A Remembrance of Oscar Geiger

Charles O'Connor Hennessy

[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, July-August, 1934]

If the spirit of Oscar Geiger is hovering near us today, in this school room, as well may be, I am sure he would be disposed to admonish anyone chosen as I have been to speak on this occasion, to say little in personal eulogy except it be related to the cause for which, in a more than a figurative sense, he gave his life.

But it should be recorded none the less that this good nan who has passed from our mortal sight was a fine gentleman, a scholar and a lover of his kind. He was a gentleman, I mean, in that sense of being a gentle, manly nan, brave enough to live his life according to high principles of duty and justice at whatever cost. Of such on Judgment Day I am sure will be formed the host of the True Anointed of the Lord.

Oscar Geiger's greatest attainment was as a teacher of the truths of political economy as Henry George had regaled them in his immortal writings; truths which are of the most vital concern to humanity; portentous truths which have been unperceived or neglected or distorted by most of the teaching professors of our time. It was Oscar Geiger's part to saturate his fine mind with Henry George's philosophy and economical teachings, and reveal them persuasively and convincingly to the minds of others.

I recall the great tribute paid to Dr. John Dewey by the teaching profession upon the occasion of his seventieth birthday, a few years ago. At that time Dr. Kilpatrick, Professor of Education at Teacher's College, in expressing the gratitude of teachers said something to the effect that Dr. Dewey had helped them to see truth more broadly, more deeply, more clearly and more truly than anyone else. Some of us here recently had the privilege of hearing a number of students under Oscar Geiger earnestly testify to the same idea as applied to him. He had helped them to see the breadth and depth and clarity of George's revelations. Mr. Geiger listened to this testimony at a notable public gathering over which he presided, and I am sure he was made very happy by it. For had not his great teacher, Henry George, declared that it is given to few men to sow the seed and know that it will grow.

The teachers headed by the President of Yale, who were so justly extolling John Dewey on his seventieth birthday, were considering him as a world-honored expositor of educational theory. But as a great philosopher he would no doubt tell us that the thing that is taught is always more important than any process of teaching it. So I deem it no disparagement of his intellectual eminence to say that the things he taught about education, however true, may be of far less importance to humanity than the things that have been taught in the Henry George School of Social Science by Oscar Geiger. Not only in New York but elsewhere throughout the country, and even in lands across the sea, there are now a growing number of educated men and women who believe that civilization is in the shadow of a great menace, and that there is now no need in the world so great and so pressing, if it be not too late, than the need for the sowing of the seeds of George's teachings in the minds of men.

We are told that a few hours before his death Oscar Geiger was listening here to President Roosevelt's eloquent radio address to the nation, on the evening of June 28, which concluded with the inspiring invocation to all of us "to make and keep this country of ours a God's Country."

I think there must have been sadness in the heart of our departed friend on hearing these words sent from the White House, into the homes of listening millions of our people. Perhaps Oscar Geiger, like some others of us, was thinking of President Roosevelt as a humane and courageous man struggling valiantly but in vain with the greatest problems and anxieties that have ever confronted a President of the United States. I do not know what Oscar Geiger thought when he turned away from the radio the other night, but he may well have been both sad and fearful.

Not long ago he expressed to me the conviction, shared by many of us, that the President with all his worthy zeal for the relief of distressed millions in a land of plenty, was wasting himself as well as the substance of the nation in doctoring symptoms rather than dealing with the cause and cure of a great social disease. Not in that wise, we fear, can any God's Country be attained.

Oscar Geiger knew his Henry George, and no doubt recalled that his great prophet had reminded us more than once that the lesson of the centuries demonstrates to all who have eyes to read and brains to think that a social structure whose foundations are not laid in justice cannot endure. And he knew his Old Testament too, with its proverbial admonition to the nations that:

"Where there is no vision the people perish; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."

I believe Oscar Geiger was happy, in spite of the personal sacrifices and privations he endured for the faith that was in him. Because, caring very little for material rewards, he hungered and thirsted greatly after righteousness. And, thus exalted, he was true to his vision and he kept the law.


Our friend was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery. Here Stephen Bell spoke as follows:

There is no occasion to grieve for Oscar Geiger. His life in a very real sense was an unusually full one. He beheld with extraordinary clearness that vision of the civilization that will be when men are fit for it, when humanity shall have grown to mental and spiritual maturity, and to have beheld that vision is well worth having lived even a life of hardship and self denial and self-sacrifice. Who of us would part with that vision for any earthly consideration? Who of us have not regarded with commiseration those who never saw it? Let our grief be for those he has left behind for the noble woman whose loving sympathy has been his support and consolation in his uphill struggle to establish his Henry George School of Social Science, and for his son, who in his book has pointed out to us elements of strength and beauty in the work of the Prophet of Civilization that many of us may have overlooked or forgotten.

And let our grief be for ourselves, too, for we have lost a wise leader, peculiarly gifted in the art of imparting to others the knowledge, understanding and wisdom of life which he had himself gained a born and trained teacher. Who is there amongst us who, having realized the work that he was doing in his School, have not sung with renewed appreciation the old hymn:

"This is the thing I long have sought,
And mourned because I found it not?"

This Henry George School of Social Science, in which so many have had their conceptions of the "Dismal Science" gloriously transformed into a science of hope for all humanity must be made a fitting monument to the memory of its founder as well as to the memory of the Prophet of Civilization himself. Let its sustaining gifts, endowments and benefactions be known as the Oscar Geiger Foundation Fund, and let them not be small.

There are still left some of us who were electrified 37 years ago when John S. Crosby declared: "If those mute lips could speak, they would say, 'Talk not of me, but of my principles and work, and carry them on to fruition."

Thus would Oscar Geiger speak to us. Let us then take up this work and carry it on, not, as too often in the past we have done, as a threat to the existing constitution of society, but as a calm, intellectual appeal to reason for an amendment to that constitution which is approved on the highest plane of morality and reason, and which will prove a blessing not only to that vague "greatest number," but to all.

DEFENDING the New Deal as a cure for economic ills President Roosevelt said on April 24: "We have got to discover the right and the wrong way." The President still has to discover that the right way to cure an evil is to remove its cause and that all other ways are wrong ways. The pretended economists of the Brain Trust need the same instruction.