Guide to the Walter Lichtenstein (1880-1964) Papers

Collection Title: Walter Lichtenstein (1880-1964) Papers
Dates: 1908-1999
Identification: 9/1/8
Creator: Lichtenstein, Walter, 1880-1964
Extent: 2 Boxes
Language of Materials: English
Abstract: The Walter Lichtenstein Papers fill two boxes, spanning the years 1908 to 1999, with the bulk of the records falling between 1913 and 1918. They comprise two main types of materials: those accumulated by Northwestern University Library (mainly biographical, with some publications, correspondence, and reports relating to his job as Head Librarian), and those compiled by Ralph D. Wagner (Northern Illinois University) in the course of his research for an article entitled “Walter Lichtenstein in South America: Books, Voyages, and the End of a Career” (1988).
Acquisition Information: The Walter Lichtenstein Papers are comprised of materials from Accession 74-92(2), which were transferred from the Northwestern University Archives' Faculty Biographical Files; and Accessions 85-22, 85-36, 85-100, and 86-84—all donated by Ralph D. Wagner on February 1, 27, and June 11, 1985 and May 29, 1986, respectively.
Processing Information: Ingrid Steen Boyer; April 2002. Janet Olson; March 2003.
Separated Materials: A small amount of duplicate and extraneous material was discarded.
Conditions Governing Access: The following folders are restricted and can be consulted only with permission from the University Archivist: Department of Justice Reports, Resignation from Northwestern.
Repository: Northwestern University Archives
Deering Library, Room 110
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston, IL, 60208-2300
URL: http://www.library.northwestern.edu/archives
Email: archives@northwestern.edu
Phone: 847-491-3354

Biographical/Historical Information

Walter Lichtenstein was born on April 13, 1880, in Braunschweig, Germany, son of Joseph Lichtenstein and Rosa Elkan. Lichtenstein succeeded Lodilla Ambrose as Head Librarian at Northwestern University Library in 1908, a position he held for 10 years. Lichtenstein is best remembered for his extensive book-buying trips to Europe. He was forced to resign from the library amidst strong anti-German sentiment in 1918, at which point he joined the First National Bank of Chicago. Lichtenstein eventually became Vice President of the bank.

The Lichtenstein family immigrated to the United States when Walter was two years old. Upon their arrival in the United States, the Lichtenstein family resided in New Jersey. Walter was raised to be bilingual. He attended the Hoboken Academy, and then went on to New York University where he studied French and earned his Bachelors degree in Philosophy in 1899. From there, he began work at Harvard University. For several years, he was employed at Harvard's Hohenzollern Collection of German History. During this time, he made himself invaluable to Harvard's Head Librarian, Archibald Cary Coolidge, going on several book-buying trips to Europe. In 1907, Lichtenstein graduated from Harvard with a PhD in History.

On August 7, 1908, Lichtenstein was appointed Head Librarian of the Northwestern University Library, succeeding Lodilla Ambrose. In his ten years as Head Librarian, Lichtenstein increased the staff from eight to fifteen, catalogued 40,000 volumes, created a complete shelf list and inventory, and greatly improved the reference and bibliographic collections. In 1912, because of organizational changes at the University, all the departmental libraries were brought under Lichtenstein's control. Throughout his time at Northwestern, Lichtenstein worked to increase library funding, and was successful in changing accounting practices to increase funds for book buying. While at Northwestern, he constantly struggled with lack of adequate space in the Orrington Lunt Library. This was exacerbated by the forced economies of World War I.

Lichtenstein is perhaps best known in the library world for his important book-buying trips. In 1911 he traveled to Europe and in 1913 to South America. On this second trip, which lasted eighteen months, Lichtenstein purchased materials for Northwestern University, as well as for several other institutions, including Harvard University, the John Crerar Library at the University of Chicago, and the American Antiquarian Society.

In 1918, Lichtenstein was forced to resign from his position at Northwestern Library. While the administration presented financial reasons for their decision, it was surmised that the anti-German sentiment inspired by the war was most likely a major factor. In addition to this, there was considerable attention given to Lichtenstein's suspicious behavior while overseas. The perceived misconduct was such that a State Department investigation was initiated and Lichtenstein's passport was at one point seized. Although charges were eventually dismissed, the events caused permanent damage to his reputation at Northwestern.

Following his dismissal, Lichtenstein took a job at the First National Bank of Chicago, where he eventually became the Vice President. During his nearly 30 years at the bank, he became an expert on international banking. He retired from the bank in 1945. After his retirement, he remained an important figure in the international financial arena, serving in the Financial Institutions Division of the U.S. Military Government in Germany, consulting for International Harvester Company, and speaking and writing extensively. He retired from this second career in 1954 and was at that time appointed Honorary Curator of Harvard University Library. He died at the age of 83 on March 14, 1964 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was survived by his wife Gemma Baumgarten, and their two daughters, Gemma Rizer and Maxine Laves.

Scope and Content

The Walter Lichtenstein Papers fill two boxes, spanning the years 1908 to 1999, with the bulk of the records falling between 1913 and 1918. They comprise two main types of materials: those accumulated by Northwestern University Library (mainly biographical, with some publications, correspondence, and reports relating to his job as Head Librarian), and those compiled by Ralph D. Wagner (Northern Illinois University) in the course of his research for an article entitled “Walter Lichtenstein in South America: Books, Voyages, and the End of a Career” (1988).

Wagner donated his research materials to the Archives. These materials, mostly photocopies, include Lichtenstein's correspondence at Harvard, reports and correspondence from the Department of Justice, the German Foreign Office, and the US State Department, and, of course, a copy of Wagner's finished paper. Taken together, these materials document Lichtenstein's life at Harvard, his tumultuous career at Northwestern, and his success in the field of international banking after leaving Northwestern, with emphasis on his speaking and writing.

General biographical materials include entries from biographical dictionaries, records of affiliations with various organizations, minutes of meetings, and other miscellaneous items. These are arranged chronologically. The clippings folder contains short articles about Lichtenstein, as well as obituaries. Materials span the years from 1917 to 1973 and are arranged chronologically. Some information on family members and others associated with Lichtenstein are included.

Also included with the biographical materials is a folder containing the notes and correspondence of Northwestern University Librarian Rolf Erickson, who wrote several short biographies of Lichtenstein. This file, arranged chronologically, is comprised of Erickson's notes and his correspondence with Lichtenstein's family members (including interview transcripts) and various research facilities.

An article entitled “Building a Great Library: The Coolidge Years at Harvard” by William Bentinck-Smith (1976), with its frequent mentions of Lichtenstein, provides context for that phase of his life.

A file of correspondence relating to his time at Northwestern deals mainly with Lichtenstein's efforts to purchase a set of Library of Congress catalog cards for the Northwestern University Library and with questions about annual reports. Most letters date between 1908 and 1917. One letter, dated 1932 and supplying a correction to an article about the Library, reflects Lichtenstein's rather bitter attitude toward the University.

Walter Lichtenstein's publications span the years 1908 to 1945 and include published reports, addresses, and articles. Topics include library science, finance and foreign affairs. Also included are one book review (1945?) and copies of the cover pages of two works translated from the German by Lichtenstein. Documents are divided by type—reports, speeches, articles—and are arranged chronologically within folders. His momentous South American book-buying trip is described in two copies of the 1915 report “A Trip to South America.” (The second copy is annotated with names of booksellers?) Additional materials on his trip are found in the second section of the series.

Also of interest is an article entitled “The Jew in the Club,” which was published anonymously in the Atlantic Monthly (October, 1924). This article describes Lichtenstein's personal experience with anti-Semitism, with veiled references to Northwestern University. Also filed in this subseries is a bound copy of Lichtenstein's official report of his South American book-buying trip. Annual reports submitted by Lichtenstein regarding the state of the Library can be found in the President's Reports, 1908-1918, located in the University Archives.

Copies of the finding aids to the Walter Lichtenstein Papers held at Harvard University are contained in a separate folder.

Research materials donated by Ralph Wagner begin with “Walter Lichtenstein in South America: Books, Voyages, and the End of a Career”—in its first version as a graduate school paper and as a reprint from the journal Libraries and Culture (v. 23 no. 3, Summer 1988). Reports and other documents surrounding Lichtenstein's South America trip fill one folder and date between 1913 and 1976—including later articles citing the success of this trip.

General correspondence includes photocopies (from the Lichtenstein Papers at Harvard) of incoming and outgoing letters, the bulk of which fall between the years 1913 and 1915 and relate to Lichtenstein's South American book-buying trip. The folder dating from 1916-17 consists mostly of correspondence with Harvard's Coolidge, and deals with problems Lichtenstein was beginning to have at Northwestern University with accusations of being at best pro-German and at worst a spy.

Wagner's documentation of the investigation into Lichtenstein's suspicious activities includes photocopies of reports and correspondence supplied by the German Foreign Office, the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Foldered by agency, these copies are arranged in chronological order. The materials from the German Foreign Office include copies of both the German originals and translations by Wagner and two colleagues. A final folder documents Lichtenstein's resignation from Northwestern University in 1918 and consists of copies of pages from the Northwestern University Board of Trustees Minutes.

Subjects

Personal Name

Lichtenstein, Walter, 1880-1964

Subjects

Academic library directors--Illinois--Evanston

Bankers--Illinois--Chicago

German Americans--Illinois


Container List / Contents

  • Publications
    • “A Trip to South America” (Report to the President of Northwestern University), 1915Box 1, Folder 6
    • Speeches/Addresses, 1911-1941Box 1, Folder 7
    • Articles and translations, 1908-1945 (?)Box 1, Folder 8
    • Finding Aid to Lichtenstein Papers, Harvard University Archives, n.d., 2001Box 1, Folder 9
  • Ralph Wagner Research Material
    • “Walter Lichtenstein in South America: Books, Voyages, and the End of a Career”, 1986-1988Box 1, Folder 10
    • South America Trip, 1913-1976Box 1, Folder 11
    • General Correspondence, Mar-Jun 1913Box 1, Folder 12
    • General Correspondence, Jul-Dec 1913Box 1, Folder 13
    • General Correspondence, Jan-Jun 1914Box 2, Folder 1
    • General Correspondence, Aug-Dec 1914Box 2, Folder 2
    • General Correspondence, Jan-Apr 1915Box 2, Folder 3
    • General Correspondence, May-Dec 1915Box 2, Folder 4
    • General Correspondence, 1916-1917Box 2, Folder 5
    • German Foreign Office, 1914-1915Box 2, Folder 6
    • U.S. State Department, 1915-1917Box 2, Folder 7
    • U.S. Department of Justice Reports, 1917-1918Box 2, Folder 8
    • Resignation from Northwestern, 1918Box 2, Folder 9
  • Biographical Materials, 1907-1999Box 1, Folder 1
  • Clippings, 1917-1973Box 1, Folder 2
  • Rolf Erickson, Notes and Correspondence, 1962-1974Box 1, Folder 3
  • “Building a Great Library: The Coolidge Years at Harvard” by William Bentinck-Smith, 1976Box 1, Folder 4
  • General Correspondence (Northwestern), 1908-1932Box 1, Folder 5