As Denison Library continues to play an important role in the academic life of the College, we take a look at its rich early history.*
One day, a former student of Pomona College, Mrs. Harrison G. Sloane of San Diego, visited Toll Hall with her friend, Mrs. Ella Strong Denison of Point Loma. Mrs. Denison was much impressed with the browsing room and with its handsome Gothic window. It is said that in showing Mrs. Denison the campus development, Dr. Jaqua [Scripps’ first president] pointed out the site for a library. In any case, she invited him to visit her, and he warmly responded. At that time he was heavily involved at Claremont, but after a gentle reminder from Mrs. Sloane, he went to Mrs. Denison’s home and had a memorable conversation with her. He took particular note of her own fine library with its many medieval treasures. He was therefore not unduly surprised when she discussed with him the possibility of her providing the library building. She revealed a deep interest, and when informed that such a building would cost at least $100,000, she said that she would like to give it.
Mrs. Denison made three qualifications:
First, the College would secure the plans. Second, the building must look like a chapel. Finally, it must have an outstanding stained glass window to be dedicated to the greater wisdom of women.
Mr. Kaufmann [architect Gordon Kaufmann] at first despaired of designing a library to look like a chapel, but he was so successful with the planning of this fine building that the State Board of Architecture pronounced it the most beautiful public building of the year in California.
The achievement of a great stained glass window would need to involve the best artisans in America. Dr. Jaqua was en route East by train to ferret out the leaders in this field, and by the rarest good fortune found himself sitting across the aisle from a man who with his brother were said to be the best stained glass men in the country. They had to be good if they were to carry out the donor’s wishes. She knew precisely what it was she wanted. As a girl, the donor had attended a private school in Chartres; she resolved even then that one day she would give a window of Chartres glass to some worthy institution. The result is to be seen above the central desk on the west side of the library and depicts Johann Gutenberg and his Bible, Benjamin Franklin and his printing press, and other notable features. This fine achievement in stained glass is the work of Nicola D’Asenzo of Philadelphia, brother of the man Dr. Jaqua accidentally met. The literature room also was provided with 21 stained glass windows by the same artist.
On February 13, 1931, this library designed for 30,000 books was dedicated. In due time it received 766 volumes from Miss Scripps’ personal library and gifts from numerous donors — gifts of particular value in the education of women.
With its extraordinary stained glass windows, its carved woodwork, and its books especially in the humanities, the Denison Library became an inspiration to learning and the thoughtful expression of an exceptional woman.
* From An Unfinished Dream: A Chronicle of the Group Plan of The Claremont Colleges, (1981), by Robert J. Bernard. Reprinted with permission of Claremont University Consortium.
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