University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The Story of the Seward Papers (Part II)

Volume XXXI · Autumn 1978 · Number 1
The Story of the Seward Papers (Part II)


The transfer of the William Henry Seward Papers from the old home in Auburn, New York, to the University of Rochester Library was one of the most interesting projects with which I was concerned when I was director of libraries at the University. Glyndon VanDeusen has described how this started when he was writing his biography of Thurlow Weed and was making frequent visits to the Seward home to study the Seward Papers.

Early in his association with the Sewards they indicated that they would be willing to have me come to Auburn with him to make a survey of the letters and documents and printed material in Mr. Seward's possession. So on many Saturdays, beginning in 1945, I went to Auburn with him. While he used the letters that were in bound volumes in the study, I went through the many trunks and boxes in the basement and attic of the house, and in storage rooms in the barn. A pleasant interlude on those days was lunch, which Mrs. Seward asked us to share with her and her husband. The conversation centered around Mr. Seward's grandfather and father. They were always referred to as "the Secretary" and "the General." Gradually, a feeling of mutual respect and trust developed. At the end of each visit I would show Mr. Seward the manuscripts and printed materials that I had found. After looking them over he would usually say that I could take them to the University Library. Occasionally he would keep a few items to look over more carefully.

The first group, 168 letters from Thurlow Weed to William Henry Seward, was placed in the University Library in the summer of 1945. Ninety-four additional Weed to Seward letters came a few months later, and further additions to the collection were made in 1947, 1948, and 1949. In the spring of 1949 it was reported that Rush Rhees Library had 623 letters in the collection of Seward correspondence. Most of these letters had been given to the Library by William Henry Seward III.

Following the death of Mr. Seward in 1951, the University Library received by bequest the bulk of the papers that remained in the Seward residence. The acquisition of the Seward Papers was celebrated by the University on April 25, 1952. Following a dinner for trustees, administrative officers, members of the Seward family, and other invited guests which was held at the Genesee Valley Club, a formal program was presented in Rush Rhees Library. Professor Harry J. Carman of Columbia University gave the address of the evening, entitled "William Henry Seward in Retrospect." President Cornelis W. de Kiewiet then accepted the bequest of the Seward Papers and invited the audience to inspect the room that had recently been arranged to house this valuable collection.

Mrs. Seward had been of great assistance in locating papers to be transferred to the Library in preceding years. Upon the completion of the large addition to Rush Rhees Library in 1969, she made a generous gift to the Library for the purchase of a very handsome teak table for the William Henry Seward Room, in the new space provided for rare books and manuscripts.

Why did the Seward Papers come to the University of Rochester? In part it was because the Sewards had great respect for Glyndon VanDeusen's integrity and ability as a scholar. In part it may have been because they felt that my years at the National Archives made me understand the importance of manuscript sources for scholarly research, and the need to organize them well to facilitate their use. No doubt the fact that the Thurlow Weed Papers, the George Washington Patterson Papers, and other valuable manuscript collections were already in the University Library made it appear to be the logical place for the Seward Papers to be kept.

Glyndon VanDeusen used the Seward Papers as an invaluable source when he was writing the biography of Seward that was published in 1967. Many other scholars have used the collection in their research, and many will use it in the future. All are greatly indebted to Mr. and Mrs. Seward for making this valuable collection available at the University of Rochester Library.


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