Archival Research CenterSpecialized Libraries & Archival Collections
Archival Collections & Specialized Libraries
Digital Archive
Document LA
LA as Subject
LA Comprehensive Bibliographic Database
LA Obscura
Public Art in LA
ARC Home
About ARC
Contact Us
Search ARC
USC Libraries & Resources
University of Southern California
HomeSearch the CollectionsFinding Aids About

Hancock Collections & Archives

Home | Archives | Hancock Memorial Museum

The Building of a Library
Dorothy Halmos

Coranto: journal of the Friends of the Libraries, University of Southern California
Volume V Number 1 & 2 to Volume VI Number 1, 1967-1969

Dorothy Halmos (d. 1998) was Librarian of the Hancock Library of Biology and Oceanography from the mid 1940s through the 1970s. Her mark on USC is evidenced in the following article, which appeared from 1967 to 1969, in the Coranto: journal of the Friends of the Libraries. It recounts the development of the library of the Boston Society of Natural History, which is the foundation of the Hancock Natural History Collection.

The University of Southern California is fortunate to posses, as the basis of its Hancock Library of Biology and Oceanography, one of the outstanding natural history libraries in this country. It was purchased by Captain G. Allan Hancock for the Allan Hancock Foundation, the foreign serials and journals in 1944 and the books and domestic serials and journals in 1946, when the library was already over a hundred years old. To appreciate the collection fully, it is important to know something of its history and how and by whom it was built up over the years.

From the discovery of the New World, so wonderfully opened up for settlement and trade, there was much interest in its natural history. The very earliest reports were contained in general expositions on the advantages and possibilities of the area, such as Thomas Harriot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, London, 1588. Then naturalists from England and Europe either managed to come over and spend from a few months to several years studying the flora and fauna of the new country, or hired others to collect specimens for them; so that in addition to the general treatises, a few books began to appear which were devoted exclusively to the natural history of the new continent: for example, John Josselyn’s New-Englands Rarities Discovered, London, 1672; Mark Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, London, 1731-43 (2 vols., with 220 colored plates); J. F. Gronovius’ Flora Virginia, Leyden 1739-43; and J. E. Smith and John Abbot’s The natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia, London, 1797.

Books of travel also appeared, containing much valuable information concerning the land and its products; and articles were published in learned journals, especially in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal society of London. But all these were published abroad and were for the most part difficult to obtain in America. In 1727 Benjamin Franklin established in Philadelphia the American Philosophical Society to encourage the study of the arts and sciences and to provide a forum where scholars might exchange ideas. Not too much came from the Society in its early years, but gradually a few books began to appear, written and printed here. The first natural history publications were treatises useful in either medicine or agriculture, such as an American edition of Thomas Short’s Medica Britannica, with a preface by Mr. John Bartram, and His Notes Throughout the work, Showing the Places Where Many of the Described Plants Are To Be Found in These Parts of America, Philadelphia, printed and sold by B. Franklin, 1751; or local lists such as that compiled by Jeremy Belknap, with the assistance of W. D. Peck and Manasseh Cutler, in the third volume of his History of New England, Philadelphia, 1784-92.

Then appeared such publications as William Bartram’s Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, Philadelphia, 1791; Benjamin S. Barton’s Fragments of the Natural History of Pennsylvania, Part I, Philadelphia, 1799; and that great work of Alexander Wilson, accomplished in the face of obstacles and discouragements that would have defeated a lesser man, his American Ornithology, 9 vols., Philadelphia, 1808-14. These works gave a tremendous impetus to the study and appreciation of the natural history of the country. Geological surveys were made by many of the states, and a few courses were offered in the colleges. This led to a demand for textbooks, and some were written by American naturalists; others, of English and European origin, were reprinted in this country. But as T. T. Bouvé could say in the 1830’s: "Everything except the will to learn, was wanting - books, teachers, and collections..." In 1876 Bouvé, an iron manufacturer who was a member of the Boston Society of Natural History (to which we will come in a moment) for more than sixty years, declared in a presidential address: "Few of you, now having books at your command treating fully of every branch of Natural History ... can have an idea of the great want felt by those of us in the days referred to, lacking all these, and also the means to acquire them..."

There were very few in those early days of our country’s history who were full-time naturalists, and they were usually considered by their neighbors to be improvident and queer - see any contemporary account of Wilson, Rafinesque, or Audubon. Most of the interest and support in the field came from men who had their own professions, usually medicine or the Church, often law or business, and could devote only their spare time to the study of natural history. some had been able to acquire a few rare and valuable books, but most of them had no way of finding out what had been done or what was already known. Those who had correspondents abroad could sometimes persuade them to copy out by hand parts of books unobtainable here but containing information they badly needed. It was to be expected that certain of these gentlemen, already united by a common interest, should band together to see if they could accomplish as a group that which was beyond their ability as individuals - to build up adequate collections of specimens and a library containing all of the books they needed to consult in their studies.

The first strictly natural history organization in this country was the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, established in 1812. This institution at once began to build up a library, and a catalogue was issued in 1837 listing 6, 890 volumes, about half of them being in the field of natural history.

Two years later, in 1814, a group of eleven men met in Boston at the home of Dr. Jacob Bigelow, the eminent classical scholar, to consider the founding of a society there fore the study of natural history and the formation of a museum to house their growing collections. From this meeting came the Linnaean society of New England, a forerunner of the Boston Society of Natural History. In its attempt to build up a useful museum of specimens, the Linnaean Society succeeded too well for its own good; for so numerous did the specimens become that it had to rent a place large enough to house them. And as the collections increased, more time was needed to arrange and care for them. But ht e members were all men who were busy with their own affairs and they simply did not have the time to devote to this work; and to hire curators was expensive. For several years the Society managed somehow to raise the money it needed. Once a Captain Stewart of the U. S. frigate Constitution presented it with two live tigers, ending them in the car of "Mr. Savage." Whether the Society was more fortunate in receiving them or in losing them it might be difficult to say. For lost they were, and Mr. Savage was held responsible; and from the money he paid in settlement of the Society’s claim came enough to pay the rent. But by 1823 the struggle was too great and the collections were offered to the Corporation of Harvard College on condition that a building should be erected to house them and the members of the Society given free access to them. This really was the end of the Linnaean Society, although it remained a corporate body and its members were called together again after the founding of the Boston Society of Natural History for the purpose of recovering from Harvard such of its collections as were worth presenting to the new Society. As Harvard had not fulfilled the conditions of the transfer, and indeed had taken no care of the collections at all, they were able to recover all that remained - a pitiful remnant of a once outstanding collection.

From a study of the history of the Linnaean Society, we readily perceive its great weakness - a weakness that has been the downfall of many other societies established with high hopes: lack of money for staff and housing. The members were all earnest and intensely interested in the Society; they spent freely of what time they had available and worked hard to make a success of the undertaking. But the accumulation of important resources either of specimens or books, or both, demands adequate space to house them properly and sufficient trained staff to care for and service them. Volunteer help, no matter how enthusiastic, is not enough; and inadequate care and improper housing cause deterioration and, in the end, nearly complete loss of all that has been built up with so much labor and care. As the Boston Society of Natural History was established by men who had been members of the earlier group, one might have expected them to realize the danger and take steps to avoid the causes of the collapse of the Linnaean Society; but they did not, and it was only its good fortune in finding at crucial moments sponsors who could and did find the necessary funds that enabled the Boston Society of Natural History to survive.

In February, 1830, a group of seven men, three of whom had been instrumental in establishing the Linnaean Society of New England, met at the home of Walter Channing to discuss the possibility of organizing a new society for the study and encouragement of natural history. Channing, a younger brother of William Ellery Channing, the famous Unitarian clergyman and reformer, was a professor in the Harvard Medical School. In May, 1830, a constitution and by-laws were adopted, officers elected, and a name agreed upon. In January, 1831, because of the great lack of books on natural history and as "this Society [considered] a library of works essential to its success," the members voted to establish such a library to receive what books might be given by the members. They also appropriated a small sum for the purchase, "after fulfilling their obligations already incurred," of the best elementary books in the various branches of natural history. The qualifying phrase meant that for many years the library received no money from the Boston Society, as it never had any left over after its bills were paid, and, indeed, usually ended each year in debt.

According to the report at the annual meeting in May, 1831, the library had received from seven members thirty volumes and two pamphlets. In July of that same year came the gift from Joseph Coolidge, Jr., of a complete set of the American Journal of Science, which had begun publication in 1818. The Lyceum of Natural History of New York sent its Annals, published since 1823. Gifts of books continued to come in from members and friends, but slowly. At the summer meeting of 1833 the librarian reported that more than seventy volumes had been received during the year. In 1835 he told the council of the Society that the case in which the books were housed would hold no more volumes. He had hoped that a room on the fourth floor would be fitted up for the library, but all he got was the case in which the corals had been kept. What became of the corals is not known.

To emphasize the prevailing conditions at the time of the founding of the Boston Society of Natural History, I quote from an eloquent statement by Samuel H. Scudder, paleontologist, entomologist, and librarian of the Society for many years:

 At the time of the establishment of the Society there was not, I believe, in New England an institution devoted to the study of Natural History. There was not a college in New England, excepting Yale, where philosophical geology of the modern school was taught. There was not a work extant by a New England author which presumed to grasp the geological structure of any portion of our territory of greater extent than a county. There was not in existence a bare catalogue, to say nothing of a general history, of the animals of Massachusetts, of any class. There was not within our borders a single museum of natural history founded according to the requirements and based upon the system of modern science, nor a single journal advocating exclusively its interests.

We were dependent chiefly upon books and authors foreign to New England for our knowledge of our own Zoology. There was no one among us who had anything like a general knowledge of the birds which fly about us, of the fishes which fill our waters, or of the lower tribes of animals that swarm both in air and in the sea.

Some few individuals there were, distinguished by high attainments in particular branches, and who formed honorable exceptions to the indifference which prevailed; but there was o concentration of opinions or of knowledge, and no means of knowing how much or how little was known. The laborers in natural history worked alone, without aid or encouragement from others engaged in the same pursuits, and without the approbation of the public mind, which regarded them as busy triflers.

In 1837 the Society published a catalogue of its library, listing 314 titles, of which all but about twenty had been donated. Among the rarer items that had been given we find the following: John James Audubon, The Birds of America, 3 vols., London, 1827-36. The double elephant folio edition, as far as it had progressed to that time. The gift of eleven members who subscribed to the work for the Society.  

John James Audubon, Ornithological Biography, or, An Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America, Vols. 1-2, Philadelphia, 1831: Vol. 3, Edinburgh, 1835. Gift of the author.

Peter Artedi, Synonymia piscium graeca et latina emendata, aucta atque illustrata, Leipzig, 1789. Gift of the Hon. John Davis.

Robert Boyle, Philosophical Works, 3 vols., London, 1725. Gift of the Hon. John Davis.

Commentarii de rebus gestis in scientis naturali et medicinae gestis, 40 vols., Leipzig, 1752-94. Gift of Charles Amory.

Albrecht von Haller, Bibliotheca botanica, London, 1771. Gift of seventeen members who purchased and presented to the library twenty-one titles in all.

Carolus Linnaeus, Systema naturae, per regna tria naturae, cura J. F. Gmeliln, 3 vols. in 10, Leyden, 1789-96. Gift of Samuel E. Foster.

Carolus Linnaeus, Flora lapponica, London, 1792. Gift of Benjamin D. Greene.

François André Michaux, The North American Sylva, 2 vols., Paris, 1819. Gift of Charles Amory.

Thomas Pennant, Arctic Zoology, 2 vols., London, 1784-85. Gift of Henry Codman.

Charles Plumier, Nova plantarum americanarum genera, Paris, 1703. Gift of Edward Tuckerman.

John Ray, Catalogus plantarum angliae, et insularum adjacentium, London, 1679. Gift of Edward Tuckerman.

John Ray, Synopsis methodica stirpium britannicarum, London, 1724. Gift of Edward Tuckerman.

 In 1839 the Society received a bequest of $10,000 from the estate of Ambrose S. Courtis, a businessman who had been very interested in its work. The members agreed to divide the income from this bequest into three parts: one for publication, one for the collections, and one for the library. Unfortunately, current expenses usually absorbed most of the income and publications took the rest, leaving little or nothing for the library and the collections.

In 1840 the library received several books on natural history from the estate of Mr. Simon E. Greene, one of the founders of the Society and its first treasurer. In this year also. Col. Thomas H. Perkins presented a magnificent and beautifully-bound set of Audubon’s Birds of America, the double elephant folio edition, now complete in four volumes (1827-38). By the time of the annual meeting in May, 1840, the library contained 660 volumes and many pamphlets, almost all of the acquired through the gifts of members and friends. Another source of Library material, to become important as the years went by, was the exchange of publications with other institutions made possible by the publication of the Boston Journal of Natural History, begun in 1834.

At the end of its first en years the Society was free from debt, but at the cost of too-stringent economy in the care of the collections (which resulted in the loss of many important specimens later), of very little money spent on the library, and of the use for current expenses of income from what it had desired to be a "special fund" - the Courtis bequest. It was obvious that the society badly needed to be put on a more secure financial footing.

The second decade saw a much greater increase in the library, although still very little money was available for the purchase of books. The income the library received from the Courtis Fund was carefully and wisely spent, not only for books but also for subscriptions to a few greatly-needed journals. Another source of funds came from Col. Perkins’ gift of Audubon’s Birds of America. Since one copy had already been provided for the library, that previous set, with the consent of the donors, was sold to Messrs. Little and Brown, of the publishing firm of that name, and the proceeds used to purchase other ornithological books for the library.

In 1843, ten members subscribed to Audubon’s Quadrupeds of the United States; and in 1845 Dr. Francis Boott of London presented over fifty volumes, among them such valuable works as Jacobus Barrelierus, Plantae per galliam, hispaniam et italiam, Paris, 1714; Marcello Malpighi, Opera omnia, London, 1687; and two works published at Antwerp by Plantin: Matthias de l’Obel, Plantarum, seu stirpium historia, 1576, and Pierre Pena and l’Obel, Nova stirpium adversaria, 1576. Dr. Boott was born in Boston and was a friend and associate of Jacob Bigelow. In London he not only practiced as a physician but also lectured on botany and materia medica. After his retirement, he devoted himself to the study of botany and became the foremost authority on the sedge genus Carex.

In the reports of the various departments for 1846, many complaints were made about the shortage of space. Donations were not being offered, or had to be refused, because there was o room to house them. Accordingly, a campaign was begun to raise money to purchase a new home for the Society and a committee was appointed to locate a suitable building. One such was found in Mason Street. The money was raised for its purchase and remodeling, and in 1848 the Society moved into its new home. The library room was described as a "cosy one" where in the afternoons some of the curators were usually to be found. The room was also used for the meetings of the Society and sometimes as a lecture "hall" in the evening.

At the first meeting in the new building, the members adopted the following:

 Resolved, That each individual member be requested to consider what books, if any, he can spare from his private collection, and make more extensively useful by adding them to the Library of the Society; and that he be requested so to deposit them, either as a gift or under such conditions as he may see fit.

 That this resolution had an effect one may assume from the library accession records of the following year, which show eleven titles presented by Dr. S. Kneeland, about the same number from Dr. N. B. Shurtleff, five from Mr. S. G. Drake, nine from Dr. John Bacon, Jr., ten from Thomas Bulfinch, of The Age of Fable fame, as well as many others presented by various members. Among the valuable works received in this way, the following titles may be especially noted: Erasmus Darwin, Zoonomia, London, 1801; P. A. Latreille, Mémoires sur divers sujets de l’histoire naturelle, Paris, 1819; E. Mendes da Costa, Natural History of Fossils, London, 1757; and Jan Swammerdam, The Book of Nature, or, The Natural History of Insects, London, 1758.

In 1849 an association called the Republican Institution proposed to place in the library of the Boston Society all of the books it owned and turn over to the library half of a fund it administered, for the purchase of books in the natural sciences, provided it could use the other half to purchase books in other fields, such as history and politics, and deposit them also in the library. Members of the Institution would be given free access to the augmented library. This offer was gladly accepted and $1,3000 was allocated for the purchase of books. Among those deposited by the Republican Institution were many important titles in the natural sciences, including:

 John Gould, Icones Avium, or Figures and Descriptions of New and Interesting Birds from Various Parts of the Globe, 2 parts, London, 1837-1838.

Sir W. J. Hooker, The Botany of the Antarctic Voyage of H. M. Discovery Ships Erebus and Terror in the Years 1839-1843, Nos. 1-17, London, 1845.

Sir W. J. Hooker, Icones Plantarum, or Figures of New or Rare Plants, Vols. 1-4, London, 1837.

William Kirby, Monographia apum angliae, 2 vols., Ipswich, 1802.

Ludwig Pfeiffer, Monographia heliceorum viventium, Fasc. 1-7, Leipzig, 1847-48.

L. C. D. de Freycinet, Voyage autour du monde sur les corvettes de S. M. l’Uranie et la Physicienne, pendant les années 1817-1820. Zoologie, 2 vols. , Paris, 1824.

R. B. Hinds, Zoology of the Voyage of H. M. S. Sulphur During the Years 1836-1842, 2 vols., Paris, 1839.

C. P. T. Laplace, Voyage autour du monde par les mers de l’Inde et de Chine executé sur la corvette la Favorite pendant les années 1830-1832, 2 vols., Paris, 1839.  

By the end of 1850 the library contained 2,569 bound volumes, 1,280 unbound volumes, and 500 pamphlets and reprints. The Society had raised the money to purchase a new home, had taken care of current expenses, and for once had a free balance - of $200. But the library and the collections were suffering severely from lack of money to care for them properly. Although this was a problem the Society was never able to solve completely, many steps could be taken to alleviate the situation. But a discussion of these steps and of other forward-looking measures must be postponed until the second installment of this brief history of a distinguished library.

 Part 2: Volume V Number 2, 1968

 In 1852 the Boston Society of Natural History was twenty-two years of age, while its library (now the basis of the Hancock Library of Biology and Oceanography) was only a few months younger. The Society had a newly-purchased, if modest home; but the library, possessing some 5,000 books, volumes of periodicals, and pamphlets, was suffering acutely from a lack of funds to care for them properly and to add to its holdings as rapidly as it would have liked.

There were, of course, certain steps that could be taken. At the annual meeting in May, 1852, the librarian recommended a more liberal attitude toward exchange:

The communication with these Societies hitherto has been too expensive and difficult to justify the sending many copies of our Journal and Proceedings abroad; but the recent arrangements of the Smithsonian Institution, at Washington, will enable us hereafter to communicate with Societies in all parts of the world without difficulty, and at no greater expense than the cost of transportation to Washington. Of the two hundred Societies in correspondence with that Institution, at least one hundred publish works of value to us, which could easily be obtained in exchange for our publications.

With a more liberal policy approved, the librarian was able to set up many new exchanges, but he was soon complaining that because of the interval between issues of the Journal (once as much as four years), it was hard to keep the exchanges coming. Of special interest to Californians is the request made n 1854 for permission to send a set of the publications of the Boston Society to "a newly established society of San Francisco" - the California Academy of Sciences, organized in 1853 and starting immediately to build up a library.

In 1855 the librarian reported that since the erection of a theatre building next door, the library room was no longer "cosy" but very dark and damp, uncomfortable to work in and injurious to the books. He also had two complaints to make that sound only too familiar. First, he did not have time to keep up with all the work and needed help; second, although he was present in the library every day from 9 to 12, books were taken from the room at other times with no record left; and although they usually came back eventually, there was some loss. The Council voted $100 for assistance in making a catalogue of the library, and this task was completed within a year; but beyond asking members to be more considerate, nothing was done about the second problem.

During this decade, the library was greatly enriched by many gifts of valuable works. In 1854 the Hon. Francis C. Gray presented the first three volumes, beautifully bound, of the Histoire naturelle des mamifères, by Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire et Cuvier, Paris, 1824-47. In 1855 the library received a bequest from the late Mr. James Brown, of the publishing firm of Little, Brown, who left ornithological books of great interest. These included sixteen handsome folio volumes of John Gould, sometimes called the "English Audubon" - his Birds of Europe, 5 vols., 1837; Birds of Australia, 7 vols., 1848; A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains, 1831; A Monograph of the Rhamphastidae, or Family of Toucans, 1834; and A Monograph of the Odontophorinae, or Partridges of America, 1850.

In November 1856, Mrs. M. A. Binney offered to deposit, under certain conditions of preservation and use, 353 titles in 1,145 volumes, including pamphlets and reprints, from the library of the late Dr. Amos Binney. The conditions were accepted and the books were added to the library in 1857, certain large slabs of fossil impressions having been removed from the library to make space for them - proving that trying to keep the faculty out of any spare corner of the library not filled up with books is not a modern problem. The catalogue of the Binney library is printed in the Proceedings of the Boston Society, and lists such rare and valuable books as the following:

Ulisse Aldrovandi, Opera omnia, 13 vols. Bonn, 1599-1669.

Petrus Artedi, Ichthyologia, ed. C. Linnaeus, Leyden, 1738.

Joseph Banks, Catalogus bibliothecae historico-naturalis Josephi Banks ... auctore Jona Dryander, 5 vols., London, 1796-1800.

William Bartram, Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, Philadelphia, 1791.

Thomas Bewick, A General History of Quadrupeds, Newcastle, 1790.

Georges Buffon, Histoire naturelle, 17 vols. and 7 supplementary vols., Paris, 1749-89.

Charles Darwin, The Zoology of the Beagle, 5 vols., London, 1839-43.

Conrad Gesner, Historia animalium, 5 vols. in 3, Zürich, 1551-87. On the flyleaf of the first volume is this inscription: "Ce superbe exemplaire de la plus parfaite conservation et très compet est celui de Buffon. Je l’ai payé 84 L. Is. à la vent des livres de Mirabeau le jeudi 26. Janvier 1792. Voyez le catalogue de cette vente No. -1206-"

William Jardin and P. J. Selby, Illustrations of Ornithology, 3 vols., Edinburgh, 1826-35.

William Smellie, The Philosophy of Natural History, Edinburgh, 1790.

Francis Willughby, Ornithologiae libris tres, London, 1676.  

In the same year the library received another valuable bequest, from the estate of the late Prof. J. W. Bailey. It was reported to the Society in the following words:

The whole number of bound volumes ins eighty-four, besides one hundred and fifty unbound volumes and pamphlets, and these latter are not the least valuable portion of the library...Among the works are the splendid Microgeologie of Ehrenberg, the works of Kützing, Queckett, Ralfe, Hassell, Smith, Agardh, Harvey, Lindley, and Hutton...

 Among the books included in this bequest is one of the rarest the library possesses: Illustrationes algarum in itinere cira orbem jussu imeratoris Nicolai I ... annis 1826, 1827, 1828 et 1829 ... in oceano pacifico imprimis septentrionali ad littore Rossica asiatico-americana collectarum. Auctoribus Prof. Alexandro Postels et Doct. Francisco Ruprecht, Petrograd, 1840. This volume, printed in Latin and Russian, is a double elephant folio and contains forty exceptionally beautiful hand-colored plates of Pacific coast algae, as on this voyage the Russians sailed down our northwest coast almost as far south as San Francisco.

In 1859 an event occurred which was to influence the course of the Boston Society in the years to come. Professor Louis Agassiz had amassed a splendid zoological collection which had been purchased in 1852 by Harvard College. In 1859 the Museum of Comparative Zoology was incorporated to receive this collection, as well as a bequest from Francis C. Gray of $50,000 to establish and maintain such a Museum under the charge of an independent faculty. Professor Agassiz received a grant of $1000,000 from the state, over $70,000 was raised by private subscription, a building was erected, faculty appointed, and the Museum established on a solid basis. From the very beginning there was close cooperation between the Museum and the Society, as almost all of the faculty and curators of the Museum were also members of the Society, and most of them had been active in it for years.

In 1860 the Society library was presented, through the generosity of J. P. Cushing, with 300 volumes on entomology from the library of the late Thaddeus W. Harris. The Proceedings noted: 

Mr. Scudder, Curator of Entomology, observed that among the volumes was one containing all the rarer tracts of Say, most of which were extremely scarce; among them his New Harmony pamphlets, one of which (on the Heteropterous Hemiptera of North America) is probably the only copy in this country, if indeed it can be found anywhere else...Most of the important European works are here...together with nearly complete sets of most of the publications of entomological societies and entomological periodicals.

 By the end of 1860 the library contained nearly 5,000 volumes, plus 681 pamphlets and reprints, most of them of great value and by far the greater number gifts from members and friends of the Society. It became obvious that the Society again needed more room, and committees were appointed to make plans and raise the necessary funds. The state legislature granted to the Society some land on which to erect a building; and the state also purchased for $28,000 the building occupied by the Society, which then moved temporarily into one which it owned on Bulfinche Street. Mr. W. J. Walker, who had come to the assistance of the Society before, offered $20,000 toward the building fund, provided the members could raise a matching amount. This they were able to do, and in the fall of 1863 the building was so far advanced that the library could be moved into it, and the Society met there for the first time on November 18 of that year. This was a remarkable accomplishment, especially when one realizes that a large portion of the Society’s membership (ninety-eight of them) were serving in the armed forces at the time.

The estate of Benjamin D. Greene yielded over 1,500 volumes in 1863. A complete catalogue of the collection, which was mainly botanical, was printed in the Proceedings. The following titles may give some idea of the extent and richness of this bequest: Kaspar Bauhin, Theatri botanici, sive index in Theophrasti Dioscoridis, Plinii et botanicorum qui a secula scripserunt, Basel, 1671; Thomas Bewick, A History of British Birds, 2 vols., Newcastle, 1797; C. L. Bonaparte, American Ornithology, 4 vols., Philadelphia, 1825-33; L. A. G. Bosc, Histoire naturelle des crustacés, 2 vols., Paris, 1830; William Curtis, Flora londinensis, 2 vols., London, 1777-98, bearing the following manuscript note on the flyleaf: "This copy was coloured by the author with his own hand expressly for the Marchioness of Bath"; Dictionnaire des sciences naturelles, 60 vols. of text and 11 of plates, Strassburg and Paris, 1816-30; Nehemiah Grew, The Anatomy of Plants, London, 1682; J. E. Holbrook, North American Herpetology, 5 vols., Philadelphia, 1842; J. D. Hooker, The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya, London, 1848-51; A. de Humboldt & A. Bonpland, Nova genera et species plantarum, 7 vols., Paris, 1815-25; C. Linnaeus, Hortus cliffortianus, Amsterdam, 1737; Charles Plumier, Plantaru americanarum, Amsterdam, 1755; P. J. Redouté, Les Liliacées, 8 vols., Paris, 1802-16; John Sibthorp, Flora graeca, 10 vols., London, 1806-40; and W. Yarrell, History of British Fishes, 2 vols., London, 1836.

Charles K. Dillaway, who had been librarian since 1833, resigned in 1864 and was succeeded by Samuel H. Scudder. Under the latter’s direction the exchange list was greatly expanded and many back files of serials and periodicals were obtained from other institutions. In 1865 Scudder reported that 237 pieces had bee added to the library through exchange; by 1870 the number would rise to 1,709. Exchanges gradually became the most important source of library accessions.

1865 was a year of hope. With the end of the war, men could turn with renewed energy to the problems of science and learning. In the library, duplicates were weeded out and sold or exchanged for books or parts of sets, and much valuable material was thus secured. This year also saw the receipt of an endowment of $5,000 in memory of Huntington Frothingham Wolcott, killed in the fighting at the age of nineteen. The gift was made by the young man’s father, who later added $4,000 to it. As it was agreed that a percentage of the income should be added to the principal each year, the library now had a small but growing endowment the income from which could be used for binding and for the purchase of books.

The library hours were increased, the doors now being kept open from 10 to 1 o’clock and from 2 to 5; and a full-time library assistant was hired. According to the report of the librarian, the library needed catalogue trays with rods to hold the library catalogue; an "alcove catalog," or what we would call a shelf list, to make reading the shelves easier; money for binding; money for making a catalogue of the pamphlets and reprints; money for completing broken sets, especially of foreign serials; money for weather-stripping the windows to keep out drafts and dirt. The Society did what it could - gave money for binding over a thousand volumes, for hiring more help to make the "alcove catalogue", for fill-in in sets. Still the work piled up. At the time of the annual meeting in the summer of 1870, the library contained 9,396 bound or complete volumes and 2,677 pamphlets and reprints, many of them not yet catalogued.

 Part 3 - Volume VI Number 1 

Two developments in the 1860’s foreshadowed a change of emphasis in the work of the Boston Society of Natural History. The museum was now opened to the public free of charge two days a week; and the Society for the first time provided a course of lectures for the public school teachers of the Boston area. In 1870 a study was made to determine the best course for the society to follow during the coming years. After much discussion a new policy was adopted - it was decided to limit the library accessions to the field of natural history, and to build up in each department of the museum special collections of New England material. The lectures for teachers, and the special arrangements with the schools in the area whereby the students could use the museum and the library, also showed the growing interest in science education. It is true that the custodian, Mr. S. H. Scudder, could say in 1870:

Our Society has thus a double office to fulfill, and neither part can be neglected without detriment to both. Let it open to the public a museum fitted for study and showing, by the nicest devices, the meaning of nature; let it set forth these truths in lectures, from which practically none shall be debarred; but at the same time give the more thorough students an opportunity to meet for mutual discussion, a library in which to consult the investigations of their fellow students in all parts of the world, and as prompt and satisfactory a channel for the publication of their own researches as any kindred institution affords.

And in 1880, President Eliot of Harvard declared:

This Society has two distinct objects - (I) the promotion of Natural History by stimulating and aiding advanced study and original research, and (2) the enlightenment of the common people concerning animate and inanimate nature.

 Nevertheless, the time was fast approaching when the Society could not afford to pursue both goals at once. For many years the emphasis had been upon research; now, especially since the founding of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, other institutions could take on that responsibility, and the Society could concentrate on the exhibition and study of the geology and flora and fauna of New England, with special attention to Massachusetts.

The library continued to grow, mainly through donations and exchanges, and each year the report of the librarian listed approximately the same needs - space, staff, money for binding, money for filling in incomplete sets, money to purchase current publications. A gallery was added to the back room; small amounts of money were given by members and patrons to help in the binding program. Gifts continued to be received: a nearly complete set of the Novara expedition , from the Austrian government; a large and valuable collection of books, chiefly botanical, from the Hon. G. B. Emerson, containing many rare volumes. Included in the latter were Johann Bauhin, Historia plantarum universalis, nova et absolutissima, 3 vols., Ebroduni, 1650-51; and Duhamel du Monceau, Traité des arbres et arbustes, 7 vols., Paris, 1800-19. By 1800 the library had over 14,000 volumes and 6,000 reprints and pamphlets.

Exchange materials, especially serial publications and periodicals, became more and more important. The only money regularly available for the purchase of books and for binding was the income from the trust fund, about $500 a year, "really pitiable, when we...remember that a good library is the sine qua non of scientific progress and study." Gifts continued to be received - from S. H. Scudder, Prof. J. O. Westwood of England, Samuel Henshaw, Dr. C. S. Minot, and Professor Hyatt; from the estate of the late Dr. Samuel Cabot; conchological books from Mr. E. R. Mayo; one hundred and twenty volumes from the library of the late Robert C. Waterston. By 1900 the library had 25,629 bound volumes, 1,401 "incomplete" volumes, and 13,311 pamphlets and reprints. The trust fund had been augmented by a gift of $5,000; some money for binding had been given by members. The number of exchanges had increased by 435.

By 1920 the library had almost doubled in size, with over 90,000 volumes, including pamphlets and reprints. Of the additions, over 1,300 items were received as a bequest from the estate of Alpheus Hyatt; 8,615 came from S. H. Scudder, seventy more from the estate of Mr. Waterston, thirty-one from Prof. A. S. Packard, over one hundred from the estate of Miss Cora H. Clarke. William Brewster bequeathed his library, consisting mainly of books on ornithology. Mr. Kidder gave generously for binding, and for new lighting fixtures and furniture - including the steel case in which the Audubon volumes were (and still are) kept. Among the many valuable books presented in the library during this period are the following:

Nicolò Gualtieri, Index testarum conchyliorum, Florence, 1742. From the library of Amos Binney, purchased for the library by E. R. Mayo.

Jacob Hübner, Sammlung exotischer Schmetterlinge, Augsburg, 1806-24; and Beiträge zur Geschichte der Schmetterlinge, Augsburg, 1786-90. Two of many books by Hübner from the Scudder library.

Howard Jones, Illustrations of the Newsts and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, Circleville, Ohio, 1886. According to Casey Wood, among the rarest as well as the most beautiful of bird books. Not more than ninety copies were printed; the subscription list includes thirty-nine names. From the library of the late William Brewster.

Carl Ludwig Koch, Deutschlands Crustaceen, Myriapoden und Arachnida, Regensburg, 1835-44. Gift of Mr. C. S. Fellows.

Pierre Lyonet, Traité anatomique de la chenille, The Hague, 1782. Gift of Mr. Scudder.

F. H. W. Martini and J. H. Chemnitz, Neues systematisches Conchylien-Cabinet, 12 vols., Nuremberg, 1769-1829. Purchased for the library of E. R. Mayo from the Amos Binney library.

Eadweard Muybridge, Animal Locomotion, Philadelphia, 1887. Nearly 700 of the plates from this work, presented by Prof. W. P. Wilson of Philadelphia.

Felipe Poey y Aloy, Centurie de lépidoptères de l’Ile de Cuba, Paris, 1832. Gift of Mr. Scudder.

Lovell Augustus Reeve, Conchologia systematica, 2 vols., London, 1841-42. Presented by E. R. Mayo.

Philip Lutley Sclater, Argentine Ornithology, 2 vols., London, 1888-89.  

Between 1920 and 1930, when the Society celebrated its centennial, the library holdings increased to 52,110 volumes and 47,149 reprints and pamphlets. There were 650 exchanges - 200 domestic and 450 foreign. The amount of money available for books and binding was very small, but exchanges and gifts kept the quality of the library’s holdings high. It was becoming more and more difficult, however, to keep pace with the bare necessities in binding and in purchasing needed books and journals. Also, the question of space was again becoming acute for the library, as it was for the museum. The library had not only grown in size; it had been opened to the general public. And by 1930 the staff and the library resources in the more current and popular works were both obviously inadequate to meet the demand.

The centennial volume sounded a note of urgency:

... our immediate task is to escape from the congestion caused through lack of accommodation for our collections and for the students who seek information from them... Our Society...has inherited an important function of leadership in the educational field...

Members immediately set about making plans for the new building which they so desperately needed. In 1931 the Council announced that they required a minimum of $1,750,000 and so far had raised a little under $72,000. And still the expenses mounted. In 1935 the Society showed an operating deficit of over $20,000.

All the time the museum was becoming increasingly important and the planning of the Council concentrated more and more on the collections, the popular education of the public in science, and work with the schools. In 1936 we find for the first time on the masthead of the Bulletin: "The New England Museum of Natural History, Operated by the Boston Society of Natural History."

A few years more and the die was cast. The Society would divorce itself from its more erudite functions, discontinue its scholarly publications, and sell the research portion of its library. The main activity of the Society now centered in the New England Museum of Natural History, later to be called the Boston Museum of Science. In 1951 the Museum moved into its new building on the Charles River; and there, to the natural history exhibits were to be added others in the fields of physical science, industry, public health, anthropology, and ethnology.

Meanwhile, the library had continued to grow, largely through its exchanges (which now numbered about 750); but also through gifts and purchases, which account for such unusual titles as Fabio Colonna, Opusculum der Purpura, Kiliae, 1675; C. W. J. Gatterer, Breviarum zoologiae, Pars I, mammalia, Göttingen, 1780; Nehemiah Grew, Musaeum regalis societats, London, 1681; Friedrich Martens, Viaggio di Spizerga o Gronlanda, Bologna, 1680; J. D. Schoepf, Historia testudinum, Erlangen, 1792; and Godofredus Sellius, Historia naturalis Teredinis, Utrecht, 1733. By 1944 holdings amounted to about 80,000 volumes and 100,000 reprints and pamphlets. There were almost incredible riches in old and rare books and in long runs of natural history periodicals and the publications of scientific societies. Well might the librarian of the Boston Society say in one of her reports that the library contained so many treasures that even the staff did not begin to know them all. Through the devotion of the members and their appreciation of the importance of a good library, through long years of patient work by the librarians in initiating and carrying through exchanges with other institutions, there was built up a library which, now transplanted to the west coast of the United States (specifically, to the Hancock Library of Biology and Oceanography, USC), still brings exclamations of joy and astonishment; and which is known and valued, not only here, but wherever biological and geological research is carried on.  

Back to Top
  Last updated:  September 23, 2008 | Send comments & questions to | © 2001 University of Southern California