George Knoles, Stanford professor of history, dies at 107

George Harmon Knoles, a Stanford history professor emeritus who taught summer colleges around the world, died Aug. 27.

Jose Mercado George Knoles

A memorial service for George H. Knoles, Margaret Byrne Professor of American History, Emeritus, will be held Oct. 25 in Palo Alto.

Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States when George Knoles was born. Nineteen presidents later, on Aug. 27, the Stanford history professor died, having seen a century of history firsthand.

He was 107, the oldest resident of the Channing House, a retirement home in Palo Alto. He was alive when the Titanic sank, and lived to see America's first black president be elected many decades later.

Knoles taught American social and intellectual history at Stanford from 1935 until his retirement in 1972 and served as chairman of the History Department his last 10 years. He was the Margaret Byrne Professor of American History, Emeritus.

He loved to travel, and had a special fondness for Japan, where he worked to build ties to Japanese scholars after World War II.

Knoles was involved with the Stanford Historical Society, and donated his papers to the Stanford University Libraries' Department of Special Collections and University Archives. His books include The Jazz Age Revisited.

Knoles was born on Feb. 20, 1907, in Los Angeles, one of eight children. When he was 13, the family moved to San Jose, where his father became president of the University of the Pacific, now in Stockton.

He graduated from the University of the Pacific and then received his PhD in history from Stanford in 1939.  He married Amandalee Barker, a University of the Pacific student, in 1930. She died in 1994, and had been the president of the Stanford Faculty Women's Club.

A memorial service for Knoles will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 25 at the First Methodist Church, 625 Hamilton Ave. in Palo Alto.

Knoles loved to sing, as he did with his brothers at Christmas, Thanksgiving, christenings and funerals, said Ann Nitzan, one of his daughters. When he was a graduate student, he was a regular soloist at the Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto, earning $50 per month, enough to pay the rent.

His family and former students remember him for his love of teaching at summer college programs, from UCLA to the University of Wyoming to Tokyo, where he was a visiting professor of American Studies in the early 1950s.

 Nitzan remembers living on the Stanford campus during the school year and then packing up for the long drive to wherever Dad was teaching for the summer.

But Knoles' summer courses were not just academic.  "It wasn't just about the history," said Joanne Wytock, who was a student in his program in England in 1966. It was also the culture and the food and, in one case, a pheasant hunt, she said. He also taught in France, Germany and Austria.

As a Navy officer in World War II, Knoles served in the Pacific. After the war, in a critique of the books written about the fighting in the Pacific, he wrote that  most of the literature of the years 1942-1947 was "cloth-bound I journalism."

Some of his former students visited him at Channing House in the days before he died.

Knoles is survived by two daughters, Ann Knoles Nitzan of Portola Valley and A. Laurane (Laurie) Knoles Simmons of Monterey; grandchildren, Daniel Nitzan, Rebecca Nitzan (Quick), Benjamin Nitzan, Jeannette Hankins and Eric Simmons; and eight great-grandchildren.