John Dewey was a world renowned philosopher and educator, arguably one of the most influential men in America’s educational system. Dewey founded the idea of progressive education and knew that a strong country, and a strong democracy, had to be founded in the education of its students. Dewey taught at the University of Michigan, Columbia University and helped to found the philosophy department at the University of Chicago.
Dewey first travelled to Key West in January 1938, when he was a spry 79 years old, with his son and daughter. He knew little of the island at the time, but had headed south for the weather. When Dewey came to Key West, the island was in the midst of the Great Depression and was little more than a poor fishing village. The cigar empire had left Key West over a decade ago and in a riches to rags story was now one of the poorest cities in the state.
Dewey lived in a few homes around Key West, the first being on Greene St across from Sloppy Joes, which his daughter ended up purchasing for a mere $900. The last home he lived in, at 504 South St, belonged to his wife, Roberta. She purchased the beach home on May 29th 1944. Dewey was possibly one of the first snowbirds, arriving in Key West from his home in New York city every year, from January to April, simply to break free from the big city.
Although his work habits suffered greatly from his usual productivity in the big city, he was able to write four works during his stays in his winter paradise. Dewey said “The manana mood develops very easily here.” He would often write letters saying that the climate and laid-back attitude was easy to accept and hard to ignore. While Dewey wasn't as productive as he might have liked to be, he often justified it by saying he’s on a lazy vacation anyway. “The climate here is too relaxing to be conductive to work.”
Dewey frequented the beaches, watching the fishermen bring in their daily catch, punctuated by sunbathing and sitting on his porch to write. He enjoyed the ability to simply be here and write, without anyone bothering him. This gave him time to reflect, think and craft some of his best known works. For most of his time in Key West he was into his 80s, so the healing properties of the good weather and relaxed attitude definitely played a part in his active lifestyle.