Harry Overstreet

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Overstreet, Harry Allen (1875–1970)

Overstreet was born in San Francisco, California, and attended the University of California, Berkeley, receiving his B. A. in 1899 and his B.S. in 1901. After teaching philosophy at Berkeley from 1901 to 1911, he became chair of the Department of Philosophy and Psychology at the City College of New York, a position he held until his retirement in 1939. He also taught in the continuing education program of the New School for Social Research as well as adult education courses for the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union from 1924 through 1936. In 1938 Overstreet lectured at Town Hall and was instrumental in the development of its educational program "America's Town Meeting of the Air."

Overstreet's second wife was Bonaro (Wilkerson) Overstreet, a poet and psychologist was born in Geyserville, California. She received a B.A. from University of California, Berkeley, in 1925 and an M.A. from Columbia University. She and Harry were married in 1932, shortly after his divorce from his first wife.

Both separately and together, the Overstreets wrote books covering such topics as psychology, philosophy, sociological studies, political science, adult education and poetry. Their co-authored work, What We Must Know About Communism, became a national best-seller in 1958, but it was their study of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1969, The FBI in Our Open Society, which received the most publicity.

The two also traveled and lectured extensively across the country and Bonaro continued to do this for fifteen years after Harry's death until she died at age 82.

While chairman of the philosophy department at the City College of New York (1911–1939), Overstreet was author of a very popular book in its day, The Mature Mind, quotes from which include

One of the most important phases of maturing is that of growth from self-centering to an understanding relationship to others. A person is not mature until he has both an ability and a willingness to see himself as one among others and to do unto those others as he would have them do to him.
The immature mind hops from one thing to another; the mature mind seeks to follow through.
To hate and to fear is the be psychologically ill... it is, in fact, the consuming illness of our time.
Better a dish of illusion and a hearty appetite for life, than a feast of reality and indigestion therewith.

On the subject of religion, Overstreet stated,

I have long since learned that a man can believe in a perfectly cockeyed theology and still be a royally fine person.” On the subject of humanism, he wrote to Warren Allen Smith in 1951 {WAS}, “I list myself as a naturalistic humanist for the following reasons:
• The new naturalism assumes that nature includes for more than any of our systems of knowledge has ever included or now includes. This means that to a naturalistic humanist there are no limits that can now be set to the possibilities inherent in the nature that includes human nature. This removes all dogmatic certainties whether of the ‘materialistic’ or the ‘spiritual’ sort. The destiny of man is apparently as limitless as the nature of which he is part.
• The new naturalism further assumes that the only way of knowing is through the natural processes of the mind. All supernatural deliverances and guarantees, therefore, are out.
• Humanism assumes that the goal of human development lies in the greatest possible fulfillment of human powers. Man does not live to serve some supernatural being. He lives to bring to fruition the powers with which nature has endowed him. As of today, this fruition would seem to lie in a life of widely shared friendliness, understanding, and cooperation.

In the Hibbert Journal (1913–1914), Overstreet rejected the idea of God as a father, creator, person, or “ideally perfect being,” and accepted only “a god that is ourselves and grows with the world.” He also declared, “Christianity as an institutionalized religion has laid no stress on the pursuit of truth. Indeed, for the most part it has been suspicious of the truthseeking process. The truthseeker might overturn accepted beliefs.”

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{RAT; TYD; WAS, 28 August 1951}