Skip to main content

Allen, Frederick Lewis


Frederick Lewis Allen (July 5, 1890–February 13, 1954) was a writer, magazine editor, and popular historian. The son of an Episcopalian minister, Allen was descended from a line of estimable New Englanders that went back to the Mayflower. He received a superb education at Groton School and then at Harvard University, where he helped edit the literary magazine, and earned a B.A. in English in 1912 and an M.A. in modern languages in 1913. In 1914, he was hired by the prestigious Atlantic Monthly. After working for the Council on National Defense from 1917 to 1918 and a stint as Harvard's publicity manager from 1919 to 1923, Allen was hired as an editor for Harper's Magazine and spent the rest of his career there, becoming Harper's editor-in-chief in 1941. A skillful and sensitive editor, Allen attracted distinguished contributors to Harper's and solidified the magazine's reputation for intelligence and literary brilliance. He stole evenings and weekends from his editorial duties, however, to write the books that were to make him famous.

In 1931, Allen published his best-known work, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen-Twenties. It was a remarkable survey of American popular culture from 1919 to 1929, written in a lively and engaging style, and filled with dramatic anecdotes and colorful personalities. Notable both for its acute perceptions of recent times and for its appeal to the general reading public, Only Yesterday sold more than a million copies and ran through twenty-two printings. Although Allen's book, along with numerous other influences, may have helped to fasten to the 1920s its exuberant, carefree, jazz-age image, it should not be dismissed as mere popularization: The historian William Leuchtenburg remarked that Only Yesterday was "written in such a lively style that academicians often underrate its soundness."

Allen tried to duplicate his success with a look at the 1930s, Since Yesterday: The Nineteen-Thirties in America, published in 1940. It was inevitably a more somber and serious portrait, emphasizing economic hardship, Franklin Roosevelt, and the darkening international scene. Since Yesterday retained the absorbing literary style of the earlier work and also became a best-seller, although it never reached the success of Only Yesterday. In addition to these two works, Allen wrote three important books in his trademarked manner: The Lords of Creation (1935) was a study of Wall Street high finance, centering on the figure of J. P. Morgan, a subject to which Allen returned in The Great Pierpont Morgan (1949). Finally, Allen attempted a survey of the first half of the twentieth century in The Big Change: America Transforms Itself, 1900–1950 (1952).

Allen was respected and admired by his colleagues, not only for his literary talents, but also for his generosity, modesty, fairness, and compassion. He died in New York City at the age of sixty-three.



"F. L. A. (1890–1954)." Harper's Magazine 208 (April 1954): 74–75.

Payne, Darwin. The Man of Only Yesterday: Frederick Lewis Allen. 1975.

David W. Levy

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Allen, Frederick Lewis." Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. . 19 Sep. 2018 <>.

"Allen, Frederick Lewis." Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. . (September 19, 2018).

"Allen, Frederick Lewis." Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. . Retrieved September 19, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.