Celebrating Widener's First 100 Years

Over the last 100 years, Harvard’s scholars, patrons and staff have made as many discoveries and connections at Widener Library as there are books in its immense stacks. Launched with a single gift by Eleanor Elkins Widener in memory of her son Harry, Widener Library’s presence quickly became a touchstone for academic libraries and an integral part of life at Harvard. Learn more about its journey and its future.

An Abele Architect

Architectural drawing of the Widener facade

Letters held in the Harvard University Archives exchanged between [Harvard Librarian] Archibald Cary Coolidge and [architect] Horace Trumbauer May 7 and 10, 1913, represent extensive correspondence between Harvard administrators and Horace Trumbauer, the principal of the Philadelphia architectural firm chosen by Eleanor Widener to design Widener Library.

The correspondence hints at the presence (in planning and on campus) of the primary architect for the Widener project, Julian Abele, chief designer in the Trumbauer firm. Abele was the first African-American graduate of the department of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Largely uncredited for much of his career, Abele’s extensive portfolio includes several buildings on the Duke University campus, the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts, and mansions in Newport and New York.

Hours at Widener Expanded

Widener Library with Widener 100 Banner

Widener Library will remain open until midnight Monday through Thursday during academic year 2015-2016.

Widener Dream

Widener Library Stacks

I am a graduate of Harvard (Ph.D., 1992). I live in Beirut, Lebanon. Last night I dreamt of Widener Library. In fact, I dream rather often of it. I am going in and out of stacks, carrying books. It is always lovely.

—Nadia Maria El Cheikh

Life at Widener

Celebrants gathered at Widener memorial room for centennial event

View photos of Widener from the March 9, 1959 issue of Life magazine.

Celebration Snapshots

Celebrants gathered at Widener memorial room for centennial event

View select images from the June centennial celebration of Widener.

A Forbidden Fiction

A fan-created prop of the Necronomicron

In several of his stories, horror writer H.P. Lovecraft describes a “terrible and forbidden“ book, the Necronomicon, a tome that not only describes the ancient supernatural (or perhaps alien) beings referred to in his fiction as “the Old Ones,” but also outlines rituals for summoning the creatures.

In “The History of the Necronomicon,” Lovecraft states that a copy of the book can be found in the stacks of Widener Library. An invention of Lovecraft’s dark imagination, the book doesn’t actually exist. Still, every year, Widener librarians receive numerous requests for the esoteric grimoire.

Book containing speeches by Henry Cabot Lodge

“But this library, where all the accumulations of the University will have a dwelling place, has a significance which goes beyond that of which I have spoken. No other university and scarcely any state or nation possesses a library building so elaborately arranged as this, so fitted with every device which science and ingenuity can invent for the use of books by scholars and students. This is preeminently a student's library.“

—Henry Cabot Lodge at the dedication of Widener Library in 1915

Ode to the Library: Widener Turns 100

Narrated by John Lithgow ‘67, this visual love letter to libraries celebrates books and those who watch over them while marking the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, Harvard’s flagship library.

Widener’s Sustainable Future

Green Harvard Sheild

There is not a better place to illustrate the challenges of balancing historic preservation with energy efficiency and sustainability upgrades than Harvard’s Widener Library. The Library is a perfect example of how facilities managers have worked diligently to pursue upgrades that meet Harvard’s aggressive sustainability goals.

Read more from the Harvard Office for Sustainability.

Share Your Story

Be part of the online presence celebrating Widener Library's first 100 years. Share your most memorable Widener moments and images using this form and tag your social media posts about Widener Library with #widener100.


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You may also send stories via email to harvard_library@harvard.edu.

A Message from Sarah Thomas, Vice President for the Harvard Library

One hundred years ago, Eleanor Elkins Widener's vision for an enduring memorial to her son drove the creation of an unparalleled repository of knowledge. Her generosity and foresight in establishing the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library helped set Harvard on a path of leadership and innovation in research, teaching, and learning.

Today, Widener Library remains vital to the mission of the Harvard Library system as it evolves to meet the ever-changing needs of students, faculty, and scholars. Libraries are transforming: as they build their collections, they also build connections. Increasingly, research is interactive, multidisciplinary, and undertaken in groups. And, in the 21st century—a time so characterized by screens and technology—there is a hunger to engage with original artifacts, authentic objects with their unique history in the transmission of ideas.

Widener Library’s future lies in becoming a thriving center of modern scholarship and serving as a vibrant and welcoming destination for the Harvard community and the wider world of scholars.

Sarah E. Thomas signature
Sarah E. Thomas
Vice President for the Harvard Library and University Librarian
Roy E. Larsen Librarian for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences