). Ms. Godding had been a teacher and chairperson in the Methodist School in East Greenwich and at Friends College in Providence, Rhode Island, and brought with her to the harsh Nebraska frontier a love of art, music and language that was to stay with Alexander for the remainder of his long and productive life. Living on the frontier exposed Alexander to the ways of the First Peoples and was to instill in him an interest in Native religion and spirituality that was to form one of the paths of life that he was to follow. In 1890, while still in high school he wrote a poem, To a Child's Moccasin, (Found at Wounded Knee) that bucked the current philosophy that "the only good Indian was a dead Indian." This was not to be the only time that Alexander's conscience was to lead him to take an unpopular stand that would put him in opposition to the current American standards.


After graduating from high school in Syracuse, Nebraska in 1892 Alexander attended the University of Nebraska in nearby Lincoln. Following that he attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and obtained his doctorate at Columbia University in 1901.

He received the Knight of the Legion of Honor award from the government of France in 1936 and was awarded an Honorary Membership in the American Institute of Architects for his collaboration with many of its architect members.

Career and accomplishmentsEdit

He was on the staff of Webster's Dictionary from 1903—1908, then became professor of philosophy at the University of Nebraska.


His published writings include:

  • The Problem of Metaphysics (1902)
  • Poetry and the Individual (1906)
  • The Mid-Earth Life (1907)
  • Odes on the Generations of Man (1910)
  • The Religious Spirit of the American Indian (1910)
  • The Mythology of All Races, volume x: North American (1916); volume xi: Latin American (1920)
  • Liberty and Democracy (1918)
  • Letters to Teachers (1919)
  • God's Drum - and Other Cycles from Indian Lore (1927)
  • Truth and the Faith (1929)
  • God and Man's Destiny: Inquiries into the Metaphysical Foundations of Faith (1936)
  • The World's Rim - Great Mysteries of the North American Indians (1953) (Posthumous)

He wrote a volume of poetry, Odes and Lyrics (1921). In 1919 he served as president of the American Philosophical Society.


Alexander Family tombstone, Syracuse, Nebraska

Burr is believed to have coined the term iconographer to describe the work that he did developing iconographic schemes, decorative themes and inscriptions for a large number and variety of public buildings in the United States. These include:

See alsoEdit


  • Kvaran and Lockley Architectural Sculpture in America, unpublished manuscript
  • Luebke, Frederick C. Editor, A Harmony of the Arts – The Nebraska State Capitol, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska 1990
  • Masters, Magaret Dale, Hartley Burr Alexander—Writer-In-Stone, Margaret Dale Masters 1992.
  • Whitaker, Charles Harris,Editor, Text by Hartley Burr Alexander, Lee Lawrie, Paul Cret et al., Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, Architect-and Master of Many Arts, Press of the American Institute of Architects, Inc., NYC 1925
  • Whitaker, Charles Harris and Hartley Burr Alexander, The Architectural Sculpture of the State Capitol at Lincoln Nebraska, Press of the American Institute of Architects, NY 1926

External linksEdit

  • "Alexanders". worldofjamesalexander.com. Retrieved 23 June 2012. Scroll down to "H. B. Alexander" biography with portrait.