selection of anti-slavery booksCornell holds one of the world's most distinctive collections of anti-slavery literature, numbering over 10,000 titles. The Anti-Slavery Collection was assembled by the University's first president, Andrew Dickson White, who enlisted the aid of several leading abolitionists (among them William Lloyd Garrison and Samuel May) to gather together the important pamphlet materials of the cause. These pamphlets and leaflets document the anti-slavery struggle at the local, regional, and national levels. Much of what A.D. White acquired was considered ephemeral or fugitive, and today these pamphlets are quite scarce. Sermons, position papers, off-prints, local Anti-Slavery Society newsletters, poetry anthologies, freedmen's testimonies, broadsides, and Anti-Slavery Fair keepsakes in the collection all document the social and political implications of the abolitionist movement.

Using a Save America's Treasures project grant provided by the United States Department of the Interior, Cornell Library is working to preserve these pamphlets and make them vastly more accessible through the cooperative efforts of Cornell’s Department of Preservation and Conservation and the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

The pamphlets will be disbound from their early 20th century library bindings, deacidified, repaired, resewn, covered by protective paper wrappers, and boxed. The integrity of the originals will be maintained, as will the original order of the bound pamphlets. In addition, the individual catalog records for the pamphlets are being converted, ensuring that the entire collection will be accessible through the online catalog. Finally, each pamphlet will be digitized and its text made fully searchable through Cornell’s online catalog.


Titlepage: Revelations of a Slave SmugglerThe Cornell Civil War and Anti-Slavery Collections

The Cornell University Library owns one of the richest collections of anti-slavery and Civil War materials in the world, thanks in large part to Andrew Dickson White, who developed an early interest in both fostering, and documenting the abolitionist movement and the Civil War. Even before his arrival at Cornell, White used his lectures at the University of Michigan to respond to the issues of the War by pointing out to his students as many examples as he could of societies that valued the rights of free men over the shallow benefits of slavery. White also invited abolitionists such as Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass to lecture on the Michigan campus. And although White himself did not qualify for military service, he rallied the Michigan units and stirred students with his lectures on individual duty and individual rights. He also began developing his own collection of documents, pamphlets, and letters on the progress of the War. He saved the letters his students sent him from the battlefield, and gathered maps, newspapers, prints, clippings, and other ephemera. When White’s library was transferred to Cornell in 1891, his Civil War collection contained hundreds of bound volumes of pamphlets, documenting all aspects of the War–social, political, and religious.

signatures from appeal
signatures on abolitionsts' appeal


White was also instrumental in bringing the extensive collection of slavery and abolitionist materials gathered by his close friend, Reverend Samuel Joseph May, to the Cornell Library. May donated his large collection of pamphlets, books, and newspapers to Cornell in 1870. News of the collection at Cornell spread, and in 1874 the abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Gerrit Smith, wrote, signed, and circulated an appeal to their friends and supporters in America and Great Britain, urging that it was of "great importance that the literature of the Anti-Slavery preserved and handed down, that the purposes and the spirit, the methods and the aims of the Abolitionists should be clearly known and understood by future generations." The effort was successful, bringing in further scarce and original manuscripts and publications, allowing the Cornell Library to develop an Anti-Slavery collection that is unique for its depth and coverage.