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Collection Freedom's Fortress: The Library of Congress, 1939 to 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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