Preserving the George Frederick Holmes Collection

From the archives…

In 1898, former students of Professor George Frederick Holmes raised $3,000 to acquire his library of over 3,000 books for the University of Virginia Library. This successful effort by alumni was one of the most significant contributions to restoring the core of the Library’s holdings after the 1895 Rotunda fire. Beginning in 1995, Associate Professor of Education Emeritus Ralph J. Stoudt, Jr. and his wife Barbara Holmes Stoudt endowed the Holmes Fund in 1996 “to reestablish the identity of the Holmes Library, to preserve volumes in the [Holmes] collection,” as well as “other volumes in the U.Va. Library.” Professor and Mrs. Stoudt’s special interest in the Holmes Library began in part because Mrs. Stoudt is the great-grandniece of Professor Holmes and has her great-grandfather’s papers which shed light on Holmes’ private life. Their fascination grew as they learned more about his scholarly life, character, and love of books.

Described by Harry Clemons as “a scholar of extraordinary range and knowledge,” Holmes was one of the most distinguished members of the faculty from 1857 when he was appointed the first professor of the School of History and General Literature until his death in 1897 when he was serving as Professor of Political Economy and the Science of Society. Prior to his service at U.Va., Holmes was on the faculty of the University of Richmond and the College of William & Mary and was the first president of the University of Mississippi. With great foresight, Professor Holmes proposed in March 1861 that the University undertake to acquire a special collection comprising “everything that should have a bearing on the great political dissilience of the formerly United States of America.” Although approved by the faculty, the project “died of inanition,” and it was not until 1930 that the University again systematically assembled and made available primary materials, much along the lines of what Holmes proposed.

A prolific writer on many subjects, Professor Holmes was friendly with many of the notable literary figures of his day. His library was well selected and especially strong in the classics, English literature, and history. Professor Stoudt, using the original inventory list, has identified the original Holmes volumes still in the U.Va. collection. Preservation Services, with the continued support of Professor and Mrs. Stoudt, has surveyed the condition of these books, which include unique copies annotated by Professor Holmes, and has targeted damaged materials in the collection for conservation treatment and protective enclosure. This effort, along with a broad mission to preserve and protect the general collection, honors Holmes’ legacy of scholarship and ensures that future patrons of the U.Va. Library will have access to a broad and distinguished range of scholarly works.

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