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Thursday, July 23, 2009

A piece of Harvard Library history:
John Langdon Sibley

Below is a piece of correspondence on Harvard letterhead--The Corporation of Harvard College--dated January 29, 1857. It is signed by two notable figures in Harvard's history: John Langdon Sibley, Librarian, and James Walker, President.


The letter acknowledges receipt of a gift from the publisher, John Ford, Esq., The Cambridge Directory for 1857, 1 Vol to the Harvard Library. Near the bottom of the document, before John Langdon Sibley's signature, is a date of January 29, 1857, which is likely the date of acknowledgment.




John Langdon Sibley was an Assistant Librarian at Harvard for two nonconsecutive periods, 1825-26 and 1841-56. Beginning in 1856, he served as Librarian until 1877. From 1877-1885, Sibley was Librarian, Emeritus. According to information in the link above, Sibley was a noted biographer, best known for his Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University. He was born in Union, Maine on December 29, 1804, and died in Cambridge, Massachusetts on December 9, 1885.

Also accessible through the link above are excerpts from Sibley's personal diary, which spans nearly 37 years, with entries beginning on January 1, 1846 and ending on August 29, 1882. He wrote of the details of daily life, as well as local and national current events, and about Harvard, of course.


James Walker (1794-1874) was President of Harvard University from February 10, 1853 to January 26, 1860. He was also a Unitarian minister and religious philosopher. His term as President of Harvard has been called uneventful; no great reforms to report, unless you were a music lover at the time. He did add music to the course curriculum. And for any nonreligious students, Walker's discontinuance of evening prayers were probably a welcome reform in 1855. However, morning prayers, which have been a tradition at Harvard since its founding in 1636, continue to this day, and today they are held in Appleton Chapel, which was built during the James Walker administration. Another building of note during Walker's tenure was Boylston Hall, built in 1857. Walker resigned in 1860 because of illness.

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