In the age of eReaders and online libraries, the story of books gets lost. Not the story within the book, which is arguably more permanent, but rather the story contained on its faded pages, in its stretched spine, on its battered covers.
Hamilton’s Burke Library has an impressive selection of rare books and other special collections; of particular note are the Ezra Pound Archive and the abundance of Adirondack-related acquisitions. Christian Goodwillie, director and curator of Special Collections and Archives, is currently working on cataloguing a recently procured collection: The John Quinn and Jeanne Robert Foster Library, a generous gift from Jim and Carol McCord.
The collection was started by John Quinn (1870-1924), a New York lawyer, art patron and avid collector of original manuscripts. Quinn’s close friend, Jeanne Robert Foster (1879-1970), who herself was an Adirondack poet, helped Quinn acquire much of his collection of art and literature. Quinn and Foster were also close friends with Ezra Pound, while Foster also knew the likes of Ford Madox Ford and William Butler Yeats, among others. The McCords described the library as “including books Foster was given by Quinn, or inherited from him, as well as books she collected herself.”
Upon her passing, Foster left the collection, along with many other items associated with the Yeats family, to William M. Murphy, a close friend of Hamilton’s twelfth president, David Worcester (1907-1947). Murphy met Foster while the two were serving as members of the Schenectady Public Housing Authority in the 1950’s. In 1985, Murphy published an essay in The Craft of Literary Biography, titled “John Butler Yeats,” which describes their first meeting, their relationship, and their friendship.
When Jeanne Foster died in 1970, the collection moved to the Murphys’ home in Schenectady. When William died in 2008, it passed to his wife, Harriet. William Murphy and Jim McCord were colleagues at Union College, fostering a relationship that grew even after William’s death. The McCords then took it upon themselves to help Harriet “with the considerable task of dealing with and caring for all the books her husband had accumulated over his lifetime.”
Jim McCord described their work: “We began organizing and sorting the thousands of books and preparing them for possible sale. This was a special time for us and Tottie [Harriet], with Carol and I going to the Murphy house a time or two a week, enjoying a late breakfast and talking together before Carol and I would go upstairs and work for a few hours to organize the libraries.” In 2012, Harriet passed away, leaving the collection to her three children.
The McCords then worked with William and Harriet’s son, Christopher Murphy, “to find buyers for the books and other items that [William] had received from Foster.” However, the McCords were honored in October of 2012, when they were given the Quinn/Foster library “as a generous thank you from Chris and his sisters.” The McCords then set about finding the best home they could for the collection.
In October of 2014, Janelle Schwartz ’97, visiting assistant professor of English and creative writing, attended a gathering at Union College’s Kelly Adirondack Center, where she met Lorie Wies, librarian and archivist at Union’s Adirondack Research Library. There they shared their mutual interest in Jeanne Foster, which Lorie later mentioned to Jim McCord. With their newly gained collection, the McCords had no plan other than “to honor the wishes of William and Harriet Murphy and their three children.”
In accordance with this wish and through communication with Goodwillie and Schwartz, the McCords generously donated the entire Quinn/Foster Library to Hamilton. To honor the collection’s history, each book will have a bookplate that presents the names of the collection’s former caretakers: Quinn & Foster, Murphy & McCord.
Given its connection to the park, a portion of the collection will be housed in Keene, the site of Hamilton’s new Academic Program in the Adirondacks. The McCords stated that they are “as pleased as anyone can be about the library being in Special Collections at Hamilton and a selection being in Keene.” Schwartz added that she is “very excited to be able to tie our library and research tools intimately to our new Adirondack semester.”
Furthermore, Schwartz has been working on creating the Carol Rupprecht Memorial Library at the Keene site. Rupprecht was a professor of comparative literature at Kirkland College, and later Hamilton, for a total of 33 years on the Hill. Schwartz was fortunate enough to have Rupprecht as a mentor and is currently speaking with Pete Suttmeier, Rupprecht’s husband, “to create [the Memorial Library] at our program site, that will house a significant portion of Carol's personal library, including her extensive collection of Adirondack literature, and works on dreams and dreaming.” The fact that the collection will be located in Keene is particularly fitting, Schwartz added, because “Carol lived in Keene Valley -- just a few miles from our current program site -- for about three decades, and was very involved in the communities there.”
The Hamilton community is lucky to have a collection with such rich history and close ties to the Adirondack park, as well as connections to former community members, like Pound and Rupprecht. The collection was delivered to Hamilton on April 29, and is now being catalogued and sorted by Goodwillie and Schwartz who “have plans to use it in the most open and beneficial ways for students, faculty, scholars,” the McCords explained.