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Freedom's Fortress: the Library of Congress, 1939-1953
Librarians of Congress
Luther Harris Evans (1902-1981)
Archibald MacLeish appointed Luther Harris Evans director of the Legislative Reference Service (currently the Congressional Research Service) in 1939 and as Chief Assistant Librarian in 1940. For a time, he was also the director of the Reference Department. While Acting Librarian from December 19, 1944 through June 29, 1945, Evans was nominated Librarian of Congress by President Harry S. Truman. Evans took the oath of office on June 30, 1945 and served until 1953. As Librarian of Congress, he expanded the services and collections of the Library of Congress and elevated its international role.
Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982)
Journalist, lawyer, playwright, and poet, Archibald MacLeish served as Librarian of Congress from 1939 until 1944. During his tenure he reorganized the Library and increased the Library’s services to the Congress and the nation. MacLeish also created the famous “Canons of Service,” which specifies that service to the Congress, service to the federal establishment, and service to the American public constitute the Library’s raison d’être.
Consultants of Poetry
Joseph Auslander (1897-1965)
Joseph Auslander, poet and editor, became the Library’s first Consultant in Poetry in 1937. He vigorously carried out his responsibilities — seeking sponsors for the Library’s literary programs, gifts of manuscripts, and organizing public readings by poets of note. Librarian MacLeish disapproved of his methods and style but, recognizing his ability to build the Library’s collections, appointed him to the newly established post of Gift Officer. Auslander resigned his position at the end of March 1944.
Allen Tate (1899-1979)
Wishing to improve the Library’s cultural programs, especially those promoting poetry and literature, Librarian MacLeish invited Allen Tate, poet and critic, to become Consultant in Poetry in 1943. With the assistance of Frances Neel Cheney, Tate surveyed the collections in American and English poetry and produced Sixty American Poets 1896-1944: A Preliminary Check List. He proposed and helped to create the Fellows of the Library of Congress in American Letters, hoping that this group would influence the development of the Library’s collections. Van Wyck Brooks, Katherine Garrison Chapin, Paul Green, Katherine Anne Porter, Carl Sandburg, Willard Thorp, and Mark Van Doren were members of the first group of fellows. Tate also served as the first editor of the newly created Library of Congress Quarterly Journal of Current Acquisitions, a publication that systematically described the Library’s latest acquisitions.
Key Staff Members
Verner W. Clapp (1901-1972)
Verner W. Clapp began his Library of Congress career in 1921 in the Manuscript Division. Over the years he held a number of administrative positions, including Chief Assistant Librarian of Congress (1947) and Acting Librarian of Congress (1953-54). During his years at the Library Clapp contributed to the development of the Library’s reference services to the Congress and the public. As director of the Administrative Department, he modernized the Library’s fiscal plans. As head of the newly established Acquisitions Department, Clapp found ways to build the Library’s collections as well as to develop cooperative acquisition programs with other libraries. Clapp resigned from the Library of Congress in 1956 to become president of the Council on Library Resources.
Frederick Goff (1916-1982)
Frederick Goff began his career at the Library of Congress in 1940 as curator of the Rare Book Collection and in 1945 he became the chief. He developed a specialty in 15th-century books and, during his years at the Library, acquired more than 5,600 of them. He published Incunabula in American Libraries: A Third Census in 1964 and a supplement to the Census in 1972. In later years Goff worked on the compilation The Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection: A Catalog of the Gifts of Lessing J. Rosenwald to the Library of Congress, 1943 to 1975.
Lewis Hanke (1905-1993)
Lewis Hanke became the first director of the Library’s newly established Hispanic Foundation in 1939 and held the Chair of Latin American Studies from 1944 until 1951. In the 1940 Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress he wrote that the purpose of the Hispanic Foundation was “to build up a comprehensive collection of materials on all aspects of Hispanic culture, carefully organized for reference purposes and made available to investigators of all nations for consultation under the freest possible conditions.”
Arthur A. Houghton, Jr. (1906-1990)
Wishing to increase the number of accomplished and creative administrators on the staff, Librarian MacLeish appointed Arthur A. Houghton, Jr. as curator of the Rare Book Collection on March 31, 1940. Houghton, a collector of rare books and an executive with Steuben Glass and Corning Glass Works, quickly took up the challenge of managing the Library’s rare book collection. In his first annual report he noted the successful acquisition of two very generous gifts: the Rudyard Kipling Collection, formed by the late William M. Carpenter, and 86 early American children’s books by Frank Joseph Hogan. Arthur Houghton was curator for two years.
David C. Mearns (1899-1981)
David C. Mearns worked for the Library from 1918 to 1967. During this time he served as Superintendent of the Reading Rooms, Director of the Reference Department, Assistant Librarian, and finally Chief of the Manuscript Division. In 1946 he wrote The Story Up to Now, a history of the Library from 1800 to 1946. Archibald MacLeish described him as "the rarest treasure in the Library of Congress."
Elsie Rackstraw (d. 1992)
A graduate of the New York Library School and American University, Elsie Rackstraw began working at the Library of Congress on July 10, 1944 as chief of the newly established Loan Division. The creation of the Loan Division and the appointment of Rackstraw were part of Librarian MacLeish’s sweeping reorganization in order to make the Library more responsive to the Congress and the public. Upon Rackstraw’s retirement on September 30, 1950, her successor, Legare Obear, wrote: “It was through her guidance that many of the loan procedures which have worked so successfully had been established.”
Lucy Salamanca (d. 1989)
Lucy Salamanca, Chief of the Inquiry Section of the Library’s Legislative Reference Service, was the author of Fortress of Freedom: The Story of the Library of Congress. Published in 1942, the book tells the Library’s history and the way in which it became a great national force in the world’s struggle for freedom and democracy. She wrote: “In a world fighting desperately against the savage inroads of a philosophy of force, its power is great, its obligation sacred to protect the integrity of the written world. Husbanding and dispensing here at home the fruits of man’s culture and the written record of man’s past, it finds itself at the same time called upon to offer sanctuary to the driven exiled scholars of other lands. These obligations it never knew in the past. And who could foresee such incredible necessities?”
Harold Spivacke (1904-1977)
Harold Spivacke served the Library for 38 years, first as Assistant Chief of the Music Division from 1934 until 1937 and then as chief from 1937 until he retired in 1972. During his time in office, the holdings of the Music Division almost tripled, the activities and services of the division expanded greatly, and the Library’s music program became an important part of America’s cultural life.
Lessing J. Rosenwald (1891-1979)
In 1943 Lessing Rosenwald, a Sears, Roebuck and Company executive and bibliophile, gave the first of many gifts to the Library of Congress. His initial gift of illustrated books and manuscripts consisted of about five hundred titles. The gift included books, plates, proofs, and engravings of William Blake; books printed by William Caxton; a 13th-century Bible; 11 different 15th-century editions of Boccaccio; English and French editions of Thomas Harriot’s A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, and many other works. According to Luther Harris Evans, the collection "constitutes…a landmark both in the development of the Library of Congress and in its relations to the book-collecting world."
Gertrude Clarke Whittall (1867-1965)
Gertrude Clarke Whittall, one of the Library’s great patrons, gave many gifts in support of its music and poetry programs. In 1935 she presented her collection of five Stradivari instruments to the Library and also set up the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation to further encourage musical events at the Library. In 1950 she established the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Poetry and Literature Fund and furnished the Poetry Room in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building. She also gave the Library the manuscripts of such artists as A. E. Housman, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965)
Appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Supreme Court in 1939, Justice Frankfurter served until 1962. Frankfurter had a long-established relationship with Roosevelt. When Roosevelt was governor of New York (1929-32), he served as his legal adviser; he advised him on New Deal legislation when he became president. Frankfurter had an equally longstanding friendship with Archibald MacLeish. Frankfurter taught MacLeish at the Harvard Law School, promoted his candidacy as Librarian of Congress, and served as an adviser during MacLeish’s tenure as Librarian of Congress.
Cândido Portinari (1903-1962)
As a gift to the people of America, the government of Brazil commissioned the celebrated Brazilian artist Cândido Portinari to paint a series of murals in the entrance to the Library’s Hispanic Foundation. The four murals, unveiled on January 12, 1942, tell the story of the discovery and the early history of the Americas.