The Library Connections

Essay by Anne Knafl and Nancy Spiegel

Knafl, Anne and Nancy Spiegel. "The Old University of Chicago in the New: The Library." Institutional repository, University of Chicago, Oct 11, 2019.

Read the story of how the old University of Chicago library came to reside in the Regenstein Library. See images of our sources below.

The founding of the Old University Library

University of Chicago. Annual catalogue. (Chicago: Church, Goodman & Cushing, 1860). Old University of Chicago Records, Box 5, Folder 1, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

The Old University of Chicago was incorporated in 1856. The first classes were held on September 9, 1858. In their Annual Catalogue for 1859-60, the University reports their Library has 2,000 volumes. Over the next twenty-seven years, the University grew its collection to approximately 7,000 volumes.

Old University of Chicago Library bookplate

Bookplate from the old University of Chicago Library

The books displayed in this exhibit represent a physical connection between the Old and new University of Chicago. They are part of the collection of the Old University of Chicago’s Library and are now part of the general collection of the Joseph Regenstein Library. Each bears a bookplate from the Old University of Chicago Library or acknowledgment of that gift. When a book from the old University of Chicago Library is located in the stacks, a note is added to the catalog record. You can browse through a list of these books.

Old University Library in the interim

When the original University closed in 1886, trustee John A. Reichelt purchased the entire collection with the intention of gifting it back to the University once reincorporated. In the interim, the books were held by the Baptist Union Theological Seminary. That they were entrusted to the Seminary reflects the close connection between these two institutions and presumption that the Seminary would bridge the gap between the old and new University of Chicago. The original text of this publication reports that the Old University Library consisted of 1,000 volumes. In the following year's publication, this number has been changed to 7,000 volumes. At some point, someone emended this text by writing a "7" over the "1."

gift bookplate from the Old University library

Mr. Pillsbury was an abolitionist and women’s rights activist, who sought to distribute his publications as widely as possible. This volume bears a book plate from the Old University of Chicago Library. It was likely donated to the library by the author. “I have sent a copy to every University, College, and Theological Seminary Library in all the Northern and Western Stares.” (Pillsbury to James Monroe, August 27, 1885, Monroe Papers, Oberlin College as cited by Stacey M. Robertson, Parker Pillsbury: Radical Abolitionist, Male Feminist [Ithaca: Cornell University Press], 183).

Preserving the Old University Library

There is disagreement about the number of volumes held at the Old University of Chicago Library when it closed in 1886. Estimates run from 1,000-10,000. Zella Dixson, the first librarian of the University of Chicago library in Hyde Park and first to process the collection, originally reported 10,000 volumes. In 1917, the Library reported there were 1,000 volumes in the collection, but this number likely reflects an error in the Seminary catalogue of 1886-87 (see above). The Baptist Union Seminary Library reported in its Catalogue for 1887-88 that the old University of Chicago Library collection was 7,000 volumes, likely the most accurate estimate.

Gift acknowledgment bookplate

Old University of Chicago Library bookplate next to gift acknowledgment plate.

The Old University of Chicago Library received a donation of the entire Bohn’s Classical Library from the Hon. H. M. Thompson in ca. 1870. Thompson served as the Librarian at the Old University of Chicago Library from 1870-1880. This volume bears a book plate from the Old University of Chicago Library, noting Thompson as the donor, as well as a book plate from the newly incorporated University of Chicago, with its characteristic crest featuring a phoenix.

Memorial bookplate for Hengstenberg collection

Original gift acknowledge bookplate for the Hengstenberg Collection.

This volume bears a bookplate from the Baptist Union theological Union specially made to honor the purchase of the Hengstenberg Collection. The plate is dated 1875, but the Hengstenberg Collection was purchased in 1869 and deposited at the Old University of Chicago in 1869/70, because the Seminary seems not to have had a dedicated space for a Library when it was located in Bronzeville. The Hengstenberg Collection was added to the Seminary in 1875 but became part of the new University of Chicago Library in 1890, when the Seminary was incorporated into the University and renamed the Divinity School. Entrusting a $60,000 collection to the University reflects the interconnectedness of the two institutions. The University was able to leverage its resources to raise the money for the Hengstenberg Collection and hold the collection until the Seminary was able to accept it, and finally absorb it into the reincorporated University at a later date.

Hengstenberg Collection held in trust at the University library

University of Chicago. Annual catalogue. (Chicago: Church, Goodman & Cushing, 1870), 35. Old University of Chicago Records, Box 5A, Folder 9, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

The Old University of Chicago and the Baptist Union Theological Seminary operated under separate charters, but both were run by the Baptist Theological Union. The seminary was founded in 1865 with the mission of providing theological education to students at the University interested in a career in ministry. For the first twelve years, the Seminary and the University overlapped extensively. This included sharing their neighboring campuses. Students at each institution were allowed to take classes at either institution and Seminary students could use the University library. In 1869, University trustee W.W. Everts facilitated the purchase of the Hengstenberg Collection for the Seminary, by raising the $60,000 needed. His son negotiated the initial agreement. Presumably because the Seminary lacked a dedicated space for a library, the collection of 12,000 volumes was “placed in the University buildings.”