History on the Hill: Eaton Hall

This article is the first in a series exploring the historical background of sites and buildings on the Medford/Somerville campus.

Formerly known as Eaton Memorial Library, Eaton Hall has been through several transitions in its lifetime on the Hill. Today, Eaton Hall is home to departmental offices, classrooms and a computer lab. Originally, however, it was built as the official library on campus, and the transition of this space involved many actors.

In 1904, Andrew Carnegie donated $100,000 to build the library. Carnegie’s wife, Louise Whitfield Carnegie, requested that the library be named after Reverend Charles Henry Eaton, who had married the Carnegies in New York City in 1887. But who was Reverend Eaton?

According to the Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History, Tufts alumnus Charles Henry Eaton graduated from Tufts in 1874 and served as president of the Mathematican Club. He was also a member of the Zeta Psi fraternity while an undergraduate student on campus. He became a Universalist preacher at the Church of the Divine Paternity, the largest Universalist church in New York City, in 1881. Eaton later graduated from Tufts’ Crane Theological School with a divinity degree in 1887. According to the Tufts Digital Library, Eaton also served as the president of the New York Association of Tufts College, an alumni association.

Construction of the original framework for Eaton Memorial Library in honor of the Reverend began in 1905, and the complete building opened three years later. The first collection of library materials that would later make up the original collection of Eaton Library, however, was amassed much earlier.
¬†Enter President Hosea Ballou and his personal collection of manuscripts and texts in 1860. According to “Tufts University, A Photographic History” by Anne Sauer, the collection was originally stored in Ballou Hall where students were allowed access for one hour a week. Twenty-six years later, it was moved to Middle Hall, now Packard Hall. When Carnegie made his donation, the collection was moved into its own space in Eaton Memorial Library.

The library was organized by subject, split into four specialized libraries of chemistry, engineering, physics-mathematics and the Crane Theological School.

In 1950, the War Memorial Wing was added onto Eaton Library. The addition, which acted mainly as a reading room, honored Tufts students and alumni who served in wartime and, according to Sauer, nearly doubled the size of the library.

When Nils Yngve Wessell became Tufts’ eighth president in 1953, Eaton’s role as a library changed. According to the Tufts 150th Anniversary Celebration website, with the change in status of the institution, Wessell founded the Experimental College, brought the Lincoln Filene Center to campus and initiated the construction of new dormitories, biology and chemistry laboratories and an engineering building. In addition to all of these efforts, Wessell Library, now known as Tisch Library, was built when Eaton Library ran out of space for its collection.

According to Russell Miller’s “Light on the Hill: A History of Tufts College 1852-1952,” at the time Wessell became president, there were fewer than 200,000 volumes in the entire collection in Eaton Library and several problems had emerged in the administration of the library’s operations. For instance, out of the library’s four full-time staff members, just one was a professionally trained librarian in 1955. The library also lacked its own budget.

President Wessell soon became concerned with the organization of the Hirsh Health Sciences Library serving Tufts Medical and Dental schools, the Edwin Ginn Library of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the Eaton Memorial Library of the Arts and Sciences.

“Not one of our libraries has kept pace in terms of staff or facilities with the needs of the division it seeks to serve or with what are considered adequate standards generally for institutions our size,” Wessell told the trustees in 1955, according to Miller’s history of Tufts.

In 1956, Joseph S. Komidar took on the role of University Librarian and Associate Professor of Library Sciences at Tufts. According to Miller, within Komidar’s first year on campus, he called for an increase of 44 percent in total budget for staffing purposes and a 31-percent increase in allocations for books, periodicals and bindings. He also requested that a complete inventory of the libraries of the College of Arts and Sciences be conducted.
“[The Tufts library was] uncomfortably close to a breakdown in organization and services,” Komidar wrote in his first annual report, according the Miller’s “Light on the Hill.”

According to Miller, the requests Komidar made went beyond the university budget, but Komidar insisted that if the college were to become a university it must transition its library into the 20th century with research-oriented collections. With help from grants from the Hellen O. Storrow Trust and the Huntley N. Spaulding Charitable Trust, the library was able to begin its inventory program in order to catalogue all items.

Komidar also established the University Archives, formerly known as the “Tufts Collection,” in 1957. The librarian’s efforts also led to the creation of the Boston Consortium that allowed six institutions – Tufts, Boston University, Boston College, Brandeis University, Northeastern University and Wellesley College – to share materials in their libraries to reduce acquisition costs. By 1975, the Consortium included nine academic institutions and two affiliate members, which made materials and books available in excess of 10 million items.

By the time Komidar had restructured the libraries, the number of items in the library’s possession no longer fit within the space that Eaton Library offered, so plans were made to build a new library, which opened in 1965.
The design for the library was chosen from a competition among architectural companies based on the companies’ ability to integrate the building into the topography of the campus. In 1997 the library was expanded and renamed Tisch Library with a donation from the Tisch family.

Eaton Hall now houses classrooms, office space and a computer lab. The War Memorial Library addition was briefly used as a lounge in which students studied and played pinball and Ping-Pong until it became a computer lab. Changes were made to this space in 2000, when the number of computers was increased and when the hall also received improved carpeting, lighting, furniture, a central staircase,and a renovated lower level.  


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