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What is the Library of Congress? Part X

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Ainsworth Rand Spofford (1825-1908), the sixth Librarian of Congress, served from 1864 to 1897. John G. Stephenson, M.D. (1828-1883), who served as the fifth Librarian of Congress from 1861 to 1864, had hired Spofford as an assistant in September of 1861, which allowed Dr. Stephenson to actively serve as an army surgeon during the Civil War.

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A.R. Spofford was a bookseller and journalist from Cincinnati when Dr. Stephenson hired him as an assistant. From the time Dr. Stephenson hired Spofford his assistant in 1861 until Dr. Stephenson resigned in December of 1864, Spofford ran the Library of Congress. On December 22, 1864, Dr. Stephenson resigned effective December 31, 1864, and on the latter date President Abraham Lincoln appointed Spofford the Librarian of Congress.

To the current generation of L.O.C. staff members, it is clear Spofford “applied Jefferson's philosophy on a grand scale and built the Library into a national institution.” To my mind, Spofford was a modern-day version of Demetrius of Phaleron, who founded the Royal Library of Alexandria for Ptolemy I Soter as part of the Mouseion (Temple of the Muses) modeled on Plato’s Academy in Athens, with a royal decree that any books on ships in port were to be copied for the Library. Whether or not Spofford knew about Demetrius of Phaleron, he definitely worked in the tradition of George Watterston (1783-1854), the third Librarian of Congress, whose tenure I described in Part V.

As I mentioned in Part VIII, Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, opposed the Smithsonian assuming the role of the national library. A physicist, he was only interested in maintaining a scientific reference library.
The 1846 law that had authorized the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution had given it copyright status that required publishers provide the Smithsonian with one copy of every title published in the U.S.A. Clearly, the congressmen who wrote and enacted that bill had envisioned the Smithsonian becoming the national library.

Although this copyright status was revoked in 1859, the Smithsonian had amassed a 40,000-volume library by 1866. It was housed in the west wing of the Smithsonian Institution Building, also known as The Castle. In 1866, Henry transferred most of the collection to the Library of Congress, where it became known as the “Smithsonian Deposit.”

The Asian Reading Room of the Library of Congress, which is home to one of the most comprehensive collections of Asian language materials in the world, got its start in 1869 with the presentation of 933 volumes to the United States Government by the Emperor of China Tongzhi (1856-1875), who ruled from 1861 to 1875.[1] Now housed in the John Adams Building, the Asian Division include most subject fields, covering an area ranging from South Asia (the Indian Subcontinent) and Southeast Asia to China, Japan, and Korea.[2]

Under Spofford’s influence, Congress passed the copyright law of 1870 that required all copyright applicants to send the L.O.C. two copies of their works. As a result, the L.O.C. swiftly accumulated books, pamphlets, maps, sheet music, prints, and photographs.

Predictably, the L.O.C. soon faced a shortage of shelf space at the Capitol. Spofford then convinced Congress of the need for a new library building. In 1873, Congress authorized a competition to design plans for the new Library of Congress building.

In 1886, after many proposals and much controversy, Congress authorized construction of a new Library of Congress building in the style of the Italian Renaissance designed by Washington architects John L. Smithmeyer (1832-1908) and Paul J. Pelz (1841-1918). [The Congressional authorization was successful because of the hard work of two key Senators: Daniel W. Voorhees (1827-1897) of Indiana, Chairman of the Joint Committee from 1879 to 1881, and Justin S. Morrill (1810-1898) of Vermont, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Buildings and Grounds, who also sat on the Joint Select Committee on Additional Accommodations for the Library.] Subsequently, Smithmeyer and Pelz designed Healy Hall for Georgetown University [3] and Andrew Carnegie’s second library in the U.S., the Free Carnegie Library of Allegheny in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In 1888, Smithmeyer was dismissed from the L.O.C. project and Pelz became the lead architect. Pelz designed the building and oversaw execution of the exterior until he too was dismissed, in 1892.

Brigadier General Thomas Lincoln Casey, Sr. (1831-1896) Chief of Engineers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and son of Major General Silas Casey II (1807-1882), was placed in charge of construction in 1888. His chief assistant was Bernard R. Green, who was intimately involved with the building until his death in 1914.

Beginning in 1892, Edward Pearce Casey (1864-1940), a son of General Thomas Casey, replaced Pelz. An engineer and architect, the younger Casey began to supervise the interior work, including sculptural and painted decoration by more than fifty American artists.

When the Library of Congress building opened its doors to the public on November 1, 1897, it was hailed as a glorious national monument and "the largest, the costliest, and the safest" library building in the world. It is this building that, as I explained in Part I, is now called the Jefferson Building.

[1] Also known as the Tung-Chi Emperor, he ruled with the help of his mother, effectively a regent, Empress Dowager Cixi (also spelled Tzu-hsi) (1835-1908). She was the power behind the throne until her death in 1908. When her son died in 1875, she arranged for her nephew Aisin-Gioro Zaitian (1871-1908) to ascend the throne. He ruled as the Gangxu Emperor (or Kuang-hsu Emperor) at least nominally until his death in 1908, though in reality Empress Dowager Cixi staged a coup in 1898 and placed him under house arrest for the last ten years of his life. The dynasty of which he was a part, the Aisin Gioro Dynasty of Manchuria, is known in China as the Qing Dynasty.

[2] Complementing these collections are important materials on Asia in other areas of the L.O.C. These include legal materials, films, manuscripts, maps, music, and photographs maintained in other Divisions. In addition, extensive Western language materials on Asia are housed in the general collection and are available by request in either the Asian Reading Room or the Main Reading Room.

[3] This building was named for Reverend Patrick Francis Healy, S.J. (1834-1910), President of Georgetown University (1873-1882). Three-quarters European, Fr. Healy was considered Irish-American when he was alive, but is now recognized as mixed-race. His mother, Mary Eliza Clark, was a biracial slave owned by his father, Michael Morris Healy, a plantation owner. The parents lived in a common law marriage starting in 1829 and were unable to marry under Georgia law. Nor could he free her without an act of the state legislature. Michael Healy sent his children to the North, Canada, and Europe to be educated because they could not be educated under Georgia law. Six of the nine children to reach adulthood became priests or nuns, though one of the nuns left to marry (an Irishman) and have a family. Fr. Patrick Healy became the first American of partial African ancestry to earn a Ph.D. (at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium) and the first to become a Jesuit priest (in 1864). His brother, Alexander Sherwood Healy (1836-1875), also became a priest and also earned a Ph.D. (at Saint-Sulpice in Paris). Another brother, James Augustine Healy (1830-1900), Bishop of Portland, Maine, became the first American priest of partial African descent (1854), and the first American bishop of partial African descent (1875). Their sister Eliza (1846-1918), who took the religious name Mary Magdalen, became mother superior of a convent and academy in St. Albans, Vermont in 1903 and in the last year of her life helped found a college in Staten Island, New York.

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