125th Anniversary exhibits

January: Calvin Coolidge and Forbes Library

Calvin Coolidge Governor portrait

January's topic is the role of Forbes Library in the life and law career of Calvin Coolidge.  Learn about Charles Forbes' book collection (on display in the Watson Room bookcases), their use by Calvin Coolidge to study and read law and how President Coolidge and Librarian Joseph Harrison created the only Presidential Library in a Public Library.

Charles Forbes, lawyer, judge, life long learner d. 1881 and bulk of his estate went to establish a public library

Forbes Library opened in 1894 (celebrating our 125th year!)

Charles Cutter 1st librarian - innovative with open browsing stacks to learn, study, explore, circulated artwork, built collection of art, music.  

Calvin Coolidge graduated from Amherst College in 1895 and moved to Northampton to study and clerk in the law firm of Hammond and Field.  Coolidge read law for 2 years and passed the bar exam in 1897. Mr. Field was a Trustee at Forbes Library and encouraged Coolidge to obtain a card and use Forbes Library, especially Mr. Forbes law books.  The public library book collection was an essential part of Coolidge’s law training. Coolidge’s relationship with his town public library was unique.

Joseph L. Harrison was the Librarian of Forbes Library 1912-1950.   As Coolidge’s political career advanced, Harrison was collecting Coolidge materials as part of his commitment to documenting and collecting local history.  Harrison and Library Assistant Imogene Prindle (also a Coolidge neighbor on Massasoit Street) worked with the Coolidge family and Coolidge staff to keep adding to the collection.  Harrison worked with President Coolidge’s staff to have 4 Army trucks of materials sent to Forbes Library when Coolidge left office in 1929 and in 1956 Grace Coolidge dedicated the Coolidge Memorial Room at Forbes Library as a permanent memorial and home for the Coolidge archive.  

Coolidge was a lifelong learner and advocate for books and libraries:

“In spite of all the other facilities books are the principal permanent repository of knowledge and culture.  An individual may progress without books, but the people as a whole are dependent on them. Where there is the most leisure and the least outside diversion the need for books and the benefits from them are greatest.  Provision for rural libraries would be a public service of the first importance”

From the syndicated newspaper column “Calvin Coolidge Says” April 30, 1931