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Willard Fiske (1831–1904) was one of the most fascinating and important figures in Cornell’s early history. A versatile and cerebral scholar, he excelled in many fields, from chess to linguistics. He conveyed his intellectual interests to Cornell through his generous contributions, many of which have helped to shape the university’s cultural identity. Cornell’s first president, Andrew Dickson White, appointed Fiske the first University Librarian, a position that he served with imagination and distinction. When his 1880 marriage to Jennie McGraw ended in her death from consumption after only a year, Fiske used her considerable inheritance to build a series of outstanding book collections. The Icelandic, Dante, Petrarch, and Rhaeto-Romanic collections that he assembled are among the finest in the world. By donating selections and later bequeathing these collections to Cornell, Fiske gave the University a gift worth more than thirty million in today’s dollars. Fiske also became a beloved supporter of Iceland and its people, endowing its libraries and cultivating the friendship of Icelandic poets and scholars. In addition, Fiske was a meticulous bibliographer and a bibliophile of the first order. A passionate collector and a generous benefactor, Willard Fiske contributed vitally to the excellence of the Cornell University Library. Willard Fiske is buried in the Memorial Antechapel in Cornell's Sage Chapel.

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