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

Miller, Russell


After students, buildings, and faculty were obtained, the next task was to provide a library and what the nineteenth century called "philosophical apparatus." To Hosea 2d the library was the heart of the College, and every spare moment was devoted to creating a collection. He wrote literally hundreds of letters to his wide circle of friends and acquaintances begging for donations. He made pleas for gifts in Universalist newspapers. He personally accessioned most of the books received during his presidency, attached a bookplate to each, and wrote a personal letter of thanks to each donor. Proof of his persuasiveness can be found in the dozens of gifts received from some of the leading figures in the literary life of New England. Typical was the gift to the Tufts Library by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of a complete set of his works in 1861. One of the most generous donors in the early history of the library was John Langdon Sibley, for thirty-six years associated with the Library of Harvard University. Hosea 2d drew in numerous


duplicates and items of ephemeral value or of no worth at all with the dragnet he spread over New England. As he wrote Sawyer in the spring of 1861, "we have been wonderfully favored in the accumulation of books, - quite miscellaneous on the whole, - but still containing a large number of valuable works. In one word, we have


a splendid Appendage to a College Library." But Hosea 2d's discriminating taste and his good judgment made the College library unique in its day. The collection, which amounted to over 6,000 volumes by the end of his career in 1861, had been obtained at practically no expense to the Trustees. In most colleges of his time, undergraduate literary societies accumulated substantial group libraries to supplement the chronically inadequate and overzealously guarded college facilities.[9]  Tufts was the only nineteenth-century New England college before the Civil War in which literary societies did not build up their own collections. Although it was far from perfect, the College library was considered sufficient for student needs. Hosea 2d was in an ideal position to assess the reading needs and interests of his student body and faculty, for it was he personally who usually checked out the library books.

The library was at first housed in Hosea 2d's office on the second floor of the College Edifice, but after two or three years it had grown so rapidly that it required a separate room. The collection remained in the main College building until 1887, when it was given larger quarters in Middle (Packard) Hall, which was extensively remodeled in 1886 for the purpose. When first established, the library was open only one hour a week (on Saturday afternoon), and a student was employed at the munificent sum of $20 a year to assist users. Aside from this rather nominal expense, Hosea 2d proudly informed the Trustees that almost the only cost of the library during his administration had been to install bookshelves.

Just prior to Hosea 2d's death in 1861, Rev. John Stetson Barry of Medford was employed as a part-time librarian for one year. Because the Trustees could not provide the compensation desired, Barry was replaced by Professor Keen, who serviced the collection as an additional duty. His wife was also employed as an assistant, and through Mrs. Keen's efforts the first attempt was made to catalogue the collection, using the Harvard system of separate author and subject listings in bound ledgers. Mrs. Keen agreed to work five hours a day for a total wage of $4.00 a week. In 1864 her salary was raised to $400 a year after her husband's death. For almost twenty years Professor Shipman acted as part-time librarian, while teaching rhetoric, logic and English literature. In 1884 Miss


Helen L. Mellen, who had been employed as an assistant librarian in 1869, became the first full-time librarian at Tufts. She served until retirement in 1907, when the library was moved for the third time, into the structure made possible by a gift from Andrew Carnegie, and into the first building intended exclusively for the library.

"Two or three thousand dollars, for the purchase of books to fill out certain departments, would put us on a level with the Libraries of most of our old Colleges in New England." These words were written by Hosea 2d in 1861, and they expressed a wish that was a long time in being even partially fulfilled. In the days when research activities by either faculty or students were the exception rather than the rule in American colleges, and when textbooks had an authority even greater than they do today, libraries were not necessarily considered vital to an institution's existence. There were always a few individuals, fortunately, who realized the value of a library collection, but after the initial momentum generated by Hosea 2d's efforts had subsided, the library grew so imperceptibly in the next twenty-five years that when Professor Shipman resigned as part-time librarian in the winter of 1883-84 he saw "no sufficient reason for maintaining two officers in connection with it." Miss Mellen could serve very well as librarian, with occasional student assistance. The first major expenditure was the purchase of Hosea 2d's personal library of almost 1,600 volumes from the family. The Trustees voted $1,200 for the acquisition, after Hosea 2d's successor, Alonzo Ames Miner, obtained expert advice on the collection.[10]  The first cash donation for the purchase of books was made in 1870, when a Miss M. E. Bacon gave $200 "for the purchase of books for the Department of Modern Languages."

Until the Trustees authorized "no more than $500 for the benefit of the College Library" in 1866, the library had no funds, except for a student assessment, dropped in 1870, and it was years before as much as $500 was spent in any one year. The librarian made repeated pleas for money both to acquire books (particularly current ones) and to bind and repair those already on the shelves. Dozens of books considered indispensable for student use were purchased by the faculty from their own pockets and donated to the


library, usually without reimbursement. There was no such thing as an annual budget for the library for decades, and the librarian had to hope that special requests from time to time would be honored by the Trustees. For example, in 1874 the president was authorized to spend up to $250 for "the purchase of books for the Library and the Chapel." Presumably this included the acquisition of hymnals.

The first fund established specifically for library use was a gift of $1,200 by John D. W. Joy in 1875. The income was to "be appropriated to the purchase of books for the Library of the College, - preference being given to the department of Philology." The president of the College was to supervise the purchases. In 1886 the Joy Library Fund was increased to $20,000. The income, which was made available immediately, was almost the sole source for library funds for many years. In the 1870's other important donations of both books and money were made, including the library of Thomas Whittemore and a portion of the library of E. H. Chapin. The gift in 1889 of over 1,500 books and pamphlets, including Civil War (Confederate) documents from the widow of W. H. Ryder, was so extensive that a separate room to house it was required in Middle Hall.

One collection which swelled the number of volumes in the College library was the property of the Universalist Historical Society. T. J. Sawyer had long been secretary and librarian of the Society. When he moved from Clinton, New York, to Medford in 1869 to become the first professor in the Tufts Divinity School, he brought the Society library with him. Although it was housed on separate shelves in the College library, it was available for use by both the faculty and students. It comprised about 1,500 volumes in the 1870's, "some of rare interest and value." Over the years, the Society collection migrated from Miner Hall to Eaton Memorial Library to the Crane Library. In 1965 it was given new headquarters in the Wessell Library.

The College Library had become so necessary to both students and faculty by the 1880's that it remained open during daytime hours while the College was in session and in 1893 began to be open at night. The Trustees also found it desirable to create a standing committee on the library in 1886 which was to "be the final authority on the purchase of all books, and auditing accounts for the


Library." A corresponding committee was created in the faculty to make recommendations for book purchases to the Trustees. However, this system did not appear to work satisfactorily. Some members of the faculty complained that acquisitions were too long delayed and requested that the privilege of purchasing books for the library be given directly to the teaching staff. The Trustees responded by creating a standing subcommittee on library within the Executive Committee, which met more frequently than the parent body. This may have expedited library acquisitions, but the Trustees maintained control over purchases. Slow and uneven as the growth of the library had been, by the time it was moved from the main College building to Middle Hall in 1887 it consisted of some 20,000 volumes and almost 9,000 pamphlets (most of which were still in the process of being catalogued). The library and other teaching equipment had been insured for a total of $3,000 in 1856. In 1889 the contents of the library alone were insured for $12,000.

While President Ballou was busy establishing a library for the College, Professor Marshall made the collection of "philosophical apparatus" his special province. He too sought gifts and donations, as well as funds from the Trustees. The first piece of teaching equipment acquired was a theodolite, purchased by the Trustees for use in surveying and for computing angles. Two years later (in 1857) the First Universalist Sabbath School in Boston raised $75 with which to buy a chemical balance.[11]  Money also trickled in from various donors. A combination of gifts and purchases in the first thirty years resulted in a most variegated collection of mineral specimens, stuffed birds and animals, shells, fossils, and other items. Even a steam engine and boiler were acquired, and a "manikin to illustrate the great facts of Physiology and Natural Theology." So much had been accumulated even by 1869 that Professor Marshall undertook to compile a catalogue of the collections, and an entire "Cabinet Room" in the main College building was devoted to specimens of natural history. By 1876 the laboratory equipment included two microscopes, but a telescope was still lacking. Laboratory facilities were so limited for half a century that the students had to be content to watch


demonstrations rather than conduct their own experiments. Nevertheless, Professor Marshall made every effort to use his limited resources and space to the maximum. It was in the 1880's that the College received from P. T. Barnum major contributions of money, buildings, and equipment that enabled it to offer bona fide laboratory work and even advanced degrees in some of the sciences.


[9] See Henry D. Sheldon, Student Life and Customs (New York: D. Appleton, 1901).

[10] The Ballou library has been maintained as a Special Collection in the University Library.

[11] This instrument, in its mahogany, glass, and marble case, has been retained as a museum piece by the University.

  • 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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