Rotunda & Memorial Room (Mezzanine)

Harry Elkins Widener & His Collection

Harry Elkins Widener, Harvard class of 1907, was an accomplished book collector who perished at age 27 when returning from Europe on the ill-fated Titanic. His mother, who survived the shipwreck, arranged to donate his book collection to Harvard (as Harry had always intended), along with a library building to house the collection. Learning of the university's need for more library space, Mrs. Widener committed $2 million to the construction of a building to house the whole university library collection. The library was designed by the architectural firm of Horace Trumbauer. Notably, the designer of the library was one of the few African American architects of the era, Julian Abele.

The Memorial Room

  • The Memorial Room houses all but a few volumes of Harry's collection, including first editions of Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson. The collection is curated by the Houghton Library.
  • The portrait of Harry above the fireplace is clearly visible from the main entrance of the library, an intentional design element to honor Harry's memory.
  • The desk in the space was Harry's, and after the library was completed Mrs. Widener asked that fresh flowers be present in the space at all times - a request that is fulfilled to this day.

The Gutenberg Bible

  • In 1944 the Widener family presented Harvard with a Gutenberg Bible, one of only 10 complete or near-complete copies then known in the United States.
  • The Gutenberg Bible is the first major work printed in Europe with movable metal type (printed in Latin).
  • There was an attempt to steal the bible from the Memorial Room in 1969.

Additional Special Collections

Before you leave campus, make sure to visit our exhibits of unique and rare materials just a few steps from Widener, at Houghton Library and Pusey Library. See "What's Next" on your way out of Widener for more details.



Mrs. Widener’s stipulations for the construction and ongoing use of Widener Library did not include anything about ice cream or swimming. More details on our FAQ, "Is it true that Harvard students must pass a swimming test because of Harry Elkins Widener's death aboard the Titanic?"