Swarthmore College Peace Collection, 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19081 U.S.A.

Biographical Information about William Sidis
[from various sources whose accuracy is unknown]

William James Sidis was born on April 1, 1898 in Brookline, Massachusetts, the son of Boris and Sarah Sidis. Boris was a Russian emigrant who arrived in the United States unable to speak English, yet he eventually entered Harvard University and earned an AB degree at the age of 27. The former mechanic also earned a PhD and MD degree and went on to become an eminent medical psychologist and an author. Sarah, though illiterate when she emigrated from Russia, also earned a medical degree (having been taught to read and write by Boris). The couple later opened the Sidis Institute for Abnormal Psychiatry at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

William could supposedly read Plato in the original Greek, along with four other languages, by the age of five. He completed grammar school in six months, finishing three grades in his first morning at school. At age eight he passed the entrance exam for Harvard but had to wait until age 11 to be admitted. On January 5, 1910, he delivered his celebrated lecture on the fourth dimension to the Harvard Mathematical Club. He graduated from Harvard University in 1914 at the age of 16. After college he studied in a post-graduate school at Harvard, and then became a mathematics instructor at Rice Institute in Houston, Texas before he was 20. A year later, Sidis quit teaching (having been asked by the college to leave), and after a time moved to New York and to Boston, Massachusetts. For the next 25 years he worked at clerical jobs, and many, who had noted his early genius, wrote him off as a failure. On July 18, 1944, "The Oregonian" published an obituary about him, stating "His associates in the department of unemployment compensation described him . . . as a 'silent, uncommunicative fellow who only wanted to be left alone.' Only one published writing came from his once fertile mind. It was a 300-page book, published in 1927 -- a treatise on collecting trolley car transfers as a hobby."

It was some years later that interest in Sidis was rekindled (and material about him can be found by searching the Web). Amy Wallace wrote a book about him called The Prodigy: A Biography of William James Sidis, America's Greatest Child Prodigy. Another researcher discovered 89 weekly newspaper columns that Sidis wrote under a pen name, a science fiction novel he'd written, and a manuscript produced in 1925 that predicts the existence of black holes in the cosmos.

Sidis joined the Socialist Party in 1918 (circa), and on May 1, 1919 led a May Day demonstration and parade organized by the Party. He and others were arrested for this action, and in court he was charged with being a conscientious objector, an atheist, and with carrying a red flag, none of which he denied. He was sentenced to 18 months in a reformatory, which he served first at his father's Portsmouth, New Hampshire sanitarium and later at one in California. Though he eventually dropped out of the Socialist Party (and the Communist Party), he was for many years interested in the freedom of individuals and the role of government in protecting the individual in "his inalienable rights."

Julius Eichel devoted a whole issue of The Absolutist (No. 43; September 5, 1944) to his reflections on the life of Sidis, whom he called a "libertarian pacifist." Eichel had heard of Sidis when he was still a child, but "came into personal contact with him the later part of 1922, and almost up to the day of his death we were in constant touch with each other." In WWI, Sidis had registered his objections to war, but the armistice of 1918 saved him from a prison term. "It was natural then that we who so strenously opposed the institution of war . . . should join hands in combatting the common enemy -- militarism and the institutions geared to maintain it." By the time of WWII, Sidis was contributing a weekly column to The Absolutist under the pseudonym of Parker Greene. He wrote about his opposition to Civilian Public Service for conscientious objectors in WWII, and on other concerns.

Sidis died in Brookline, Massachusetts on July 17, 1944 of a cerebral hemmorhage.




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This page written by Anne Yoder, Archivist, May 2001