70 Years of Lincoln at the University Library

This year the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections will celebrate the 70th anniversary of a significant event in our history. In 1951, two generous alumni, Harlan Hoyt Horner (1878-1965) and Henrietta Calhoun Horner (1880-1964), gifted the University of Illinois their extensive personal library of books and other materials documenting the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. With this donation came the founding of the Library’s Lincoln Room, predecessor to the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections.

Newspaper clipping of photo showing the Horners in the attic room in their home dedicated to their Lincoln library
Newspaper clipping from the Albany Times-Union, February 10, 1952. MS 1200 Harlan Hoyt Horner and Henrietta Calhoun Horner Papers.

Harlan and Henrietta Horner were graduates of the Class of 1901 at the University of Illinois. Following graduation, Harlan worked for the State of New York’s Department of Education, where, in 1909, he was tasked with publishing a pamphlet about Abraham Lincoln in honor of the centennial of his birth. This sparked Harlan’s initial interest in Lincoln, and he went on to study the former president extensively. Harlan was particularly interested in Lincoln’s relationship to the newspaper publisher Horace Greeley and, after he and Henrietta married in 1928, she developed an interest in researching Lincoln’s ancestry. The couple began collecting Lincoln materials as a hobby and for the creation of their own personal research library, which—over a period of 40 years—developed into a comprehensive collection of printed materials pertaining to Lincoln and his contemporaries.

In 1951, after discussions with University of Illinois Library administration spanning several years, the Horners finalized the gift of their Lincoln collection. With their generous donation, the couple intended to share their library with others interested in Lincoln, as well as memorialize their graduating class upon its 50th anniversary.

Lincoln Room book plate depicting an ox yoke and the text "Memorial to the Class of 1901 founded by Harlan Hoyt Horner and Henrietta Calhoun Horner"
Bookplate placed inside items donated by the Horners for the Lincoln Room. MS 1200 Harlan Hoyt Horner and Henrietta Calhoun Horner Papers.

Their donation would spur the creation of a dedicated Lincoln Room within the University Library, meant as a working library for students and scholars of Lincoln to turn to for answers to any question one might have about the 16th president. It brought together materials on virtually every aspect of Lincoln’s life, and while it wasn’t intended as a rare book library, it included many scarce and valuable items.

The Horners’ donation contained over 4,000 items, including books, pamphlets, photographs, and memorabilia. It consisted of biographies, bibliographies, and other scholarly materials, as well as books in foreign languages, fiction, children’s books, sermons, works by and about Lincoln collectors, books Lincoln was known to have read during his lifetime, first-hand accounts of Lincoln, and writings by Lincoln. In addition, the donation included 24 scrapbooks of Lincoln clippings and ephemera assembled by Henrietta.

The Lincoln Room was formally dedicated in 1953, in Room 424 of the Main Library building. In addition to housing the Horners’ donation, the Lincoln Room also held around 200 Lincoln-related items transferred from the Library’s own collections—including 3 original manuscripts penned by Lincoln, himself.

Photo showing the spines of a selection of Lincoln scrapbooks assembled by Henrietta Horner
Lincoln scrapbooks assembled by Henrietta Horner and included in the Horners’ donation. MS 1200 Harlan Hoyt Horner and Henrietta Calhoun Horner Papers.

Initially overseen by the History and Political Science Library (now the History, Philosophy & Newspaper Library), the Lincoln Room grew steadily over the next 30 years, in part due to an endowment established by the Horners. In 1982, with approximately 20,000 items in its collection, the contents were moved to a larger space and the room was rededicated. In 2006, the Lincoln Room and the library’s Illinois Historical Survey were merged, and the resulting unit became the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections, relocating to its current home on the 3rd floor of the Main Library.

The Horners’ endowment still provides a substantial portion of IHLC’s funding for the maintenance and acquisition of Lincoln-related collections materials each year. 70 years later, the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections strives to uphold the Horners’ intentions for their collection to serve patrons researching Abraham Lincoln, whether in-person or at a distance. While our reading room is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our staff is still available to assist with remote research and fulfill limited digitization requests. In the meantime, follow IHLC’s social media accounts to learn about a unique item from the Horners’ donation each month in 2021.

Select IHLC Resources:

MS 928 Lincoln Room Records

MS 1200 Harlan Hoyt Horner and Henrietta Calhoun Horner Papers, 1865-2011


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