The History of Special Collections at Brown University

1950 to 1970

The Brown University Library acquired its one millionth item, a copy of René Descartes's early work on physiology, De Homine Figuris et Latinitate Donatus a Florentio Schuyl (Leyden, 1662), as a gift from Albert E. Lownes, Class of 1920, in 1954. This was quickly followed by the donation of The John William Graham Collection of Literature of Psychic Science by Mr. and Mrs. S. Rowland Morgan. These nearly 700 books, pamphlets and ephemeral materials, assembled by the Morgans over many years, were presented in appreciation of the work in the field of paranormal phenomena by Curt J. Ducasse, Professor of Philosophy and Natural Theology.

In 1951, David A. Jonah, who had been appointed University Librarian in 1949, mobilized The Friends of the Library to Support the purchase of Lincoln's autograph muster roll for the company he led as Captain during the Black Hawk War of 1832. In 1952, a group of 44 manuscript letters written by Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, Class of 1881, to his parents during his undergraduate days, was donated by his daughters.

The Carleton D. Morse Collection of 1,100 books, manuscripts and periodicals relating to the whaling industry was presented as a memorial by his widow and daughter in 1958. These materials, in combination with similar collections in nearby institutions, provide an outstanding resource for studying the economic, historic and social influences exercised by the whalers on the development of 18th and 19th century New England.

In 1958, the library celebrated the centennial anniversary of John Hay's graduation from Brown with a major exhibition featuring his literary, political and personal papers recently donated by his daughter, Alice Hay Wadsworth; his son, Clarence L. Hay; his grandson, the Honorable John Hay Whitney, former Ambassador to Great Britain; a nephew, Senator William Stuart Symington; and other members of their family as well as W. Easton Louttit, Jr., the University Archivist and avid collector of material by or about John Hay.

In early 1960, the library received a collection of 35,000 volumes on Chinese history and literature created by the eminent sinologist Dr. Charles Sidney Gardner. This collection represented Dr. Gardner's special concern with the Ch'ing Dynasty (1644 - 1911) as well as his wide interest in every major facet of Chinese political and social history. It became the nucleus upon which the library's present East Asian Collection of Chinese, Japanese and Korean literature was built.

In 1962 the library received, from W. Easton Louttit, Jr., a collection of early Rhode Island manuscripts, including documents written by Roger Williams and Timothy Dexter, plus an outstanding collection devoted to the legend of the Wandering Jew. The latter is possibly the finest accumulation of books on this theme, of men doomed to suffer by eternal wandering, to be found outside of the Bibliothèque Nationale. It contains over 1,500 volumes featuring works by Goethe, Schiller, Shelley, Feuchtwanger, Edwin Arlington Robinson and especially Eugène Sue.

For the next two years almost all attention was focused on erecting the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library as the primary center for study of the Humanities and Social Sciences. After its completion and transfer of the main book collections in 1964, the Physical Sciences Library and Special Collections were the only tenants of the John Hay Li brary. They remained together until the Physical and Biological Sciences collections were consolidated in the new Sciences Library at the end of 1971.

The shelves of the John Hay Library quickly began to refill in 1965 as collections were drawn into the vacuum left by books departing for the new main library. W. Easton Louttit, Jr. donated another group of Rhode Island manuscripts and part of his collection of books and manuscripts written by Henry Adams, a close friend of John Hay. From Mrs. William V. A. Hansen the library received a choice selection of r are books including five incunabula and a dozen 16th century tracts by Martin Luther and Ulrich von Hutten. In addition, a 17th century Ethiopic manuscript, "The Miracles of the Virgin Mary," illustrated with paintings depicting scenes from the New Testament, was received as part of a continuing series of gifts from John M. Crawford, Jr, Class of 1937.

A gift of printed and manuscript literary and historical works by John Buchan, Lord Tweedsmuir and Governor-General of Canada was presented in 1966 by Lyman C. Bloomingdale, Class of 1935. This collection is the best of its kind in the United States and ranks second only to the one maintained by Queen's University in Ontario, Canada. Bloomingdale later gave important collectio ns of the writings of Ernest Hemingway and the lithographic art of Stow Wengenroth.

The Lownes Thoreau Collection was received in 1967 as a gift from Albert E. Lownes, Class of 1920. It contains first editions for each of Thoreau's separately published books and pamphlets as well as a virtually complete selection of his contrib utions to periodicals. Of particular note are a number of annotated volumes from Thoreau's personal library and original manuscript fragments from his Journals, Maine Woods, and A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Later that year, the Harris Collection, supported by Richard Salomon, Class of 1932, and a group of donors gathered by Rabbi William Braude of Temple Beth-El in Providence, acquired over 1,000 works of Yiddish-American poetry and drama, along with 700 pieces of sheet music and 53 plays and operettas in manuscript from Menache Vaxer, a bookseller in New York. This single purchase provided the library with a collection of Yiddish literature and theatre that can be matched by few instit utions.

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Excerpted from: Special Collections at Brown University: A History and Guide,
Providence, Rhode Island: The Friends of the Library of Brown University, 1988
Funding provided by Daniel G. Siegel (Class of 1957), and the Twenty-First Century Fund