Light on the hill: A history of Tufts College, 1852-1952

Miller, Russell


The circumstances surrounding the opening of Eaton Memorial Library in 1908 illustrated all too vividly the financial handicaps under which the College operated in the early twentieth century. With not a cent to spare for a desperately needed building, the Trustees were forced to solicit aid from outside and to accept certain disadvantageous conditions attached to the gift that eventually made the new library possible. Tufts was so severely limited in funds that the new building sat forlornly vacant for almost two years because there was no money to equip or staff it properly. The story of the Tufts Library between 1886, when it was moved from Ballou Hall to Middle (Packard) Hall, and the summer of 1908, when it was installed in its own building, unfortunately reflected the fate of similar undertakings on many another college campus. It struggled along with inadequate resources, an underpaid staff, unbalanced and out-of-date collections, cramped quarters, and a permanent place at the bottom of the priority list for expenditures. Space was at such a premium in 1899 that a notice was posted "that students must not use the Library for purposes of study." This prohibition, fortunately, did "not apply to those who are engaged in research work under the direction of their respective instructors." President Miner had made the statement in his report to the Trustees in 1874 that the Tufts Library was deficient, in some way, in practically every field. Professor Shipman, then in charge of the library as an additional duty, was apparently resigned to the idea that it was destined to be an orphan. He considered a "liberal selection of the best periodicals" an excellent investment "should any appropriation be made for the benefit of the Library for the coming year."

For the first three-quarters of a century, the Tufts Library depended almost entirely on gifts and donations, exchange of duplicates, and appeals to the alumni for the books and funds with which to operate. It could afford to subscribe to but few newspapers and


periodicals and relied for decades on the Reading Room Association to meet this need. This association, a student-sponsored group organized in 1859, subscribed to a dozen or so daily and weekly papers and magazines and donated its dog-eared back copies to the library after their immediate purpose had been served. The first drive for library funds aimed at the alumni took place in 1884-85. It was sufficiently successful to be continued for another year, and in 1886 had brought in gifts totaling $1,100. The Joy Fund, the only library endowment for many years, was of considerable aid, but only one-half of the income from what eventually became $25,000 was available directly for the purchase of books; and that was reduced after 1897. Many of the monetary gifts, both large and small, had strings attached. The Tabor Ashton Fund donated in 1899 (and later increased) excluded any books of a religious or theological character, and any work of prose fiction. One bottleneck in purchasing library materials from the $500 to $600 available each year from general and special funds was broken in 1906 when the Library Committee of the Trustees relinquished its control to the faculty. The latter were allowed for the first time to order books directly through their own Library Committee.

A list of books needed by the library was distributed to the alumni in 1897 and resulted in over 300 donations. But the continuing paucity of general funds for the library prompted President Capen in 1899 to try a more ambitious experiment. He suggested to Professor Shipman, chairman of the faculty Library Committee, that an attempt be made to raise $1,000 for immediate use by appealing to alumni and friends. Acting on this suggestion, Shipman (at his own expense) wrote about sixty letters, which netted $1,530. He was on leave the following year, but through the joint efforts of Byron Groce for the Library Committee of the Trustees and Professor Knight for the faculty, a more ambitious solicitation was made by circularizing the alumni for contributions to what became known as the "Shipman Fund." The amount was somewhat less than the previous year ($620) but a tradition was established, and for the next three years Professor Shipman sent out a similar circular. Over $3,000 was collected in that period, making a grand total of over $5,600 received between 1899 and 1904, given by some 350 persons. About one-third of the total was designated by the donors for the special needs of certain departments. The


individual gifts ranged in amount from $50 to 25 cents. All were received gratefully, but Professor Shipman was particularly appreciative of the dozens of alumni who contributed from $1.00 to $5.00 year after year, as their means allowed. He quietly made his own contribution by paying personally for three years all bills for printing and postage. The responses to donations brought in, at interest rates then prevailing, the equivalent of the income of a permanent fund of $25,000.

Another expedient to raise money that was considered by the Trustees but discarded was to charge a fee for use of the library.[10]  A modification of this proposal was adopted in 1896, on the suggestion of the students themselves. A charge of $1.00 was added to term bills to provide newspapers and periodicals through the Reading Room Association, which shared space with the library in Middle Hall.[11] 

The size (and salaries) of the staff reflected the chronically impoverished state of the library for many decades. Helen Mellen, successor as full-time librarian to Professor Shipman in 1884, served until 1896 with no more than an occasional student assistant.[12]  Ethel M. Hayes, of the Class of 1896, was appointed assistant librarian immediately after her graduation at a starting salary of $25 a month, which was increased to $30 after four years' service.[13]  Miss Blanche Hooper, daughter of William L. Hooper of the Electrical Engineering Department, started her long career in the Tufts Library in 1905 at no salary at all. In 1907 she was advanced to $300 a year. After Miss Mellen's retirement in 1907, Miss Hayes served first as acting librarian and then as librarian until well after


the First World War.[14]  When she retired as reference librarian she had accumulated a half-century of service to the College.

President Hamilton hoped that, with the opening of the new library, an experienced male librarian could be employed with the rank of professor and given a seat on the faculty. It was not until 1928 that the College carried out at least part of his wish by appointing Raymond L. Walkley to the post. One of his most noteworthy contributions was the reclassification of the collection according to the Library of Congress system. This in no way confused Miss Hayes, who was reputedly able "to carry the entire library around in her head." In 1919 the recently established Tufts chapter of the American Association of University Professors suggested to the Trustees that "the Librarian be given a place on the appropriate faculties of Tufts College." Although Miss Hayes and Mr. Walkley did attend faculty meetings, no librarian was formally assigned an academic rank until 1956, when Joseph S. Komidar was elected University Librarian and Associate Professor of Library Science.

The enlarged quarters in Middle Hall, which were to have provided for almost 50,000 volumes, were never intended to be more than temporary and were soon outgrown. Gifts of several hundred volumes each were particularly numerous after 1880, and in the 1880's the Tufts Library became a partial depository for government documents.[15]  When the Trustees in 1901 cast about for assistance in providing a new library, there were over 42,000 books and more than 30,000 pamphlets in the collection. One practice inaugurated in 1892-93 that reduced the congestion in the main library was the establishment of departmental libraries. The first such branch library was created by Professor Kingsley in the


Biology Department and was housed in Barnum Museum.[16]  Similar collections were established in the engineering school in 1900 after Robinson Hall was opened, and in the Crane Theological School.[17]  However, this policy did not solve the central housing problem, and by 1901 space was so limited in Middle Hall that all the operations involved in unpacking, cataloguing, and otherwise processing books had to take place in a corner of the general reading room.

The gift from Andrew Carnegie that made a new library possible did not come unsolicited or as a complete surprise. The Trustees carefully laid the groundwork by relaying the needs of the College to that affluent gentleman in a letter written in February 1901. The communication, after stressing the non-sectarian character of the institution and its "remarkable success" notwithstanding "its limitations and struggles," referred to the glaring inadequacies of the existing library building, which had originally served as a dormitory. The College promised to make such arrangements as would allow the use of a new library to the high school students and members of the community of Medford and Somerville if Carnegie saw fit to provide it. The Trustees made reference to the numerous public libraries he had already donated, and hoped that "we may have a 'Carnegie Library' to alike honor your name and serve the best interests of humanity." Somewhat over three years later, the request was honored with a gift of $100,000, but with certain conditions attached.[18]  The plans and specifications were subject to the donor's approval and were to include open-shelf public reading rooms. None of the money could be spent on furnishings, equipment, or staff, and the last installment of the gift would not be paid until the building was completed and all bills were paid.

The new library, for which ground was broken in the fall of


1905, was designed by the architectural firm of Whitfield and King. It was the better part of valor to have selected this particular company, for Mr. Whitfield was Mrs. Carnegie's brother. The stack area was designed for 200,000 books, although shelving for it was not completed for thirty years.[19]  A large room on the right of the entrance was originally designed (and used for several years) as a lecture hall intended to accommodate 160 persons. The structure neared completion in the fall of 1906 and under ordinary circumstances would have been put to use at the end of the Christmas holidays. But that desirable event had to be "considerably postponed" because the College had no funds to make the building usable. The only alternative was to create a special Libray Fund and to induce friends of the College to contribute.[20]  Meanwhile, the receipt of the final installment of $5,000 from Carnegie was


delayed into the fall of 1907 because the College had not yet paid all of the construction bills. During the spring of 1907 a plaque was installed in the entrance hall identifying the benefactor, but Mrs. Carnegie decided on a change. She wanted the building to stand as a memorial to Rev. Charles H. Eaton, of the Class of 1874, so a new tablet was installed and the building became officially the Eaton Memorial Library.

The new building, opened just before Commencement in 1908, was an impressive structure, centrally located near the top of the Hill, with its red brick walls set off in the front by stone steps and elaborate columns and friezework in the Greek classical style. Two cast-iron curving staircases in the main hall and wooden fluted columns with ornately carved pediments lent an air of spaciousness and grandeur to the edifice. Tungsten electric lamps installed at the last minute added a finishing touch.[21] 


[10] There was ample precedent for this policy if it had been adopted. For many years immediately after the College opened, students paid an annual fee of $1.00 for this purpose. A certain amount of money was no doubt collected as a result of a faculty rule of 1899 imposing a fine of 10 cents, in addition to the cost of retrieving the book by messenger, on "all students who fail to return an 'over-night' book to the library."

[11] The original Reading Room Association lasted until 1910, and a combined faculty-student committee made the selections.

[12] The academic year 1886-87 brought an unusually large number of gifts to be accessioned. Miss Mellen still had 1,000 volumes waiting to be catalogued at the end of the year.

[13] Her base salary was augmented by $6.00 a year for servicing the material acquired through the Reading Room Association.

[14] Miss Hayes' initial salary as acting librarian was $600. Miss Mellen retired on a Carnegie pension of $450 a year, to which the Tufts Trustees added $50 annually in recognition of "her long and faithful services."

[15] By 1901 the library was entitled to receive over 500 volumes per year from the Superintendent of Documents, not to mention scores of pamphlets. No material received from the federal government could be disposed of in any way without authorization. Some of the valuable early legislative series, including the Annals of Congress and the Congressional Globe, which preceded the Congressional Record, were received as private gifts from Thomas G. Frothingham and Newton Talbot, both Tufts Trustees.

[16] It was through his efforts that the College received, without charge, a collection of some 3,000 volumes of scientific books worth about $5,000. This bargain was made possible by the consolidation of two libraries in Salem, Massachusetts.

[17] The existence of departmental libraries has never been unanimously approved at Tufts. Librarian Mellen in 1901 ventured the opinion that departmental libraries were "of doubtful utility" unless they could be housed in one building and duplicate copies could be acquired for the main library.

[18] Rev. Frank Oliver Hall, an alumnus of the divinity school, was instrumental in securing the Carnegie gift.

[19] The books transferred from Middle Hall were originally shelved in the reading rooms. The first tier in the stack area was installed in 1915, and the installation of the remaining four tiers was not completed until the 1930's.

[20] The total cost of the new library (including equipment) as of 1908 was $102,849.49. The cost of equipping the library was slightly over $11,000, of which Tabor Ashton contributed almost half.

[21] Less impressive were some of the costly repairs made immediately necessary because of departures from original specifications. No provision had been made for inspection by the College when the building was constructed. The leaky copper roof had to be repaired and dank basement rooms had to be waterproofed before the building was open a year. Termites appearing in the 1960's added their own brand of complications. One of their more successful targets was a large and rather expensive volume on information retrieval.

  • Light on the Hill, the history of Tufts College, was published to coincide with the centennial of the institution in 1952. A second volume was published in 1986. This edition was created from the 1966 edition of Light on the Hill, Volume I.
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