Pieter K. Roest

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Dr. Pieter K. Roest

Dr. Pieter Kornelis Roest, a Dutch-American sociologist, was prominent as a lecturer in the Theosophical Society in America, especially during the 1930s. As a member of General Douglas MacArthur's staff following World War II, he played in important role in writing the constitution of Japan and in arranging for the first postwar elections.

Early years and education

Pieter Roest was born October 17, 1898 in Vlaardingen, South Holland, in The Netherlands.[1][2] On July 11, 1918 he became a member of the Theosophical Society based in Adyar, India, in the Dutch Section.[3]

He attended the University of Leiden Medical School and received his M.C. medical degree in 1920:

He was soon after invited by the National Student Forum of America to tour American colleges as a typical representative of the European Youth Movement for Holland. In a year's travel on this mission in this country Dr. Roest visited eighty of our colleges and then entered upon a course of special study at the University of Chicago where he took his Ph.D. degree "cum laude" in 1925. He then took up student work again and reciprocated his introduction to America by conducting about 100 American students on a European tour. Already a Theosophist since 1918 Dr. Roest on this tour met Dr. Besant and accepted her invitation to teach at the Brahmavidyashrama at Adyar.[4]

The doctorate was awarded in sociology and anthropology, supervised by Dr. Ellsworth Faris.[5] The title of his doctoral dissertation was "White Magic and its Theories."[6] That period in Chicago was eventful. In addition to completing his degree, traveling to Europe, and being offered a teaching position by Mrs. Besant, Roest became the father of a baby boy on June 13, and he also began writing articles for Theosophical and professional journals.

Teaching and academic research

Following a year in India teaching at Brahmavidya Ashrama, Dr. Roest traveled in Australia and Java. He conducted studies about the aboriginal peoples in those places, lectured, and published papers. During the time in Australia, Roest became acquainted with Charles Webster Leadbeater, and lived at The Manor for two years.[7] The second Roest son was born in 1929, in a location described broadly as "British East Indies," or Java.[8]. Roest accepted a position as instructor in social sciences department at the University of Toledo, in Ohio, for the academic year of September 15, 1930 to June 16, 1931. He was paid $2000 for the year.[9]

From Toledo the Roests went in 1931 to Portland, Oregon, where he became an assistant professor of sociology at Reed College, teaching sociology, psychology and related subjects. His position constituted the entire social studies department; he served in addition as the chairman of the Public Occasions Committee for the college. In 1933, Dr. Roest took a leave of absence to accept a position at the American Theosophical Society in Wheaton, Illinois.

In 1947, after working at the Theosophical Society and in the Army, Dr. Roest accepted another position in education as acting principal of the Montezuma Mountain School for Boys in the Santa Cruz Mountains for a year.[10].

Pieter K. Roest, center, with child. Detail from group photo of 1934 annual convention in Wheaton, Illinois. Left: Charles Luntz, Anita Henkel. Right: Rev. Edwin Beckwith, Daisy Hurd.

Theosophical work

Dr.Roest was active in the Theosophical Society wherever he lived. He joined Chicago's Akbar Lodge, Harmony Toledo Lodge, Portland Lodge, Surya Youth Lodge, the National Lodge, and later the Ojai Valley Lodge. He was always much in demand as a speaker. He served as President of the Portland Lodge, and late in life, in the 1960s, as the President of the Honolulu Lodge.[11]

In 1933, after two years in Portland, Dr. Roest took a leave of absence to become Field Director of the Greater America Plan. That name was derived from the concept that the Theosophical Society could contribute to developing a "greater America" by working at the local level, in a local circle of influence, to bring blessing, nobility, and unity to the United States.[12] Practical suggestions for lodge improvement were to be disseminated throughout the nation by means of lectures, workshops, and written materials.

For three years Dr. Roest traveled many months of the year to work with branches [lodges] of the American Theosophical Society that were depleted financially and energetically from the Great Depression and its social upheavals.[13] His coworker in this effort was Miss Anita Henkel, with L. W. Rogers, Dr. Nina E. Pickett, Bishop Charles Hampton, and Fred Werth also acting as national lecturers. The expenses of national lecturers came from donations made at their public programs, which were usually sponsored by the larger lodges. Small and remote branches tended not to be included in the lecture circuits, and one feature of the Greater America Plan was to provide lecturers to these locations, with expenses covered by a special fund.

At the end of the first year, President Sidney A. Cook reported:

Our two field workers, Dr. Roest and Miss Henkel, since last Convention have traveled in the Section over 23,000 miles, 20,000 of it by automobile, and they have contacted 119 lodges, many of which had seen no representative from Headquarters for a number of years; they have reached approximately a score of others through attending fourteen federation gatherings, making an almost complete coverage. [14]

These are some lecture topics he offered:

Why Are We On Earth?
The New Realism
Immortality - Dream or Fact?
The Inner Side of Evolution
World Leaders and Their Work

Occult Psychology on Trial
Living as an Art
Humpty Dumpty's College Career
Theosophy and Modern Psychology
The Challenge of the New Era

Solving the Crisis
Conquering Depression
Building a New World
National Destiny

In addition to these lecture tours, the Greater America Plan included development of a 100-page Lodge Handbook filled with useful information for organization, program planning, advertising, and other aspects of branch operations. [15] Glowing accounts came in from the lodges. They were invigorated by the new level of attention from Headquarters and by the opportunity to share their best ideas with other groups:

Dr. Roest's ability is an outstanding factor in recreating in the minds of the public a respect for the dignity of our organization and a new evaluation of the splendor of our teachings. Excellent study classes have been formed in several places and the members are determined to uphold the high standards of presentation which Dr. Roest has set for them. [16]

Department of Agriculture

During 1939 and 1940, Roest worked as a marketing specialist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture based in Salt Lake City, promoting a food stamp program that provided surplus food commodities to relief clients. [17][18]

World War II

The American Theosophist reported on Dr. Roest's service in the Second World War, beginning in April 1942:

Dr. Pieter K. Roest, known and appreciated by members throughout the Society, has recently been commissioned a Captain in the United States Army, and has left the country on foreign service. His wife and children will live in Larchmont, New York, for the duration. Dr. Roest has been in Washington, D. C., in the foreign section of the Department of Agriculture and has been active in lodge and class work in Lightbringer Lodge. We are proud to have another Theosophist join the colors.[19]

In November, 1944:

MJR. PIETER K. ROEST has been transferred to the Intermediate headquarters of the Service of Supply somewhere in New Guinea. his work now has to do with the organizing of a training center for transportation corps personnel. He is hoping for a reassignment to A. M. G. (Allied Military Government).[20]

Postwar work in Japan

Following World War II, Dr. Roest became a member of General Douglas MacArthur's staff in the occupation of Japan, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, serving as Chief of the Political Affairs Division at General Headquarters, Supreme Allied Forces in Tokyo. He led a Civil Rights Subsubcommittee assigned to draft the bill of rights for the new Japanese constitution. The other members of the subcommittee were Dr. Harry Emerson Wildes, a sociologist with great expertise in Japan, and Beate Sirote, a 22-year-old American citizen who was proficient in Japanese. "None of the three had legal training, but all had extensive experience living in other cultures and an acute awareness of the importance of universal human rights legislation.[21] Their work has been documented extensively in many histories of the occupation. [22] He also interviewed Japanese leaders; analyzed political movements and parties; and planned the first post-war general election. The U. S. Army awarded him the Legion of Merit and the Commendation for Meritorious Civilian Service.[23]

Just before leaving Japan, Dr. Roest spoke to the Japanese press about the dangers of Communism. His speech was covered by international press and reported extensively in American newspapers:

Japan Press Is Briefed on US Red View
TOKYO, Mar. 26. – (AP) – The Japanese press heard from one of General MacArthur's staff officers today that the United States would fight "purely political, ruthlessly aggressive Communism, anywhere in the world."

Lt. Col. Pieter Roest, chief of MacArthur's political affairs division, made it clear in a talk with Japanese newsmen that he was making a distinction between the Russian system and "anti-democratic" forces.

"America is predominantly capitalistic," he said, "but it sees no threat in Britain's Socialism of coal mines, or in Sweden's co-operative industry, or in Russian's state commerce, or in the Communistic way of life of many religious orders.

"But it is deeply concerned about the political system under which these various economic orders operate, and it abhors to see democracy destroyed in country after country by 'rigged' elections, by stifling the voice of the people who protest, by all the high-handed and violent methods by which one-party control is established and perpetuated.

"It is this anti-democratic, purely political, ruthlessly-aggressive Communism that America will fight anywhere in the world, as it had to fight Nazism and Fascism and Tojo's Japanism."[24]

Department of State

During the 1950s, Dr. Roest worked for the U. S. State Department as "a Foreign Affairs Specialist in the Division of Research for the Near East, South Asia, and Africa."[25] He analyzed the sociology and politics of several nations. In 1956, for example, he wrote about the constitutional system of Ceylon. In another major project, he contributed to Afghanistan: Its People, Its Society, Its Culture, a Yale University study written for the State Department.

Personal life

On December 11, 1937, Dr. Roest, during his tenure as a National Lecturer for the Society, became a naturalized citizen of the United States in Ventura, California.[26]

Roest married three times, and became father to five sons. In the early 1920s, Roest married Neeltje ("Nell") Bloemendaal, who was born in his home town of Vlaardingen, Holland on April 6, 1900.[27] In 1923, Pieter and Neeltje transferred their TS membership from the Dutch Section to the American Theosophical Society, joining Chicago's Akbar Lodge. When Pieter took a teaching position in India, they both transferred their membership to the Indian Section on April 31, 1927, then back to the American Section early in 1931.[28]

The family moved around frequently during his years as a lecturer; 1935 found them in Sarasota, Florida;[29] in 1938-1940 they lived at Krotona in Ojai;[30][31] At some point Pieter and Neeltje divorced. 1947 found her back in Portland, Oregon, when she was Lodge librarian. In 1949 Neeltje moved to Ojai, California, where she taught preschool at the Monica Ros School.[32] On December 17, 1955 she remarried, to Harold A. Kirk, another TSA member, and they lived in Ojai.[33] She died on July 23, 1978.[34]

During his service in Japan, Roest married Jean Marie Louttit (1919-2004), a Theosophical Society member from the Portland Lodge. They were married in Yokohama on July 7, 1946.[35] The following year, they returned to United States with the first of their three sons. Jean Marie was a dynamic woman who enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps in 1943. As a lieutenant at Kingman Army Airfield in Arizona, she organized and delivered an orientation program for 13,000 airmen and officers. In Japan she planned radio programs encouraging woman to vote; nearly 80% participated in the 1947 election - the first time in history in which they were allowed to vote for the national legislature. Jean Marie was very active in volunteer efforts for interracial cooperation; a sister city program; and the Camp Fire Girls. After 1960, when she and Pieter were divorced, Jean Marie pioneered as one of the first women to establish a public relations firm. In 1971 she completed a bachelor's degree in public relations at San Jose State University.[36].[37]

On August 2, 1961, Pieter Roest married the widow of a Navy officer, Margaret Ann Cloes Norcross, in King County, Washington. She was a singer and voice teacher, with a daughter and a son. The couple lived in Los Altos, Santa Clara County, California.[38] She was born August 14, 1920 in Pinehurst, Washington and died March 20, 2008 in Portland, Oregon.[39] In December 1967 the couple divorced.[40]

He passed away on July 11, 1968, a few months after he had been guest speaker at Krotona School of Theosophy.

Dr. Pieter K. Roest passed away suddenly but quietly at Wheaton. He had flown in from Ojai, California, only the day before to assist with the work at Olcott during the Convention and Summer School. He had seemed happy to be among old friends and familiar scenes, and perhaps if he head chosen the time and place to go, it would have been just as it was.[41]



These are some examples of Dr. Roest's professional work:

  • "The Sun-Dance of the Plains Indians," undated class report.
  • "Balinese Religion." 1924.
  • "Study of the Italian Peasant: Part IV". Folklore. 1925.
  • "White Magic and its Theories". Doctoral dissertation, University of Chicago, 1925.
  • "The Australian People: How a Visiting Scientist Sees Them, Their Virtues and Vices, Thoughtless and Pleasure Seeking." The Mercury [newspaper] Monday, March 26, 1928. [described as being written after 6 months of study]
  • Principal Concepts of South Asia: Transcript of a Talk Given at the Foreign Service Institute, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 1951. Washington: Dept. of State, Foreign Service Institute, 1951. 37 pages.
  • "The Aga Khan: Prince, Prophet and Sportsman". Middle East Journal 8.2 (Spring, 1954), 216-217.
  • The Constitutional System of Ceylon. U.S. Department of State, 1956.

He also contributed to Afghanistan: Its People, Its Society, Its Culture, Volume 11 of Yale University's Human Relation Area Files.[42]

Theosophy and Theosophical Society

Dr. Roest wrote quite a few articles for Theosophical journals, including a monthly column called "The Greater American Plan" in The American Theosophist. The Union Index of Theosophical Periodicals lists 43 articles under the name Pieter K Roest, 8 articles under the name PK Roest, 1 as Pieter Kornelis Roest and 1 more as Dr. PK Roest.

Books and pamphlets included:

  • Glimpses of Anthropology: Abstracts of Lectures Delivered at the Brahmavidya Ashrama, Adyar, 1926-27. Madras, India: Brahmavidya Ashrama, 1927.
  • A Life View for Moderns, and Life, Death, Fate and Free Will: Two Lectures. Wheaton, IL Theosophical Press, 1938. 80 pages. Reviewed in The American Theosophist 27.5 (May, 1939), 120.
  • Occultism: True and False . Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, 1936. 13 pages.

Additional resources

Numerous books have been written about the occupation of Japan, and these are a few examples that mention Dr. Roest:

  • Gorden, Beate Sirota. The Only Woman in the Room: A Memoir of Japan, Human Rights, and the Arts. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 2014.
  • Inoue, Kyoko. MacArthur's Japanese Constitution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.
  • Moore, Ray A. Partners for Democracy: Crafting the New Japanese State under MacArthur. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Takemae, Eiji. Allied Occupation of Japan. New York: Continuum, 2003.
  • Ward, Robert Edward.; Sakamoto, Yoshikazu. Democratizing Japan: the Allied Occupation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987.


  1. State of Washington Marriage Record. Reference Number: kingcoarchmc252628. Filed August 3, 1961.
  2. Social Security Death Index.
  3. Membership Records of Theosophical Society in America. Microfilm reel Yellow Series #6. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  4. "Dr. Pieter K. Roest – Field Director," The American Theosophist 21.9 (September 1933), 194, 212).
  5. Lionel LaCaze, "Ellsworth Faris: an Outsider of the Chicago School? (From Waco to Chicago via Bolenge)," page 18. Available at Academia.edu.
  6. "Doctoral Dissertations in Sociology granted by the University of Chicago 1895-1952". Available at Mead Project.
  7. "General Information for Detroit Free Press - Theosophical Leaders of International Standing." Typescript in Detroit Lodge Records. Records Series 20.02.08. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  8. U. S. Census, 1940.
  9. Board of Directors minutes. University of Toledo University Archives. Per email from Barbara L. Floyd to Janet Kerschner on August 6, 2014.
  10. "Jean Marie Roest," obituary in Santa Cruz Sentinel (December 17, 2004).
  11. "In Memoriam," The American Theosophist 56.8 (August 1968), 198.
  12. Pieter K. Roest, "The 'Greater America Plan'" The American Theosophist 21.9 (September 1933), 194.
  13. "Dr. Pieter K. Roest – Field Director," The American Theosophist 21.9 (September 1933), 194, 212).
  14. "Report of the National President," The American Theosophist22.11 (November 1934), 248.
  15. Sidney A. Cook, "The Greater America Plan," The American Theosophist22.10 (October 1934), 227.
  16. "In the Field," The American Theosophist 23.4 (April 1935 )85.
  17. "Committee Appointed to Assist Food Stamp Plan," Ogden Standard Examiner (June 18, 1940), 7.
  18. "Random References," Ogden Standard Examiner (November 30, 1940), 2.
  19. "Congratulations, Dr. Roest!," The American Theosophist 30-4 (April 1942), 95.
  20. "With Our Members in the Services," The American Theosophist 32.11 (November 1944), 253.
  21. Eiji Takemae. Allied Occupation of Japan. (New York: Continuum, 2003), 277-278.
  22. See Additional resources for examples.
  23. "News and Notes: In Memoriam," The American Theosophist 56.8 (August 1968), 198.
  24. "Japan Press Is Briefed on US Red View," Indiana Evening Gazette (Indiana, PA) March 27, 1947
  25. "In Memoriam," The American Theosophist 56.8 (August 1968), 198.
  26. "Welcome to Citizenship!" The American Theosophist 25.2 (February 1937), 46.
  27. Social Security Death Index for Neeltje Kirk.
  28. Membership Records of Theosophical Society in America. Microfilm reel Yellow Series #6. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  29. U. S. Census, 1940.
  30. U. S. Census, 1940.
  31. Ojai Valley, California Directory, 1938.
  32. Monica Ros, "In Her Own Words" at Monica Ros School website.
  33. California Marriage Index, 1949-1959.
  34. California Death Index 1940-1997 for Neeltje Bloemendaal Kirk.
  35. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Marriage Reports in State Department Decimal Files, 1910-1949. Record Group 59. General Records of the Department of State, 1763-2002. Series ARC ID: 2555709. Series MLR Number: A1, Entry 3001. Series Box Number: 524; File Number: 133.
  36. "Jean Marie Roest," obituary in Santa Cruz Sentinel (December 17, 2004).
  37. "Decrees Granted," Nevada State Journal (August 9, 1960), 6).
  38. State of Washington Marriage Record. Reference Number: kingcoarchmc252628. Filed August 3, 1961.
  39. Death notice.The Oregonian March 29, 2008 .
  40. California Divorce Index, 1966-1984.
  41. "News and Notes: In Memoriam," The American Theosophist 56.8 (August, 1968), 198
  42. Donald N. Wilbur, editor, Afghanistan: Its People, Its Society, Its Culture, New Haven, CT: HRAF Press, 1962. Pieter K. Roest and three others contributed to this Volume 11 of the Human Relation Area Files at Yale University, also called the Survey of World Cultures. It was intended as an integrated study of the political, economic, and social affairs in Afghanistan, according to an extract available at JSTOR, which describes Dr. Roest as "an anthropologist and sociologist, formerly an area specialist in the U. S. Department of State.". The book is available at Hathitrust.