Those of our readers with long memories may ask, “How can we celebrate 200 years in 2017, when we just celebrated 100 years in 1971?” This time, we celebrate the organization, in 1817, of the original committee charged with putting the cherished, but “back-burner” idea into action.
The Second Degree of Freemasonry enjoins us to be lovers of the liberal arts and lovers of learning. This is why, as early as 1787, the idea of a Masonic Library was formulated, and on “March 26, 1787, it was ‘ordered that the Treasurer buy every book for the use of this Lodge which may appear interesting on Masonry.’” [Proceedings: i.e. Reprint of the Minutes of the Grand Lodge F. & A.M. of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: The Grand Lodge, 1900), vol. XI, p. 404]. The Grand Lodge Library was founded in 1817. A resolution was made to establish a Masonic Library, and a committee was appointed by R.W. Grand Master Walter Kerr to devise the best means to establish it for the use of the members. R.W. Past Grand Masters Bayse Newcomb and Josiah Randall, as well as R.W. Grand Secretary Bernard Dahlgren, began by selecting documents from the Office of the Grand Secretary.
During the Annual Grand Communication of Grand Lodge on Dec. 27, 1864, there was some discussion that the Library should preserve a series of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania’s Proceedings, as well as the Proceedings of sister Grand Lodges, copies of our Ahiman Rezon, and all the printed By-Laws of the subordinate Lodges.
A Library Room was included in the plans of the current Masonic Temple, and a “Committee of Five” to oversee its collection was proposed at the June Quarterly Communication in 1871. By Dec. 5, the Library Committee had it first formal annual report full of happy news of donations from Grand Secretary John Thomson, as well as many Brethren both here and abroad. (Ibid. p. 348f). It is the 100th anniversary of this report that was celebrated in 1971. By 1872, the Library had acquired the 1734 Brother Benjamin Franklin’s reprint of Anderson’s Constitutions, and proudly took note of the first Grand Lodge publication: the 1783 Ahiman Rezon. (Ibid. p. 403).
The Committee was anticipating the dedication of this Masonic Temple in September 1873: “It is our desire, with the approval and sanction of the Right Worshipful Grand Master, to make the Library of the Grand Lodge the place most to be sought after by the intelligent and thoughtful Mason – a place where he can divest his mind of the cares of busy life and find subject matter to read and think upon which will tend greatly to elevate his thoughts, words and deeds.” It was a gentleman’s library where one could sit and read the current newspapers as well as engage in serious study.
The founding of the Museum in 1908, by Brother John Wanamaker, paved the way for use by all lovers of learning, as the Museum, and likely the Library, were opened to the Brethren, and during certain hours, to the general public. Brother Julius Friedrich Sachse became the first Librarian and Curator in 1908, holding the position until his death in 1919. Several others succeeded him, including William A. Carpenter (founding editor of The Pennsylvania Freemason; Librarian and Curator, 1961-1969; Grand Secretary, 1973-1979; and R.W. Grand Master, 1984-1985). Glenys Waldman, the first female and first professionally-trained librarian, was the last to hold the title of Librarian and Curator, 2000-2005. As the curatorial responsibilities of the Museum became more complex, Glenys Waldman became Librarian in 2005 and Brother Dennis P. Buttleman, Jr., joined as Curator the same year. Assistant Librarian Catherine L. Giaimo (since 1996) and Registrar Brother Michael Epstein (since 2015) complete the staff. The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania became a non-profit 501c(3) organization in 1990.
By 1951, a Circulating Library allowed books to be lent out to members of the fraternity to be read off-site. The Library was to be “….purely a Masonic Library and not to be considered as a public library…” (ibid, p. 175). This means it is a “specialized library,” having limited subject matter but in great depth. Thus, The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania is tailor-made for anyone interested in Freemasonry, history, philosophy, religion and works of art. It houses one of the finest collections representative of the immense amount of print and non-print material created for the illustration and study of Freemasonry, including works dating from 1489 to the present.
The 75,000-volume Library and 30,000-item Archives hold and collect histories of Masonry, biographies of Masons, philosophy, religion, architecture, histories of other fraternities and music (especially Lodge song books and recordings of works by Masonic composers, e.g. Mozart, Sousa, Berlin; and writings or works of art by Masons, e.g. C.W. Peale and William Rush). One can also find information on building materials and an extensive collection about, and examples of, many styles of architecture.
The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania holds items of “the loyal opposition”- a trove of anti-Masonic books and newspapers dating from the Morgan affair era (1826) to date, including information on the Anti-Masonic Party and essays by religious leaders.
There is an equal-sized collection of Masonic materials from “the pro-position” from as early as 1779. Sometimes to their own surprise, writers have found that their originally anti-Masonic position had to be revised. A case in point is “Fundamentalism and Freemasonry” (New York: M. Evans and Co. c1995) by (now Brother) Dr. Gary H. Leazer, whose original assignment was to write a study supporting the anti-Masonic views of his church.
The Library collection is complemented by the Museum and Archives collections, and conversely, printed works are also acquired specifically to support the Museum and Archives. For instance, a facsimile edition of the Book of Kells was bought specifically as background for the understanding of the decoration in Norman Hall; books on Egyptology aid in appreciating the decoration of Egyptian Hall, as well as providing background for the study of just one of the possible roots of Freemasonry.
Another important aspect of The Library and Museum is the answering of questions posed by Masons and non-Masons. More than 400 questions are answered by phone, email, letter and in person each year. Each time a patron has learned something with the help of the collection of The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania, another person’s life has been enhanced. The opportunity to begin or extend a research project or just to enjoy learning takes place here. May the learning continue!