Dumas Malone, best known for his six-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson, was born in Coldwater, Mississippi, on 10 January 1892 to Methodist minister John Malone and Lillian Kemp Malone, a teacher. The family soon moved to Georgia, where Dumas received a bachelor’s degree from Emory University in 1910 before moving on to earn a divinity degree from Yale University in 1916. When the United States entered the First World War, Malone joined the Marine Corps and served stateside as a second lieutenant until 1919. Malone subsequently returned to Yale, where he earned master’s and doctoral degrees in history.
In 1923 Malone began teaching European and American history at the University of Virginia, where he remained until 1929. He then joined the Dictionary of American Biography, where he served as an editor, editor in chief, and eventually director, and became director of Harvard University Press. In 1944 Malone received a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation to begin work on a biography of Jefferson. Malone became a history professor at Columbia University from 1945 to 1958 before returning to the University of Virginia in 1959 as the first Thomas Jefferson Professor of History. He retired from teaching in 1962 but retained the title of emeritus professor and continued his scholarly writing career.
Malone’s major publications include The Public Life of Thomas Cooper (1926), which was based on his doctoral dissertation and which won the John Addison Porter Prize at Yale; Edwin A. Alderman (1940), a book about a former president of the University of Virginia; and Empire for Liberty, a two-volume textbook cowritten with Basil Rauch (1960). However, Malone is most noted for his six-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson and His Time (1948–81): Jefferson the Virginian (1948), Jefferson and the Rights of Man (1951), Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty (1962), Jefferson the President: The First Term, 1801–1805 (1970), Jefferson the President: The Second Term, 1805–1809 (1974), and Jefferson and His Time: The Sage of Monticello (1981). The first five volumes won Malone the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for history. Malone’s scholarship was thorough, with an eye for detail, and his writing style was fluid, which made the reading enjoyable. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983 and resided in Charlottesville until his death on 27 December 1986.
- Eric Pace, New York Times (28 December 1986)
- Merrill D. Peterson, William and Mary Quarterly (April 1988)