History 01

The Log Mark Hopkins Sat On: Lawrence Hall and the Men Behind It

The single quotation most associated with the history of Williams College is James Garfield’s opinion to the effect:  “The ideal college is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.”  Less often noted is that his remarks were made — not so epigraphically — in last-ditch defense of Hopkins at an alumni dinner at Delmonico’s in 1871, debating whether the venerable President of the College ought to be ousted after 35 years, for failing to revive the College’s fortunes following the decimation of the Civil War, for lax administration, and for being just too old and out of touch to respond to a world in the throes of immense change.  Within four months, Hopkins had resigned as president, though he continued to teach at Williams for another 15 years.

Truth be told, when it came to books, Mark Hopkins in his prime was little more than a bump on the log.  Personally, he was more likely to tend the College’s gardens than its book collections.  Nonetheless he was directly responsible for the first stand-alone library building on the Williams campus, the original Lawrence Hall octagon erected in 1846.  That’s the central story of this first chapter in the history of libraries at the College, but we should begin at the beginning.

While the Trustees were subverting the intent of Colonel Ephraim Williams’ will and changing his “free school” into a college in 1793, their original prospectus announced that “a decent library and apparatus would be immediately procured.”  And the next year — after Ebenezer Fitch had been recruited from Yale as the first President of the College, along with most of Yale’s philosophy and practices as well — they published a catalogue showing a collection of 360 volumes.  At that time the library was a small room on the third floor of the sole building, West College.  It was really just a walk-in closet, with every book reachable from one spot in the middle, but the only person allowed to remove or return a book from the shelves was the designated librarian, and then only one afternoon a week for juniors and seniors, and one other for freshmen and sophomores.

Use of the library was more like brain surgery than open access — one wanted to know that repository of knowledge existed, but one had to be very careful about digging into it.  The rules were explicit:  “No student shall presume to go to the shelves, to take down or put up any book, without express permission from the Librarian, and it is expected such permission shall seldom, if ever, be granted.”

It seems the collection of books was not augmented much in the College’s succeeding years of struggle for survival.  There’s an apocryphal story that the second President of the College, Zephaniah Swift Moore, absconded with some of the library’s books when he renounced Williams in 1821 and left the rural isolation of Williamstown, to establish Amherst College over in the Connecticut Valley.  That was probably just a rationale for the palpable inadequacy and antiquity of the collection.

President Edward Dorr Griffin came along as savior of the college, and also provided a better space for the library, in the building that now bears his name but was originally known as the Brick Chapel.  It was the first non-dormitory building on the campus and “symbolized the College’s rise from near-ruin,” to quote R. Craigin Lewis ’41 in Williams 1793-1993: A Pictorial History.  The chapel itself was in the space that is now Griffin 3, with its own entrance, one of two that were eventually replaced by the current central doorway, so disparaged by Frank Lloyd Wright, as retold by Professor Whit Stoddard ’39 in his Reflections on the Architecture of Williams College, from which most of the illustrative links in this essay come.

President Griffin is credited not just as initiator and fundraiser for the project, but also as architect and supervisor of the building in 1828, drawing on pattern books and existing buildings at Andover Theological Seminary (where he had served prior to Williams), to create what is to this day a signature building on campus.  The libraries of the College would continue to find space in the various rooms of Griffin Hall right through to their consolidation in Stetson Hall in 1921.

Among the notable accomplishments of President Griffin’s administration was the hiring of the Hopkins brothers, Mark ’24 and Albert ’26, who together would form the backbone of the College for the next half-century.  Declining health forced Griffin to step down in 1836, and after being turned down by the favored candidates, the Trustees followed the petition of the senior class and offered the Presidency to the popular young professor, Mark Hopkins.  One Trustee is reported to have said, “If the boys want him, let them have him!”

And the boys did have him, for many terms and generations, for 36 years as President and as professor of moral philosophy till his death in 1887.  He in turn was very fatherly toward them, as much as to his own eight children.  He was everywhere and into everything on campus, and would visit students in their rooms.  This was no doubt reassuring to rural youths away from the farm for the first time, though I suspect today’s students would be creeped out if Morty Schapiro started showing up in their dorm rooms in the evening.

Hopkins’ inaugural address laid out his program:  “It is easy to see what it is that constitutes the first excellence of an instructor.  It is not his amount of knowledge, nor yet his facility of communication, important as these may be; but it is his power to give an impulse to the minds of his pupils, and to induce them to labor.  For this purpose, nothing is so necessary as a disinterested devotion to the work, and a certain enthusiasm which may act by sympathy on the minds of the young.”  He wanted a “safe” college, meaning “sound religious teaching, the absence of doctrinal innovation, and the predominance of piety over intellect,” according to Professor Frederick Rudolph ’42 in Mark Hopkins and the Log. (1996 reprint with bicentennial appendix, hereinafter FR, p.33)

At that time, the President of the College taught the seniors in a year-long course on “An Outline Study of Man” that began with the known facts of body and mind and progressed to revelation of supernatural purpose.  While less than fully informative, Hopkins’ teaching did encourage his students to think for themselves, if only to reason their way to his preordained God-given answers.  As he said himself:  “It is pleasant to see young men study well, but that is nothing to seeing them inquire earnestly and practically what God placed them in the world for, and giving themselves up to do his will.”

As Prof. Rudolph notes, Hopkins “was animated by no unsatiated ambition, no unanswered questing, no far-ranging visions” and “won a place in the history of American education, not because he was learned but in part because he considered himself and his task as beyond the realm of learning — in that nobler area where the souls of men, especially young men, were touched with moral truth.” (FR, p.27)



In January 1844 he developed the themes of his senior course into a series of twelve lectures at Lowell Institute in Boston, titled “The Evidences of Christianity.”  He offered a reassuring message of orthodoxy in the face of skepticism and transcendentalism, finding room for the old faith and the new hopes of a burgeoning nation in his own idea of progress, combining the optimism of the era with a pessimistic awareness of the world’s sins.  He was an immediate sensation, and embarked on an intermittent career of peripatetic lectures.


But those first lectures made a deep impression on one listener in particular.  Retired magnate Amos Lawrence was not one for the “Jack O’ Lantern philosophy of these geniuses, like Emerson,” with their “fooleries … talkativeness & vanity … transcendental vagaries.”  Liking what he heard from the President of Williams College, he put his money where his mouth was and sent his son to Mark Hopkins’ hotel room with a no-strings benefaction of $5000 for the college, following up with another $5000 later that year, and $10,000 the next.


At a commemorative service for Amos Lawrence in 1853, Mark Hopkins told the story of how Lawrence Hall came to be built, and I quote Prof. Rudolph’s delightful (and telling) retelling at some length:


“One cold day in January 1846 the president of Williams was enjoying a drive through Boston with Amos Lawrence, the millionaire merchant-manufacturer and philanthropist who four years before had decided to spend his declining years translating his fortune into good works.  Did Hopkins want anything for the college, Lawrence wondered.  No, the Williams president could not think of a thing.  The next day, however, he remembered that the trustees had voted to build a library if it could be done for $2500.  He then told Lawrence, yes, come to think of it, the college had been thinking about building a library; perhaps Mr. Lawrence might be interested.  ‘I will give it’ was the ready answer with which Lawrence, in the course of a year, added a $7000 library to the plant of Williams College.” (FR, p.175)

It is entirely characteristic of Mark Hopkins that for him the need for a library was an afterthought, and Lawrence himself had to urge him to think bigger, “feel at liberty to prepare such a building as you will be satisfied with and as will do credit to your taste and judgement 50 years hence.”  If only. . .

Hopkins once asserted to a distinguished Williams professor, “You read books; I don’t read any books; in fact I never did read any books.”  And he admitted to another “It is now long since I have read anything but newspapers.”  Though he taught metaphysics for decades, he never got past a few paragraphs of Kant.  According to a student’s notes, Hopkins lectured that “One danger in much reading is that of encumbering the mind with thoughts of others, and thus destroying individuality.”  In fairness, Hopkins was a true proponent of the Socratic method in teaching, and Socrates himself was no champion of reading or writing either.

Even after Lawrence Hall was built, in a manner that failed to maximize its planned capacity, Hopkins pronounced that “it will hold all the books the Institution will ever be likely to want.”  As Prof. Rudolph observes of him:  “The advantages of being unread and unashamed, indeed, far outweighed the disadvantages.  He could endear himself to a man of affairs like Amos Lawrence” by telling a story about a professor whose friends remarked on his small library, to which he riposted, “If I had as many books as they, I would know as little.” (FR, p.29)

Amos Lawrence, committed to the stewardship of wealth, continued his benefactions to Williams College until his death in 1852, but only set foot on the campus once, in the summer of 1851, when he pronounced himself most pleased with how his money had been spent.  Mark Hopkins had in turn shown his gratitude by naming one of his sons Amos Lawrence Hopkins, again not what you would expect from a modern day college president, no matter how generous the donor.  Truly, this was the meeting of minds that defined Williams in the pre-Civil War years.

To build their library, Hopkins and Lawrence turned to two men.  Professor Charles C. Jewett, the librarian of Brown University (and eventually Librarian of Congress), was one of the real experts of the day, having traveled to Europe to study libraries and new theories of layout and cataloguing.  Thomas Tefft was a 20-year-old architectural draftsman just beginning his education at Brown, who supplied the designs for Jewett’s theories.  The Greek Revival octagon was the first building on campus to follow a revival style, as well as echoing the octagonal shape of the observatory built in 1838 by Albert Hopkins.

Construction began in May 1846 and was completed for the fall term in 1847.  When it opened, Lawrence Hall was the first building on campus to be named for a person.  Mark Hopkins’ main contribution to the project was laying out the adjacent garden.  The building was 40 feet high and 44 feet across, and each of the eight sides was 19 feet long, made of brick with a rusticated base and pilasters at each corner, and an entablature at the cornice level.  Each of the sides had a tall, arched window on the upper level, with windows below on the entry level, except for the side with the doorway, which entered on the service level and ascended a circular staircase to the rotunda level.

Prof. Jewett describes the interior of his library design thus:  “It is lighted from the sides and the top; is cheerful, airy, and elegant.  In the center is a circular colonnade of eight Ionic pillars, from which springs a dome, surmounted by a lantern.  The cases for the books are to be placed against the wall, and radiating from the columns to the corners of the octagon, thus dividing the room into eight alcoves and a circular area in the center.  One of the alcoves contains a circular staircase.  The shelves as first built are only seven feet high, and will contain say 10,000 volumes.  When more shelves are required, a light iron gallery is to be laid upon the top of the cases.”  Thus two more levels of shelves could be added, served by an extension of the circular staircase.  “The librarian’s desk is in the center: from it he can see, by turning around, every person and every book in the room.”  This was referred to as a “panoptic” design.

Jewett noted that the Library’s current 7,000 volumes were augmented by nearly that many in the student-run libraries of the Philologian and Philotechnian Societies, and that many of the most valuable volumes in the library collection had been donated by Mr. Lawrence himself.  He adds: “There is no fund appropriated to the increase of the Library, but all its income is derived from the charge made to the students for its use.  [40 cents per term for underclassmen and 50 cents for upper.]  The yearly expenditure for the Library is less than $200; but there is great need of more ample provision for its immediate and constant enlargement.  During term-time, the Library is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays.”

Unfortunately, Jewett’s design was not followed, with the original shelves built to a height of twelve feet and additional levels never added.  Even more unfortunately, the library’s collections were slow to grow to the initial capacity of 10,000 volumes.  But as Prof. Rudolph points out, “The little, untended, and uninviting library of Williams College was as good as Mark Hopkins and his contemporaries needed to fulfill their purposes.”  (FR, p.61)

The inadequacies of the College’s library were mitigated, as were many other inadequacies, by the collective efforts of the students themselves in various organizations.  The literary societies that formed the Adelphic Union — Philologian and Philotechnian — were founded at the same time as the college and developed in parallel.  Prof. Rudolph recounts that, “In those societies, and their libraries, debates, exhibitions, and literary exercises, an extracurriculum grew alongside the prescribed course, the difference being that the literary societies engaged their members in the issues and events of the day (slavery, social inequality, prisons) and made available to them such authors as Cooper, Dickens, and Hawthorne, who could not find their way into the narrowly defined college library.” (FR, p.251)

The Union also brought Ralph Waldo Emerson to Williamstown for a lecture, but he was entirely too radical for the Hopkins administration and was not allowed to lecture on campus, but rather in the town’s Methodist church.  Until the Civil War, the libraries of the literary societies had just about as many volumes as the college library, and were much more in harmony with student tastes and interests.  “For in this area they happily provided the tools which served the intellect — which the college would serve only incidentally — and tools which met the demands of fashion.”  (FR, p.75)

Similarly, it was up to the student-run Lyceum of Natural History to create a science library when the now-vanished Jackson Hall was built for it in 1855, and in the 1860s students organized a reading room with current periodicals, which lasted for a decade.  By 1867 the college library may have broken down and acquired its first fiction volumes, sets of Scott and Dickens, but still the student societies were the only place to find contemporary literature.

In exploring the College Archives –before it had to close its Mabie reading room for the duration of the move to its home in the new library (a partial and temporary collection will open for the interim next September in the Southworth School building) — thanks to archives assistant Linda Hall, I came across several student impressions of the libraries of Williams that I would like to share at some length.  In the Williams Quarterly of March 1858, an anonymous student, apparently a jaded senior, offers an amusing tour of “Our Libraries.”  Revealingly, he begins with the student libraries:

“We remember a certain Saturday afternoon, many years ago, when, under the guidance of an affable Junior, we ascended the gorgeous staircases of South College, and entered, for the first time, the halls of the Literary Societies.  We were young and fresh in those days; the sun shone brighter than it does in these later times; the colors of the rainbow were more brilliant than now; and the Philotechnian carpet was newer than it is to-day.  Well do we remember the delight with which we viewed those far-reaching lines of books that adorned the walls with the splendors of the binder’s art, and the pleasure we promised to ourselves during the coming years in which we should enjoy the privilege of drawing books from the ’Technian Library.”

Nonetheless our fellow finds much to disparage in the administration of the societies’ libraries, but hear what he says as he moves along:  “With reverential air and solemn step we approach that venerable, fossil collection known among men as the College Library.  Here, in the pillared alcoves, and under the spacious dome of Lawrence Hall, are mouldering some nine thousand volumes; of which, the majority, we believe, are coeval with the foundation of the college itself.  We do not hesitate to say that our college library is a full century behind the wants of the present age.  Its moth-eaten encyclopedias and magazines were printed when modern science was in its infancy… Its volumes of history, travel, and classical literature, are worn and tattered with age; so much so, indeed, that fully one-half the contents of the alcoves are valuable to the antiquarian alone.

“This is a bad state of things; but it might be endured if the books, such as they are, were accessible.  On the contrary, however, the powers that be, out of tender regard, no doubt, for the dilapidated condition of their charges, have rendered so difficult the search for treasures in Lawrence Hall, that it is only as a last resort that undergraduates can muster courage for the exploration of the college library.”  He then outlines a classic collegiate Catch-22, in which the only access is through a printed catalogue that does not include recent acquisitions, and browsing of shelves is prohibited, so there’s no way to ask for what’s newly available.  He also complains, “It is a commonly received tradition that, in a dismal vault, under the library, where profane collegiate eyes have never penetrated the gloom which shrouds the inquisitorial sessions of the Trustees at commencement time, there are laid up many rare and valuable tomes — the gift of the late Amos Lawrence.”

Those complaints are echoed in a Williams Weekly editorial of June 7, 1888:  “It is undeniable that our library, as it is, offers a poor assortment of books to the needs of the student of today.  Upon consulting the catalogue we find, for instance, that the list of Theological Works and Treatises covers twenty-eight pages, while History is granted a scant fifteen.”  He goes on in a similar vein, but the point of the editorial is to consider the proposition that “the libraries of the Philotechnian and Philologian societies be made over to the college library.”  The editorial suggests the benefit of a compromise that would make the more popular books more available, as long as the college library would allow lending over vacations.

Apparently no such compromise was reached, since in The Williams Graphic of June 1923, there is a well-written eulogy to “The Lost Libraries”:  “Surely any one who has ever lived in Berkshire Hall remembers going, on some auspicious day, through the long basement corridor until he came to a wooden grating behind which were shelves of books covered an inch thick with dust and cobwebs.  The first time I saw them, I drew one out between the wooden bars and opened it to find a white paper bookplate with “Philotechnian Library, Williams College” printed on it.  Another book had a bluish-green label — “Philologian Library. . .”  The writer then delves into the history of the societies’ libraries, which had remained intact till 1907, when South College became Fayerweather and the books were moved into basement storage.  He discovers that the Union had offered its books to the college in 1869 on the condition that the College establish and maintain a reading room, and from the perspective of the newly-built Stetson Hall, he marvels that the College once lacked such.  He then does his own exploring through the antiquarian treasures in hand, and concludes “So it seems to me but right and just that the collection be given by the Adelphic Union to the College, to be used as seems fit.”  Wonder if that ever happened?

To return to the Hopkins administration — at the end of his tenure, enrollment was just what it had been at the beginning, 119 after reaching a high of 240 just before the Civil War.  So it was due to the exertions of the students and by no means to President Hopkins that,  “Unquestionably what had been in 1836 a college for poor aspiring clergymen had become, by 1872, an institution strongly marked by wealth, fashion, city manners, and all the other requirements of worldly success.” (FR, p.72)

“To the dismay of Mark Hopkins, intellect — in the form of standards and libraries and scientific equipment — was seeking recognition at Williams with an embarrassing persistence during the last years of his presidency.”  (FR, p.223)  And at the inauguration of his successor, he fired this parting shot, “There is a false impression in regard to the benefit to undergraduates of the accumulation of materials and books,” and made a final plea to the ideal of the log, on which “inspired teaching molded young men of good character rather than of accomplished scholarship.” (FR, p.237)

The hand-picked successor was Paul Chadbourne, who graduated from Williams in 1848, and taught there till 1867, when he became President of the University of Wisconsin, only to return when the call from Hopkins came in 1872.  He labored for nine years in the shadow of the old man, and of his own ill health, but still managed to raise enrollment to a new high of 253.

Franklin Carter ’62 returned from Yale to take up the reins in 1881 and provide much more dynamic leadership.  He became known as a builder in more ways than one, and oversaw the building of six structures that transformed the campus — Morgan Hall, Lasell Gymnasium, Hopkins Hall and the three Thompson science labs, all in time for the College’s centennial celebration.  According to Prof. Rudolph, he was the college’s first scholar-president, and in 1890 led “the transformation of the library from a sleepy repository of unused books to a vital and central element of academic life [that] moved the college closer than ever to being an institution of learning.”  (FR, p.252)  President Carter also transformed the curriculum and faculty, importing the seminar method and increasing the number of elective courses.  Seminars and paper assignments magnified demands on the library over and above the time-honored (or time-bound) lecture-textbook-recitation format of courses.

R. Craigin Lewis neatly sums up the Carter effect on the library:  “Franklin Carter took a fresh look at the library in 1882 and found it deficient in every department.  Its 19,000 volumes were heavily theological.  The building was open only 20 hours a week.  A trained scholar accustomed to working with the best sources, Carter set out to create a new library worthy of Williams … [He] began buying the latest books and periodicals in the neglected branches of learning — ‘especially in the departments of philosophy, history, ancient languages, and the modern classics,’ Carter said.  The pace quickened when Charles Henry Burr became the first full-time librarian in 1888.  Then after securing $40,000 in funding, Carter presided over the addition of two new wings to the Lawrence library.” (RCL, p.106)

That funding came partly from Frederick Ferris Thompson ’56, who had already supported the building of Hopkins Hall and the science labs, and whose widow would endow the Thompson Memorial Chapel.  Twenty years later, Librarian Burr would look back on the situation he came into:  “The original Lawrence Hall of 1847, a plain, severe octagon, remained practically unchanged.  The primitive and inadequate furnace, the entire absence of lighting facilities, the lack of any provision for cataloguing or clerical work, limited the hours of use, and comfort in using.  The Library was open five hours each week day in term time.  In vacations, during the absence of the Librarian, the key to the building was left at the President’s residence to be borrowed as required.”

The new wings allowed the library to expand study space and access, with the reading room now open for 60 hours a week, including Sunday for the first time.  The college library had finally become “an efficient educating power,” according to distinguished professor Arthur Latham Perry.  But even at that, it was barely five years before further expansion was being considered, but never realized.  The chapel room in Griffin Hall had to be converted to library space in 1904, as were areas of Goodrich Hall, so the libraries of the College would soon need another new home of their own.  After Stetson Library opened in 1922, Lawrence Hall went through four more additions over the years to become today’s Williams College Museum of Art, where the original rotunda is still a very impressive space.

In outlining his view of the three eras and three cultures of Williams College history, Prof. Rudolph notes:   “In the Christian era the leading private benefactor, Amos Lawrence, was drawn to Williams by his regard for the steady Christian faith and inspiring preaching of Mark Hopkins.  In the gentleman’s era the great benefactor was Frederick Ferris Thompson, who, as an undergraduate, had transferred from Columbia to Williams for the purpose of founding a chapter of his Greek letter fraternity and for whom he eventually built a great stone citadel of privilege.” (FR, p.243)  The subsequent era of the “consumer’s college” has come to rely on the collective generosity of alumni, in effect satisfied consumers.

As will be evident in the next installment of this history, it was a group of very eminent gentlemen who provided the wherewithal to create a library suitable to a “gentleman’s college” — namely, Stetson Hall.