Mortimer Rare Book Room History

Henry Latimer Seaver, 1878-1976

In April 1960, College Librarian Margaret Johnson wrote a memo about fundraising possibilities for the planned new Rare Book Room. At the top of her list of people who “have shown definite interest in the Rare Book Room through their gifts,” was Henry L. Seaver, a member of the architecture faculty at MIT. She noted that Seaver “has been one of our most generous donors since March 1948,” when he first revealed that his will stipulated that Smith College would receive “all of [his] books, autographs, prints, and pictures.” However, Seaver didn’t wait for his entire library to come here after his death; between 1948 and 1960 he donated more than 1250 volumes to Smith and sometimes bought items specifically for the Rare Book Room and Hillyer Art Library. He also designed and printed a special bookplate “in memory” of his wife Susan R. Seaver, Smith College class of 1901, to be used in his “best” books. (This wording is odd, since his wife did not die until 1964.)

After Seaver’s death in 1975, the remainder of his books and manuscripts came to Smith. Seaver’s donation of literary and historical manuscripts included nearly 100 letters and documents written or signed by participants in the French Revolution; he also amassed an extensive collection of manuscripts—substantial letters and documents, not just signatures—written by important U.S. political, historical, and literary figures. As Margaret Johnson summed up in 1960: “Certainly no one person has done more to add to the strength and beauty of [Smith’s] collections than Mr. Seaver.”

John Adams. Autograph letter to Mr. Gerry, 27 November 1778.