In addition to developing the library classification scheme that still bears his name — the Dewey Decimal System — Melvil Dewey was a champion of spelling reform. If one didn’t know that this letter to Amherst Trustee George Plimpton was written by Melvil Dewey, one might assume it was the work of a semi-literate crank.
Dewey came to Amherst College in the fall of 1870 and the catalog for his Freshman year shows he had not yet lopped the superfluous letters from his first name: “Melville.”
Sometime in his second year at the college he became obsessed with libraries and library classification. He spent much of the next two years working in Morgan Library at Amherst as well as visiting nearby libraries such as Boston Public Library and the Boston Athenaeum in search of the ideal classification system.
After graduating in 1874, Dewey was hired by the college to serve as Assistant Librarian, a position he held for two years before moving on. He continued to develop his classification system and in 1876 arranged for it to be published.
The letter at the top of this post is on Lake Placid Club stationery, another of Dewey’s passion projects. Dewey founded the Lake Placid Club in 1895, possibly inspired by the physical fitness program he experienced as an Amherst undergraduate.
Dewey died in 1931, but his efforts to promote Lake Placid and the Adirondacks High Peaks region as a site for winter recreation paid off handsomely when Lake Placid hosted the Third Winter Olympics in 1932. When the Lake Placid Club held a dinner in celebration of Dewey’s 100th birthday, they printed the menu using his “Simpler Speling.”
While the Dewey Decimal Classification system remains popular around the world, and Lake Placid hosted a second Winter Olympics in 1980, little remains of Dewey’s spelling reforms. I wonder how many visitors to the Adirondacks realize that the same guy who developed the Dewey classification system is also responsible for the idiosyncratic spelling of the “Adirondack Loj” at Heart Lake…