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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Schramm, Wilbur Lang
(August 5, 1907–December 27, 1988)

–pioneer of communication studies—was born in Marietta, Ohio, the son of Archibald Schramm, an attorney, and Louise (Lang) Schramm, a homemaker. He attended school in Marietta, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Marietta College in 1928, and received an M.A. in English from Harvard University in 1930. He then came to the State University of Iowa to earn a doctorate in English and to receive therapy for stuttering. At Iowa, he became acquainted with Wendell Johnson, and one of his fellow students was author Wallace Stegner. Schramm took his Ph.D. in 1932 in American literature under Norman Foerster, with a dissertation on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Hiawatha. For the next two years, as a National Research Fellow, he worked with the legendary Carl Seashore, physiological psychologist and dean of the Graduate College, investigating the rhythm of poetry reading. He also served as an assistant to the editor of the Philological Quarterly. In 1935 he became a member of the English faculty as an assistant professor, then was promoted to associate professor in 1939 and full professor in 1941. He founded the literary magazine American Prefaces: A Journal of Critical and Imaginative Writing in 1935 and served as editor until 1942. The purpose of the magazine was "to provide a place where young American writers could write the 'prefaces' to their careers."

    The State University of Iowa's English Department had a long interest in creative writing, going back to the early 20th century. Schramm built on that tradition by becoming the first director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop (1937-1941). He expanded the workshop into a graduate-level program. During that time, Schramm was writing fiction as well. His "tall tales" were published in such mass-circulation magazines as the Saturday Evening Post. Some of his stories were collected in Windwagon Smith and Other Yarns (1947).

    After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Schramm volunteered to serve his country as educational director with the Office of Facts and Figures and the Office of War Information. There he came into contact with many outstanding social scientists who exposed him to an interdisciplinary approach to learning. When he came back to Iowa in 1943, he brought with him new thinking on the study of mass communications, the means by which information is relayed to people through mass media. Upon his return, Schramm, who had only slight experience as a correspondent for the Associated Press during his collegiate years, was appointed director of the School of Journalism, succeeding Frank Luther Mott. Schramm established a doctoral program in mass communications, the first in the United States. He also started the Typographic Laboratory under the printer Carroll Coleman.

    In 1947 Schramm moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where his friend George Stoddard had become president. There Schramm became director of the Institute of Communication Research and professor of communication, the first such position in the country. In starting a new field, Schramm had to devise the first textbooks. While at Illinois, he edited a number of books of readings on communication theory. Perhaps the most important was Process and Effects of Mass Communication (1954).

    In 1955 Schramm moved to Stanford University, where he became professor of communication and later director of the Institute for Communication Research. That program became noted for producing doctoral students. With two of his graduate students, Schramm completed Television in the Lives of Our Children (1961), a watershed volume looking into the behavioral effects of communication technologies. Later his research turned to international communication.

    Upon his retirement from Stanford in 1973, Schramm accepted a position as director of the East-West Communication Institute at the University of Hawaii. He continued to publish and kept up his interest in the impact of television on the lives of children. Schramm died at age 81 and was survived by his wife, Elizabeth. They had two children: Mary Barbara and Richard Michael.
Sources There seems to be no major collection of Schramm's papers, but there is a small holding in the University Archives, Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City. For more on Schramm, see his The Beginnings of Communication Study in America: A Personal Memoir (1997); and Communication Research: A Half-Century Appraisal (1977).
Contributor: Robert A. Mccown

Cite as: McCown, Robert A. "Schramm, Wilbur Lang" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 11 December 2017