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It's Known as a 'Fortress of Freedom'

Though it is better known as "the national library" and "the world's largest library," in 1942, Lucy Salamanca, a Library employee, wrote "Fortress of Freedom: The Story of the Library of Congress." Salamanca wrote with a strong sense of the importance of the institution as a beacon of knowledge and haven for the written word during a significant time in its history, 1939-1953.

'Discovery of the Land,' one of four Portinari murals in the Library's Hispanic Division Portrait of Archibald MacLeish, undated

Gertrude Clarke Whittall is one of the Library's great patrons. In 1935 she presented her collection of five Stradivari instruments to the Library and also set up the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation to 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.

Archibald MacLeish, journalist, lawyer, playwright and poet, served as Librarian of Congress from 1939 until 1944. During his tenure he reorganized the Library and increased its services to Congress and the nation. MacLeish also created the famous "Canons of Service," which specifies that service to Congress, the federal establishment and the American public constitutes the Library's reason for being.

Cândido Portinari is the Brazilian artist who painted the four colorful murals in the vestibule of the Hispanic Reading Room.

And, of course, there is Salamanca, who wrote in her book that, "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 word. 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?"

More than 125 thematic collections are available in American Memory, the Library's extraordinary multimedia Web site of more than 9 million items. The breadth of American Memory is as diverse as the Library's holdings -- from presidential papers, Civil War photographs and manuscripts from the women's suffrage and civil rights eras, to early baseball cards, films of Thomas Edison and Jazz Age photographs. You can explore this Web site by accessing the list of thematic presentations, or by searching a favorite topic from the search box in the upper-right corner of the same page.


A. Cândido Portinari, artist. "Discovery of the Land," one of four Portinari murals in the Library's Hispanic Division. Not available for reproduction. More information on the murals is at

B. Pach Brothers, creators. Portrait of Archibald MacLeish, undated. Manuscript Division Archives. Reproduction information: Call No.: Location Number 1359

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