Livia Appel was appointed the first managing editor (essentially, the first director) of the University of Wisconsin Press in 1937. University Press Committee records from the time indicate that she was hired because she thoroughly understood academic publishing operations and could be employed for much less pay than a man.
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1893, Appel became a school teacher and then a research and editorial assistant at the Minnesota Historical Society. Her work as an assistant was apparently impressive enough that she was credited as coauthor of a MHS book: Minnesota in the War with Germany by Franklin F. Holbrook and Livia Appel.
Very little about Appel’s work at UWP has been researched, but her tenure included the difficult years of the Great Depression and World War II. We know that the first book published at the Press was Reactions of Hydrogen with Organic Compounds over Copper-Chromium Oxide and Nickel Catalysts by Homer Adkins. Appel also authored a small book herself—Bibliographical Citation in the Social Sciences and the Humanities: A Handbook of Style for Authors, Editors, and Students, published by UWP in 1940.
A few of the more notable books published between Appel’s arrival in 1937 and departure in 1948 include:
- The Early Writings of Frederick Jackson Turner Edited by Everett E. Edwards (1938)
A Regional Approach to the Conservation of Natural Resources by V. C. Finch and J. R. Whitaker (1938)
The Leguminous Plants of Wisconsin by Norman C. Fassett (1939)
The Wars of the Iroquois: A Study in Intertribal Trade Relations by George T. Hunt (1940)
The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774–1781 by Merrill Jensen (1940)
Lincoln and the Radicals by T. Harry Williams (1941)
De Rerum Natura: The Latin Text of Lucretius Edited by William Ellery Leonard and Stanley Barney Smith (1942)
Japan: A Physical, Cultural, and Regional Geography by Glenn T. Trewartha (1945)
The Wisconsin Prisoner: Studies in Crimogenesis by John L. Gillin (1946)
Hermes the Thief: The Evolution of a Myth by Norman O. Brown (1947)
What we do know about Appel as an editor and as a person comes mainly from her later work elsewhere. In 1948, she was hired by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin as editor for their publications. Distinguished historian Francis Paul Prucha, whose work Appel edited for SHSW, wrote a lengthy tribute to her in the summer 1996 issue of the Wisconsin Magazine of History on the occasion of the society’s sesquicentennial.
In Prucha’s article titled, “Livia Appel and the Art of Copywriting: A Personal Memoir,” he noted, “In her years at the [University of Wisconsin] Press, she gained a reputation as a perfectionist.” Prucha describes in detail how Appel worked painstakingly and authoritatively with him to transform his dissertation into a successful book. “My encounter with Livia Appel at the beginning of my career as a historian was a never to be forgotten experience. . . . It is remarkable how far I have been carried by the principles of good writing and the practical skills she taught me.” He mentions that he discovered after his book was published that Appel was not only the editor, but the book designer, for SHSW’s publications.
Prucha also briefly describes meeting Appel: ” I met Livia Appel personally only once, at the end of June 1956, when I was able to spend a short time in Wisconsin. My memory of that meeting after so many years is now dim. I do not remember just what my expectations had been in regard to Appel’s personality and appearance—after all, our long correspondence had been very professional and all business. What I found was a woman less precise in dress and demeanor, more informal and friendly, than I would have imagined. The one clear picture that I have retained is that she perpetually had a cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth. But I also remember that she made me feel that we were kindred souls in discussing at length the problems we had solved together in revising my dissertation.”
In 1956, Prucha reports, Appel moved to New York City, where she apparently did freelance editing until 1962. She died in New York in January 1973.