The William L. Clements Library of American History had its origin in the collecting activities of William Lawrence Clements ('82, LL.D.hon. '34), who served as a Regent of the University from 1910 through 1933. Influenced by Professors Thomas M. Cooley and Moses Coit Tyler, Regent Clements retained a deep interest in American history and literature, at the same time pursuing a successful business career in Bay City, Michigan. Upon graduation he joined the firm founded by his father, which became known as the Industrial Brownhoist Corporation, manufacturer of heavy cranes and railroad equipment, and later succeeded his father as president of the company.

In the 1890's Regent Clements began collecting books. He found a fellow enthusiast who abetted him in Aaron J. Cooke, a Bay City merchant and one-time city librarian, who also had a passion for American history. From 1903, with the purchase of Mr. Cooke's library, Clements' hobby became his absorbing interest. He devoted himself to gathering rare books relating to America, printed before 1800. His collection covered the period of discovery and exploration of the New World, the early settlement of North America, the Indian wars, colonial disputes, the American Revolution, and the beginnings of our federal government. The second decade of the twentieth century saw the dispersal at auction of some remarkable libraries gathered by distinguished collectors. Regent Clements made noteworthy acquisitions from the sales of books belonging to such Americans as Robert Hoe, George Brinley, Samuel L. M. Barlow, Marshall C. Lefferts, and from the Huth, Rowfant, Devonshire, Bridgewater, and Britwell Court libraries in England.

As a Regent of the University and an ardent alumnus, Clements formed a warm friendship with Claude H. Van Tyne, at that time chairman of the Department of History, whose interest in American history coincided with that of Clements. As a collector Clements enjoyed the friendship of scholars elsewhere and of eminent antiquarian booksellers. As his private library grew, he began to think of its ultimate preservation and future use. He was a builder and a connoisseur, and he wanted to share his fruits with others. The example of other collections given to universities was before him, and affection for his own alma mater was not lacking. In 1921 he offered to the University his collection of about 10,500 books and atlases, and the Shelburne manuscripts, and announced that he would build a proper building on the campus to house them. A gift agreement was drawn up in 1922 by which the University pledged itself to maintain the building, to provide an adequate staff, and to furnish an annual sum for the acquisition of additional rare Americana.

The William L. Clements Library was dedicated and opened in June 1923. The building, two stories high, is Italian Renaissance in style and executed in Indiana limestone (see Part VIII: The William L. Clements Library Building). The interior bears little resemblance to the conventional library.

At the dedication ceremonies Regent Clements spoke of his gift as being a new kind of library, saying:

It must not be supposed that this library is for the use of the undergraduate, or for others who have not exhausted the facilities of the General Library. It is primarily a library for advanced research on the part of scholars already well equipped, rather than a library to serve as a vehicle of instruction for either the undergraduate or the ordinary graduate student. Above this is independent investigation, deep and exhaustive, of historical facts.

One scholar assured him that the Library justified its existence if it had but three readers — of the right kind — in a year. He never let it be forgotten that his collection comprised a very particular kind of library quite apart from its special content. In 1923 he published a book descriptive of the library — The William L. Clements Library of Americana.

Administration of the Library was put in the hands of a Committee of Management composed of the president of the University, the donor during his lifetime, the director of the General Library of the University, the senior professor of American History, and two members-at-large, known for their interest in American history. Regent Clements was promptly elected chairman of the committee and never missed a meeting. After his death in 1934, the committee remained five in number. William Warner Bishop, Director of the General Library and one of Regent Clements' friends, served until his retirement in 1941. Professor Claude H. Van Tyne served until his death in 1930. Members with their dates of service on this committee include presidents of the University: Marion Leroy Burton, 1923-25, Clarence Cook Little, 1925-29, Alexander Grant Ruthven, 1929-51, Harlan Hatcher, 1951-; librarians of the University: William Warner Bishop, 1923-41, Warner G. Rice, 1941-53, Frederick H. Wagman, 1953-; professors of history: Claude H. Van Tyne, 1923-30, Verner W. Crane, 1930-; members-at-large: George Parker Winship, 1924-33, Tracy McGregor, 1933-37, Lawrence Reynolds, 1937-; William S. Mason, 1924-37, James O. Murfin, 1937-40, John W. Watling, 1942-51, Renville Wheat, 1952-.

The Library opened without a director. Regent Clements wanted a scholar in American history that regarded books with the zest of a collector; he did not insist upon a graduate of a library school. His old friend and adviser, George P. Winship, librarian at Harvard, called his attention to Randolph Greenfield Adams (Pennsylvania '14, Ph.D. ibid. '20, LL.D. Albion '38), assistant professor of history at Trinity College, North Carolina (now Duke University). Clements went to see the young man. He was undoubtedly struck by the fact that here was a man with a doctor's degree in history, whose dissertation had been on the American Revolution, and who spoke the language of a book collector and reciprocated his enthusiasm for rare books. Clements recommended Adams for the appointment; it was tendered; and Adams arrived in Ann Arbor in October 1923. He served as Director until his death in January 1951. He also held the appointment of Professor of History.

Adams, a Philadelphian by birth and schooling, was born in 1892. During his early life he was a neighbor to A. Edward Newton, the eminent bibliophile who communicated to many others his enthusiasm for book collecting. Adams spent the summer of 1914 touring Europe. He held a fellowship in history at the University of Chicago in 1916-17 and served with the American Expeditionary Forces from 1917 to 1919. While studying for his doctorate he completed his Political Ideas of the American Revolution (1922, reprinted 1939) and wrote A History of the Foreign Policy of the United States (1924).

In carrying out the policies of the Committee of Management and the wishes of Regent Clements, Adams early recognized the fact that his task would be "one of mediating between being hospitable and being careful," and he intended to make his mistakes, he said, in the matter of hospitality rather than in the matter of care. The University students were puzzled by the existence on the campus of a library not meant for their use, and many professors were annoyed at not being able to make class assignments in the books or to take out any of the material on loan. The requirements for admission appeared to be bars. The public service concept of the public library had grown so strong that it was difficult for the University community to realize that books are not durable goods and that many of the Library's holdings were irreplaceable. Professors who had worked at similar institutions elsewhere did not find the rules irksome. Adams stood his ground and projected the unpopular idea that his first duty was to the material of which he had custody and that his duty to patrons was secondary. Some of his ideas were incorporated in a brochure The Whys and Wherefores of the William L. Clements Library (1925).

Both Clements and Adams agreed that in addition to its fundamental purpose of stimulating research in American history and American historical bibliography, the Library existed to inspire the art of book collecting. For the first few years of his tenure, Adams spoke and wrote frequently on the merits of book collecting as a hobby, the debt that scholars owe to collectors, and the treatment that librarians should accord them.

At the dedication of the building the only statement Regent Clements made which turned out not to be true was his opening remark: "This day and hour mark the conclusion of a book-collector's career." Bereft of his beloved books, he did not stop collecting. He turned his attention to historical manuscripts. Knowing that the papers of the principal figures that had shaped this country and won its independence were for the most part already in eastern libraries, he wondered about the correspondence of the British officials who had ruled or misruled the American colonies and conducted the unsuccessful effort to suppress revolution. Having already acquired the papers of Lord Shelburne, prime minister during the peace negotiations of 1782-83, he returned to the British field in the ensuing decade and assembled a series of manuscript collections as remarkable for their integration as for their separate importance.

The time was fortunate. Coincident with his search, high taxes, made necessary by World War I, forced many old English families to sell off their libraries and the contents of their muniment rooms. Thus, he was able to obtain the papers of Lord George Germain, colonial secretary throughout the Revolution; of William Knox, his undersecretary; of Alexander Wedderburn, attorney general; of John Lee, solicitor general, who handled Loyalist claims; of Viscount Sydney, secretary of war; and of the two British peace commissioners, Richard Oswald and David Hartley.

On the military side he acquired the papers of General Thomas Gage, commander-in-chief of His Majesty's forces in North America, 1763-75; of Sir Henry Clinton, commander-in-chief, 1778-82; and of Sir John Vaughan, commander in the West Indies. From Germany he obtained the papers of Baron von Jungkenn, war minister of Hesse-Cassel, containing letters from the Hessian officers employed in the Revolutionary War by the British.

The pre-Revolutionary period was illuminated by the papers of Admiral George Clinton, governor of New York, 1743-53; of Sir Peter Warren, naval commander who took Louisburg in 1745; of Sir William Mildmay, commissioner of claims growing out of the Treaty of 1748; of John Wilkes, liberal friend of the Colonies; and of George, Marquess Townshend, lord-lieutenant of Ireland, 1767-72.

Regent Clements extended his interest through the War of 1812 and was able to secure the papers of the first and second Viscounts Melville, who served as secretary of war and first lord of the admiralty, respectively; of John Wilson Croker, secretary of the admiralty, 1809-30; of the Earl of Sheffield, privy councilor; and of Baron Brougham, member of parliament and lord chancellor. On the American side of the Revolution, he purchased the largest collection extant of General Nathanael Greene's papers, covering the Southern campaign.

Several of the smaller collections were sent at once as gifts to the Library for arranging and cataloguing, the others going to Bay City, where Mr. Clements enjoyed studying them and where he employed a private librarian to work on them. Between visits to Ann Arbor he pored over catalogues and attended auctions in the East. His enthusiasm and his interest in the Library never diminished. He died suddenly on November 6, 1934, and was buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Ann Arbor.

The passing of so staunch a friend and so generous a benefactor of the University did not go unnoticed by his fellow regents. At their December meeting they incorporated into the minutes a tribute to him that said in part:

Regent Clements commanded the respect of his associates not only by his capacity for constant and loyal friendship but also by his integrity and ability and by that appreciation of intangible, but real, values which expressed itself in his idealism, his delight in the beautiful, and his active interest in history and the assembling of its underlying records.

(R.P., 1932-36, p. 508.)

After his death the Library purchased the manuscripts and books in his house at Bay City with generous assistance from the McGregor Fund, of Detroit. Meanwhile, for a dozen years the Library had been adding to its holdings by means of the book fund provided by the University. Books, maps, and prints were regularly acquired. Newspaper runs and manuscript collections were less frequently offered, but these also were obtained from time to time. In the period, 1936 to 1948, however, the book fund was used almost entirely for installment payments to the Clements estate for the collections mentioned above.

Growth of the Library brought about the normal changes to be expected in a dynamic institution. The offices provided for the history professors were repossessed, and in 1931 Adams, for administrative purposes, organized the Library into three divisions and appointed a curator for each division. The Division of Printed Books (including newspapers and broadsides), which spread over the three floors of the building, was the largest. The Division of Manuscripts filled two rooms on the second floor. The Division of Maps (atlases and sheet maps) occupied part of the lower Library. Prints were in the Division of Manuscripts and later in the Division of Maps. The three curators, a secretary, an assistant in the Division of Printed Books, and a part-time student helper comprised the staff under the Director.

Elizabeth Beal Steere ('10, A.M.L.S. '30) was appointed Assistant Custodian in 1925. She became Assistant Director and Curator in 1936, but resigned in 1945 to do rehabilitation work among veterans of the war. She and her successive assistants catalogued all the new acquisitions, arranged the books in the Library, solved bibliographical problems, and served readers. After a year's interim under Francis L. D. Goodrich ('03, M.A. '16, B.L.S. N. Y. State Library School '06, M.Ed. hon. Michigan State Normal '36), Professor and Librarian Emeritus of the College of the City of New York, the division was placed under the charge of Robert Benaway Brown ('37, Ph.D. '51), who was appointed Curator of Printed Books in 1946. Goodrich continued as Bibliographical Consultant until 1953. Brown served until his death in 1950. More detailed cataloguing practices were introduced, and the first shifting of books in the cases became necessary. Brown's assistant, Georgia Campbell Haugh (Jamestown College '33, A.M.L.S. Michigan '48), became Curator in 1951. Edna Vosper ('23, B. Litt. Oxon. '27) was employed in 1928 as Manuscripts Assistant in the Library. She became the first Curator of Manuscripts in 1936 and devised a new system of cataloguing letters for scholarly use. She resigned to join the staff of the National Archives in the same year, and Howard H. Peckham ('31, A.M. '33), who became Assistant Curator of Printed Books in 1935, succeeded her. He received the immense bulk of manuscripts from the Clements estate and organized them. He also published the Guide to the Manuscript Collections in the Clements Library (1942). On his resignation in 1945, Colton Storm (Oberlin '30) who had been appointed Curator of Maps in 1942, became Curator of Manuscripts, and the next year Curator of Manuscripts and Maps. When he was promoted to Assistant Director in 1948 the division was placed under Margaret Elizabeth Larson (Delaware '45, Ph.D. Michigan '53). William Sterling Ewing ('35, A.M.L.S. '49) was appointed Curator in 1951, and he brought out a revised Guide to the Manuscript Collections in 1953.

The Map Division in 1934-35 was separately administered by James Clements Wheat ('09, M.S. '10), a nephew of Regent Clements. When Wheat could no longer give time to the work, Lloyd Arnold Brown ('33) was appointed Curator in 1935. He inaugurated certain practices, which he described in a manual on The Care of Old Maps. When he was appointed director of the Peabody Library in Baltimore in 1942, Colton Storm succeeded him. The Manuscript Division was not separately administered after 1948 until Christian Brun (Washington '48, A.M.L.S. Michigan '52) was appointed Assistant Curator in 1952.

Adams liked to give his curators a free hand in their work, but he expected expert knowledge from them. He encouraged them to correspond with inquiring scholars and to utilize the materials in their custody as a means of advertising the Library among research workers.

Three or four exhibitions a year of Library materials were offered to the public, and the building remained open for visitors on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Pamphlets explaining the exhibitions, printed for important displays, also served to publicize the unusual holdings of the Library in the subject fields concerned. Student reporters, newspaper feature writers, and the University radio station all found "stories" of interest to the general public. Scholars from other universities soon exceeded those from the University of Michigan in making use of the source material. Historical monographs, bibliographical essays, biographies, magazine articles, edited letters, and historical novels emanating from work done at the Library testified to its riches. Invited audiences heard distinguished scholars speak at the Library or met eminent University visitors at teas.

In 1931 Adams was appointed state chairman of the George Washington Bicentennial Commission, giving the Library a role in the national celebration in 1932. The Library issued several pamphlets, and Adams spoke frequently on the man who had been his boyhood hero. In 1937 the University observed its centennial in Ann Arbor. An aroused interest in the history of the University had prompted formation of the Michigan Historical Collections in 1935, under Professor Lewis G. Vander Velde of the Department of History. Adams offered quarters in the Library in 1936 and immediately began buying rare Michigan items to strengthen the new collections, which outgrew the space and moved to the Rackham Building in 1938.

In 1937 Adams was named Rosenbach Fellow in Bibliography, to deliver three lectures at the University of Pennsylvania early in 1938. He spoke on Henry Harrisse, bibliographer; George Brinley, book collector; and Thomas Jefferson, librarian. The lectures were published in 1939 under the title of Three Americanists.

Having contributed several articles to the Dictionary of American Biography from source materials in the Library, Adams was asked to serve on the Advisory Council for the Dictionary of American History, the first volume of which appeared in 1940. Early in the same year he was called by President Roosevelt to serve as a member of a committee to advise him concerning the future disposal of his papers, his naval collection, and the memorabilia that every president accumulates. Out of the discussion emerged the plan for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Library at Hyde Park, which is administered as a branch of the National Archives.

In 1939 Albert H. Greenly, of Hoboken, New Jersey, presented to the Library his collection of books on Abraham Lincoln, amounting to nearly 1,000 titles. These books, contemporary and modern rarities, including many early campaign biographies, were kept as a separate unit. Subsequently, both Mr. Greenly and the Library enlarged the collection. In 1942 William A. Vawter II and his son, William A. Vawter III, of Benton Harbor, Michigan, gave the Library a collection of books and manuscripts on Theodore Roosevelt, including the President's own writings and books about him and his many interests. The collection numbered 582 pieces and a small group of Roosevelt letters. The Vawters have continued to enlarge the collection.

In 1944 John W. Watling and Mrs. Herbert C. Ely, of Detroit, established a fund in memory of Mr. Ely for the purchase of books on early American drama. Further contributions have been made to the fund, and thus, a choice collection of plays has been acquired.

Adams' annual reports record the growth of the Library, as they deal almost exclusively with the more important or spectacular acquisitions. The titles and collections mentioned also exemplify the kind of material the Library was created to secure.

In his twentieth report (1942-43) Adams made several observations about the Library:

If there is one thing we have learned it is this: quantitative measurements misrepresent the aims and accomplishments of an institution such as this … we lay less emphasis on the number of pieces added per annum and upon circulation statistics, than is common in the reports of all public libraries and most of the university and college libraries…

Likewise in an ordinary public library report, one finds statistics and data on what the librarian and his staff have done to stimulate the use of the library. This, as we conceive it, is not one of our functions. We are part of a great University. This University has nearly a thousand men and women teachers whose principal function it is to stimulate its students to want to read books…

In its conception, this Library was to be a connoisseur's library, available to all serious investigators. The original and present collections actually cover a period of nearly five hundred years, but for an excellent reason we have tended to restrict our purchases (not our gifts) to the earlier period of American history. The reason is this: we have conceived it to be one of our functions to help the University of Michigan overcome the handicap of being born four hundred years too late. After all, printing was invented, and America was discovered, in the fifteenth century — while the University of Michigan was not founded until the nineteenth century.

In his report for the year 1944-45, Adams mentioned the visit to the Library of Sir John Forsdyke, director of the British Museum, accompanied by Mr. Henry Thomas, the keeper of printed books in that institution:

At a little reception given to these gentlemen in the Library, we received a formula for which we have long sought. Said Sir John: 'The function of the Clements Library is to collect the archetype.' That, as we understand it, justifies us in what we have been doing these twenty-three years. We are not satisfied with facsimiles, photographs, or microfilms. We strive to acquire the originals from which these useful copies may be made.

In 1947 an organization of friends of the Library was developed and named the Clements Library Associates. This group received authorization from the Regents, who appoint the governing body, an executive committee consisting of two members from the Library's Committee of Management and three other members of the Associates. The organization now has more than five hundred members, who receive all Library bulletins and are invited to Library events. Later, the publishing of an annual gift book, a reprint, was inaugurated for them. Their dues and contributions provide the Library with additional funds for acquisitions. In the first six years of the existence of the Associates purchases were made amounting to more than $20,000. Storm served the executive committee as its first secretary.

The completion of payments to the Clements estate from the book-purchasing fund in 1948, the diverse interests represented by the Associates, and the postwar growth of the University caused the Library to expand its field of collecting. Regent Clements had concentrated on the early periods through the War of 1812. From time to time a rare item of later date was added. Adams found that he could secure donations of middle nineteenth-century books from collectors who had little interest in the earlier centuries.

He continued to insist on rare Americana, but he sought to remove any restrictions on date, particularly after the late Senator Vandenberg presented his copy of the United Nations Charter of 1945. Consequently, the Library forged ahead with acquisitions on the anti-slavery movement, overland narratives, Texas and the Mexican War, sporting books, Confederate imprints, and highlights of the late nineteenth and even early twentieth centuries. The Committee of Management did not halt the acquisition of such material, but it did not endorse a statement of policy that made room for material of more recent date. The new development was the subject of much fruitful discussion, without conclusion.

The Director's health became a matter of growing concern in 1949. His working day was shortened, but in the fall of 1950 he entered the University Hospital. His condition did not respond to treatment, and on January 4, 1951, he died. Other changes were in store for the Library. President Ruthven retired in 1951, and John W. Watling, a member of the Committee of Management and chairman of the executive committee of the Associates, died. Storm as Assistant Director carried on the administrative work of the Library during the difficult interim.

Adams' value to the Library can hardly be overstated. Chosen by Mr. Clements for the position, he worked closely with him for eleven years. He carried on with his contagious enthusiasm, quick perception, amazing knowledge of rare books, and insistence upon the special role of the Library. In January 1951, the Board of Regents adopted a resolution that said in part:

Under his guidance the Clements Library has attained, and maintained, the position envisioned for it by its donor as the repository of a unique collection of rare books and original documents relating to certain phases of American history and as a center for the researches of historians. Dr. Adams' rare personal qualities have contributed to this end… His acumen and scholarly judgment were usefully exercised in directing the acquisitions of the many additions to the Library which have been made since Mr. Clements' death, and his unfailing cordiality has given it an atmosphere of hospitality all too uncommon in an institution whose treasures must of necessity be jealously protected and safeguarded.

(R.P., 1948-51, p. 1174.)

The Clements Library Associates established in his memory a Randolph G. Adams Lecture, to be given each fall. The series opened auspiciously in October 1952, with Luther H. Evans, librarian of Congress, as the speaker. The next year Lawrence Clark Powell, librarian of the University of California at Los Angeles, addressed the Associates and their friends.

In 1952 the Committee of Management took up the task of re-examining the relationship of the Library to the University and of filling the vacant directorship. The new President of the University, Harlan Hatcher, had taken his place as chairman of the committee. Renville Wheat, Detroit attorney and a nephew of Mr. Clements, was appointed to succeed Mr. Watling. It was recognized that an era in the Library's growth had come to an end and the Committee of Management must take that more active responsibility. The Library was firmly established as a distinct and distinguished institution; the first director had shaped it according to the ideals of the founder and had fathered its dynamic growth. The committee proceeded slowly to orient its new members, to consult members of the Department of History and others, and to make sure of its own feelings and expectations about the Library in the University complex. In the summer of 1953 the Regents appointed Howard Henry Peckham, director of the Indiana Historical Bureau, who had formerly served the Clements Library as Curator of Manuscripts, as the second Director.

Surveys of the Library's holdings in certain fields revealed that serious lacunae in the early period still existed. Potentialities of the Library's growth and use were discussed. The capacities of the building were reviewed. Cognizance was taken of the fact that the book fund remained at the same figure as was originally granted in 1923, despite the great increase in prices of rare Americana.

Out of the committee's long deliberations and the recommendations of the Director, an acquisitions policy statement was framed: from University funds the Clements Library would collect the contemporary documentation on all aspects of American life, not merely political and military history, up to 1830, the terminal date to be subject to review from time to time. Frederick H. Wagman, the new Director of the University Library, co-operated by offering to transfer to the Clements Library early rare Americana not in special collections. An advisory committee on acquisitions was appointed from the faculties of those departments interested in the holdings of the Clements Library to advise the Director on desirable acquisitions in the fields of which they had expert knowledge.

In 1953-54 Mrs. Hubert S. Smith, of Bay City, gave her husband's collection of rare books and manuscripts on Anglo-American naval affairs to the Library. Mr. Smith had been a neighbor of Regent Clements and a fellow collector. This important gift consisted of five hundred manuscripts and three hundred books, in addition to certain items that could be sold in order to provide funds for further purchases.

At the end of 1953 the William L. Clements Library held approximately 35,000 books, 200,000 manuscripts, and 25,000 maps, in addition to newspapers and prints.

Howard H. Peckham


Adams, Randolph G.The Whys and Wherefores of the William L. Clements Library. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1925.

Clements, William L.The William L. Clements Library of Americana at the University of Michigan. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1923.

President's Report, Univ. Mich., 1923-54.

Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1923-54.

"William Lawrence Clements,"Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XXI.

The University of Michigan, an Encyclopedic Survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor. Pages 1402 - 1410.

History of the University of Michigan

Clements Library