Library of Congress > Collections with Manuscripts > Freedom's Fortress: the Library of Congress, 1939-1953

1939

  • May 3, 1939

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt sends a letter to Felix Frankfurter, newly appointed associate justice of the Supreme Court, asking Frankfurter if he believes that Archibald MacLeish would be a suitable successor to Herbert Putnam as Librarian of Congress (1899-39). Despite the efforts of the American library community to influence his choice, Roosevelt is determined to choose his own candidate.

      

    Letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Felix Frankfurter, May 3, 1939.
    Papers of David C. Mearns, 1918-1979, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • May 11, 1939

    Justice Frankfurter writes President Franklin D. Roosevelt recommending Archibald MacLeish as a potential Librarian of Congress. He says that MacLeish "would bring to the Librarianship intellectual distinction, cultural recognition the world over, a persuasive personality and a delicacy of touch in dealing with others, and creative energy in making the Library of Congress the great center of the cultural resources of the Nation in the technological setting of our time."

     

    Letter from Felix Frankfurter to Franklin D. Roosevelt, May 11, 1939.
    Papers of Archibald MacLeish, 1907-1981, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • June 1, 1939

    Archibald MacLeish is reluctant to take on the weighty duties of a government official, wishing to continue his writing career. Nevertheless, he accepts Franklin D. Roosevelt’s offer to nominate him as the Librarian of Congress.

     

    Letter from Archibald MacLeish to Franklin D. Roosevelt, June 1, 1939.
    Papers of Archibald MacLeish, 1907-1981, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • June 7, 1939

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt nominates Archibald MacLeish, poet and author, as Librarian of Congress.

    Memorandum from Franklin D. Roosevelt to the United States Senate, June 7, 1939.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • July 1, 1939

    The Library of Congress opens the Hispanic Foundation, a center for the pursuit of studies in Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American culture.

  • September 1, 1939

    Germany invades Poland signaling the beginning of World War II.

  • September 7, 1939

    Recognizing early on the need to acquire "all sorts of publications (other than books) bearing on the war," Martin Arnold Roberts, Chief Assistant Librarian, instructs José Meyer, the Library’s representative in France, to obtain regulations, propaganda leaflets, war camp publications, special editions of newspapers, posters, unusual photographs, maps, and broadsides. Roberts is convinced that, as a ‘Library of research,’ the Library of Congress needs to have all of these materials.

      

    Letter from Martin Arnold Roberts to José Meyer, September 7, 1939.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • October 2, 1939

    Archibald MacLeish begins his stewardship of the Library of Congress. He inherits a collection of roughly six million books and pamphlets as well as countless manuscripts, maps, prints, and pieces of music. There are approximately eleven hundred persons on the staff; the Library’s budget is slightly more than three million dollars. MacLeish vigorously tackles his new duties, setting in motion a reorganization of the Library.

      

    Portrait of Archibald MacLeish, undated.
    Library of Congress Archives (Series: Photographs, Illustrations, Objects), Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • October 12, 1939

    The Hispanic Society Reading Room of the Hispanic Foundation is formally opened.

  • October 19, 1939

    In “Libraries in the Contemporary Crisis,” an address given at the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Librarian declares that libraries “are the only institutions in American life capable of opening to the citizens of the Republic a knowledge of the wealth and richness of the culture which a century and a half of democratic life has produced.”

    "Libraries in the Contemporary Crisis," by Archibald MacLeish, October 19, 1939.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • November 28, 1939

    The Librarian, in a welcoming ceremony, hails the deposit of the Lincoln Cathedral copy of the Magna Carta at the Library of Congress for safekeeping and exhibition purposes.

    Portrait of Archibald MacLeish and the Marquess of Lothian, November 28, 1939.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • December 19, 1939

    Final report of the Committee on the Acquisition Policy of the Library of Congress is presented. The committee reports that "the existing system with respect to recommendations for purchase was inadequate and too decentralized" and that "certain collections had been neglected."

    Final Report of the Committee on the Acquisition Policy of the Library of Congress, December 19, 1939.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

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1940

  • October 12, 1940

    The Hispanic Society Reading Room of the Hispanic Foundation is formally opened.

  • March 31, 1940

    Archibald MacLeish appoints Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., former vice president of Corning Glass Works and a major American collector of rare books, curator of the Library’s Rare Book Collection.

      

    Press Release, Office of the Librarian, Library of Congress, March 31, 1940.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • June 29, 1940

    With administrative reorganization as one of his chief concerns, Librarian Archibald MacLeish issues General Order No. 964, directing the establishment of the Reference Department. The department’s functions include reference assistance, book selection, book service, and custodial duties. The many demands of the war, however, delay the effective formation of the Reference Department until 1944.

      

    General Order No. 964, Office of the Librarian, Library of Congress, June 29, 1940.
    Papers of David C. Mearns, 1918-1979, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • June 30, 1940

    In the 1940 Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish states objectives for the Library of Congress and provides a general survey of the institution for which he is now responsible. The report lists the Library’s new “Canons of Selection and Service.” The “selection canons” stipulate that the Library of Congress/Library Services should acquire all material needed by members of the Congress and government officials to carry out their duties; the Library should possess all books and other materials which record the life of the American people; and the Library should possess the records of other societies, past, and present. The “service canons” require that the Library carry out research and reference for the Congress and government officials and that the Library’s collections are made available to the public, universities, learned societies, and other libraries.

     

    "General Survey and Statement of Objectives by the Librarian," June 30, 1940.
    Papers of David C. Mearns, 1918-1979, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • September 24, 1940

    Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., suggests to Librarian Archibald MacLeish "steps for a more active program of soliciting gifts to the Library."


    Memorandum from Archibald MacLeish to Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., September 24, 1940.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • October 31, 1940

    With General Order No. 992, Archibald MacLeish appoints Luther Harris Evans Chief Assistant Librarian. Evans, former director of the Historical Records Survey, a project of the Works Progress Administration, came to the Library in 1939 as head of the Library’s Legislative Reference Service.


    General Order No. 992, Office of the Librarian, Library of Congress, October 31, 1940.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • December 30, 1940

    Mindful of the Library’s responsibility to the Congress, the Librarian writes to Majority Floor Leader, Senator J. W. McCormack, suggesting a series of orientation sessions for new members of Congress.


    Letter from Archibald MacLeish to John W. McCormack, December 30, 1940.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

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1941

  • January 8, 1941

    The Library sends notices to members of Congress announcing orientation sessions about its services.

      

    Memorandum from Archibald MacLeish, January 8, 1941.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • February 17, 1941

    Using material from the collections of the Library of Congress, Alan Lomax, an assistant in charge of the Library’s Archive of American Folk Song, arranges and presents a program of folk music at the White House. The program is the Library’s response to Eleanor Roosevelt’s suggestion that folk material in the Library’s collections be made available for the recreational purposes of America’s armed forces.

  • March 21, 1941

    Staff of the Library’s Office of the Secretary sends out a press release detailing the actions that Library of Congress administrators plan to take to safeguard the Library’s collections during wartime: “Archibald MacLeish, the Librarian of Congress, announced today that the Library staff is beginning the listing of unique and irreplaceable books and manuscripts and that problems of packing and storage are under consideration.”

      

    Press Release No. 10, Office of the Secretary, Library of Congress, March 21, 1941.
    Library of Congress Press Releases, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • September 10, 1941

    The Library’s Press Release No. 30 announces that it has set up a "democracy alcove" for use in the Main Reading Room. The alcove contains the classic texts of the foundations of America—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and The Federalist. The writings of American statesmen, biographies, and analyses of the theory and practices of democracy by a variety of scholars are also included.

     

    Press Release No. 30, "Democracy Alcove," Library of Congress, September 10, 1941.
    Library of Congress Press Releases, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • December 8, 1941

    Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt requests, and receives, a declaration of war against Japan.

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1942

  • January 12, 1942

    The Library of Congress unveils a series of four murals in the anteroom of the Hispanic Foundation. Among the most distinguished gifts in the Library’s history, the murals were painted by Cândido Portinari, who was commissioned by the Brazilian Government.

      

    [Detail] "Murals by Cândido Portinari," Hispanic Division, Library of Congress, 1943, p. 17.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • February 23, 1942

    Library managers, in a series of reports, describe the increased demands that the war is making on the services of the Library of Congress. Harold Spivacke, Chief of the Music Division, writes: “Still another important contribution of the Recording Laboratory was the designing and construction of an unique combination portable radio-phonograph for field use which is proving highly successful in all overseas outposts.”

  • April 7, 1942

    Librarian Archibald MacLeish instructs Frederick Goff, Rare Book Room, to plan, prepare, and publish a catalog of the books in the Jefferson Library (the collection that Thomas Jefferson sold to Congress that was the basis of the Library in 1815) in honor of the Library’s bicentennial celebration of Jefferson’s birth (1743-1826).

      

    Memorandum from Archibald MacLeish to Frederick Goff, April 7, 1942.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • April 23, 1942

    The Librarian’s General Order No. 1110 announces the establishment of the Librarian’s Council, a scholarly advisory group. The purpose of the Council is to "make recommendations to me for the conduct of our services, the development of our collections, and the initiation and control of bibliographical studies."

      

    General Order No. 1110, Office of the Librarian, Library of Congress, April 23, 1942.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • May, 1942

    Lucy Salamanca’s Fortress of Freedom: The Story of the Library of Congress, a popular history of America’s great library, is published.

  • May 30, 1942

    Luther Harris Evans gives the address: “The Library of Congress and the War” before the Librarian’s Council. He tells Council members that the Library, in support of the war, has increased its circulation of books, opened its study facilities to researchers from government agencies, provided reference and bibliographic services to government researchers, changed its hours of service, and struggled to find a balance between serving the federal establishment and the general public.

     

    Minutes, Meeting of the Librarian's Council, May 30, 1942.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • October 7, 1942

    Keeper of the Collections Alvin W. Kremer submits to the Librarian a detailed report on efforts to secure the collections during the war. Kremer notes that Library managers considered building a bombproof shelter or using warehouses and natural caverns but decided that the libraries of educational institutions located away from coastlines would be the best places to store the evacuated collections of the Library of Congress.


    Memorandum from Alvin W. Kremer, October 7, 1942.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • December 23, 1942

    In the ongoing attempt to collect foreign publications that would support the war effort, Librarian Archibald MacLeish writes William Donovan, Director of the Office of Strategic Services and requests the help of his office in acquiring materials for the Library.


    Letter from Archibald MacLeish to William Donovan, December 23, 1942.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

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1943 to 1944

  • February 18, 1943

    Librarian Archibald MacLeish appoints a Committee on the Collection of Photographic Materials to formulate a policy governing the acquisition of photographic materials for the Library’s collections. Chaired by David C. Mearns, the Committee concludes that the Library should set up a national photographic collection, study the costs of servicing such a collection, define its nature, and develop classification and cataloging procedures for it.

     

    Report from the Committee on the Collection of Photographic Materials, February 18, 1943. Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • April 17, 1943

    Librarian’s General Order No. 1179 outlines the work of the new Staff Advisory Committee, which advises the Librarian and other administrative officers of the Library in matters of immediate interest to the staff. The Committee will forward suggestions from Library staff to administrators, study personnel problems and report conclusions, and give, in response to requests from the Library administration, “advisory opinions” on problems affecting personnel and similar matters.

      

    General Order No. 1179, Library of Congress, April 17, 1943. Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • April 23, 1943

    Allen Tate, poet and critic, accepts Librarian Archibald MacLeish’s invitation to become the Library’s Consultant in Poetry. The appointment of Tate, a well-established man of letters, signals the Librarian’s wish to improve the Library’s poetry and literature programs as well as its literary collections.

      

    Letter from Allen Tate to Archibald MacLeish, April 23, 1943. Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • August 2, 1943

    Lawrence G. Wroth, Librarian of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University and consultant in the acquisition of rare books for the Library of Congress, writes Librarian Archibald MacLeish that Lessing J. Rosenwald, the distinguished bibliophile, has agreed to give his Blake collection to the Library. The collection is an assemblage of books, plates, proofs, and engravings relating to the works of William Blake, the English poet, painter, and philosopher.

     

    Letter from Lawrence G. Wroth to Archibald MacLeish, August 2, 1943. Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • August 26, 1943

    Librarian’s General Order No. 1202 announces a new publication, the Quarterly Journal of Current Acquisitions. Archibald MacLeish hopes that the journal will offer its "principal clients a more appetizing account" of Library holdings.

     

    General Order No. 1202, Office of the Librarian, Library of Congress, August 26, 1943. Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • May 9, 1944

    The Librarian appoints Robert Penn Warren as Consultant in Poetry and editor of the Quarterly Journal of Current Acquisitions.

      

    Special Order No. 102, Office of the Librarian, Library of Congress, May 9, 1944. Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • July 18, 1944

    The Librarian writes Major General Alexander D. Surles to ask if the United States War Department will transfer to the Library of Congress its older recordings of news broadcasts. “We are gradually accumulating in the Library an important collection of documentary recordings and we should regard these recordings of news broadcasts as a very valuable addition to our collection.” The War Department’s Colonel Stanley J. Grogan responds on July 20, 1944, that the Librarian’s suggestion is “an excellent one.”

    Letter from Archibald MacLeish to Major General Alexander D. Surles, July 18, 1944. Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • December 4, 1944

    The White House sends Archibald MacLeish a telegram to inform him that President Franklin D. Roosevelt wants the Librarian to move ahead with the appointment of a new Register of Copyrights.

      

    Memorandum from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Archibald MacLeish, December 4, 1944. Papers of Archibald MacLeish, 1907-1981, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • December 19, 1944

    Wearying of his job and wishing to play a more direct and active role in the war, Archibald MacLeish resigns as Librarian of Congress. President Franklin D. Roosevelt immediately appoints him Assistant Secretary of State for Cultural and Public Affairs.

  • December 20, 1944

    Luther Harris Evans, Chief Assistant Librarian, is appointed Acting Librarian of Congress.

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1945 to 1953

  • February 13, 1945

    Archibald MacLeish sends President Franklin D. Roosevelt a confidential letter in which he offers a list of possible successors as Librarian of Congress. He recommends Vannevar Bush of the Carnegie Institute, Theodore Christian Blegen of the University of Minnesota, Kenneth Murdock of Harvard University, and Wilmarth Lewis, bibliophile and the editor of the Horace Walpole correspondence.

     

    Letter from Archibald MacLeish to Franklin D. Roosevelt, February 13, 1945.
    Papers of Archibald MacLeish, 1907-1981, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • June 18, 1945

    The appointment of a new Librarian of Congress is delayed upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945. His successor, President Harry S. Truman, nominates Luther Harris Evans as Librarian of Congress on June 18, 1945.

    Portrait of Luther Harris Evans, June 18, 1945.
    Library of Congress Archives (Series: Photographs, Illustrations, Objects), Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • June 30, 1945

    Luther Harris Evans takes the oath of office and becomes the tenth Librarian of Congress.

  • July, 1945

    With the approval of the War Department, a special Library of Congress “mission in Europe” begins its task of obtaining “multiple copies of European publications for the war period for distribution to American libraries and research institutions.”

  • March 12, 1947

    Chaired by Keyes DeWitt Metcalf, Harvard University, the Library of Congress Planning Committee sends Librarian Evans a report addressing the Library’s future role in the nation’s affairs. The Committee proposes that “the actual status of the Library as a National Library should be officially recognized in its name and that it should be designated The Library of Congress, the National Library of the United States of America.” The Committee also recommends that “the Library undertake additional duties and services, which, as presently constituted, it can neither undertake nor perform, but which are properly the functions of the national Library.”

    Report from the Library of Congress Planning Committee, March 12, 1947.
    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • December 7, 1948

    The Library unveils a memorial in honor of staff members who lost their lives in World War II.

    Photograph of the "Library of Congress World War II Memorial,” December 7, 1948.
    Library of Congress Archives (Series: Photographs, Illustrations, Objects), Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • July 1, 1953

    Selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) General Council to become its new director general, Librarian Evans submits his resignation as Librarian of Congress, effective July 5, 1953, to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

    July 4, 1953

    Verner W. Clapp, Chief Assistant Librarian, becomes Acting Librarian of Congress.

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