The People and Places of Dickinson College

Bosler Library 1903
photograph courtesy of the Dickinson College Archives

The above photograph from the Dickinson College archives of the James W. Bosler Memorial Library first appeared in the 1903 Dickinson Microcosm under the caption "Where we do our work- the library."  This library was contained within the James W. Bosler Memorial Hall which was completed in 1886.

The funds for this building were provided by the widow of James Williamson Bosler, a member of the Dickinson class of 1854.  In 1881, the Dickinson Board of Trustees began a Centennial fund drive to raise $150,000.  The Centennial Anniversary of the College occurred in 1883 and the fund drive was an attempt to improve Dickinson's facilities.  At an Alumni dinner during the Centennial celebration, James W. Bosler donated $10,000 to the college.  Bosler did not actually graduate from Dickinson, but instead dropped out of college and went on to make a large fortune in real estate and banking.  After his death, Bosler's widow canceled the donation previously made by her husband and in its place agreed to fund the James W. Bosler Memorial Hall Library. This building cost nearly seven times the original donation of $10,000, however.
Bosler Memorial Hall was a Roman-Gothic building made of red stone, completed June 23, 1886, at a cost of $68,000.  The architect of the building was Charles L. Carson.  The College originally requested that the building be built with less expensive materials in order to build a larger facility, but Bosler's widow insisted that it be built with the finest.  The exterior of the James W. Bosler Memorial Hall included a tower and an arched portal topped by twin cherubs.

The students in the photograph at the top of the page were law students.    They were most likely doing their work on restricted hours because for the first thirty years of the Bosler Library it was only open part time due to a lack of staff.  Professor J.H. Morgan was in charge of the library until 1916.  Previous to the opening of Bosler, students used a small library in West College.  This library was poorly run and heavily under stocked with books.  Because of the lack of books, in 1791 two College literary societies - The Belles Lettres Society and the Union Philosophical Society - began to gather their own collections.  By 1829, the two societies were given a small space on the third floor of West College to store their books.  The societies continued to gather more books for their collections and their space became quite crowded.  The crowding was temporarily solved by the granting of more space in West College in 1850.  By 1886, Bosler Memorial Hall was completed and included the afore-mentioned  library to which the College library was moved, along with the two separate society libraries.  During the very early stages of this library the three libraries remained under separate management until Morgan was appointed head of the library at the end of 1886.

The library remained open only part time until 1916 when Helen Burns took over.  Burns was a trained librarian and was granted a library staff in order to keep the library open full time.  In 1941, alterations of Bosler were planned and completed by William W. Emmart.  The building was not only enlarged, but also refaced with limestone to match the other buildings on the main academic campus.  In 1968, after the completion of the Spahr Library building, Bosler was adapted for the use of Fine Arts, Modern Languages and Music.  Now, with the completion of the Weiss Center For the Arts in 1981, Bosler is almost completely given over to the Modern Language departments, as well as Education and Instructional Media and includes language laboratory, an electronic learning center, classrooms and offices.

See also "Bosler 1935"
Michael O'Connor

Dickinson College Archives, "Bosler Hall: a History of Change"
J.H. Morgan, Dickinson College, 1783-1933
Charles Coleman Sellars, Dickinson College: A History (Wesleyan, 1973)