Freedom's Fortress

About This Collection

The Archival Collections

Freedom’s Fortress: The Library of Congress, 1939-1953 takes its title from Lucy Salamanca’s book Fortress of Freedom: The Story of the Library of Congress (1942).  The presentation is based on four collections housed in the Library’s Manuscript Division. The Library of Congress Archives, the primary collection, contains the historically valuable records of the Library of Congress that dramatically chart the development of the Library’s buildings, collections, and staff. Encompassing more than three million items, these records are an invaluable resource for scholars. The three other collections are the personal papers of Felix Frankfurter, Archibald MacLeish, and David C. Mearns—important figures in the history of the Library of Congress.

The Archives

Early records in the Archives include the correspondence of the Librarians of Congress from 1846 until 1940. This correspondence is complemented by the Central File, which spans the administrations of John Russell Young (1897-99), Herbert Putnam (1899-1939), Archibald MacLeish (1939-44), and Luther Harris Evans (1945-53). Other items of special interest are the ledgers, receipts, and correspondence describing the construction of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building.

The Archives also contain fourteen volumes of General Orders—the official statements of Library policy and procedures. Annual accountings of the Library’s acquisitions, services, and other activities are found in the reports of the divisions and the departments of the Library. These accounts form the basis for the Librarian’s printed annual reports to the Congress. The Archives also house a draft of History of the Library of Congress, 1897-1939. Prepared by Frederick B. Ashley, former Superintendent of the Main Reading Room (1915-27) and former Chief Assistant Librarian (1927-36), the history tells of the development of the Library of Congress into a national library.

The papers of Felix Frankfurter, Archibald MacLeish, and David C. Mearns consist of correspondence, diaries, memoranda, notes, speeches, and writings. Their papers provide insight into the workings of the Library of Congress during the years covered by Freedom’s Fortress.

The Digital Collection

Freedom’s Fortress, The Library of Congress, 1939-1953 tells the story of the Library of Congress during a momentous period.  The two Librarians of Congress during and just after World War II, Archibald MacLeish (October 2, 1939-December 19, 1944) and Luther Harris Evans (June 30, 1945-July 5, 1953), re-evaluated and considered anew the role of the Library of Congress vis-à-vis the nation’s information needs.  Archibald MacLeish established the Library’s service canons, reorganized the Library, and placed its great resources at the disposal of the nation. Luther Harris Evans expanded services, increased emphasis on the acquisition program, and elevated the Library’s international role.

The two men had no doubts about the Library’s role during this period. The Library of Congress became in the words of Lucy Salamanca a “fortress of freedom.” In his foreword to her book Fortress of Freedom: The Story of the Library of Congress (1942), Archibald MacLeish wrote: “World events have made the Library of Congress more important now than it has ever been. Today it is, physiologically speaking, the nerve center of our national life…Every resource at its command is strained for national service to an extent neither possible nor necessary in the past.”

Comprising 209 items drawn from the Library Archives and other Manuscript Division collections, the online presentation includes correspondence, photographs, documents, and other materials which detail this important time in the Library’s history. These items offer a glimpse into the administration of the Library of Congress, the building of the Library’s collections, the Library’s outreach program, and the role of the Library’s staff.