From the Dean of Libraries - Autumn 2011

Henry Suzzallo, UW and Libraries visionary

As the University of Washington looks back on 150 years of service to the state, I can’t help but reflect on the role of Henry Suzzallo and the role he played in making the Libraries such a vital part of the UW.

As I see thousands of students, faculty, staff and visitors from around the world ascend the well-worn treads of the Grand Stair of Suzzallo Library, I am reminded of his commitment to the creation of not just resources and books for students, but grand surroundings to inspire the mind.

Henry Suzzallo was born in 1875 to Croatian immigrants and had studied and served as faculty at both Stanford and Columbia universities. At the time of his birth, the UW was a small frontier college undergoing the first growing pains of becoming a major university. It claimed an enrollment of more than 3,000 students, and the faculty numbered just over 200—small by the standards of the major American universities of the time.

In 1915, Henry Suzzallo was appointed president of the University. He proved remarkably adept at securing funding from both private donors and the Legislature.

A grand library was central to President Henry Suzzallo's vision of the UW as the "University of a Thousand Years." Plans for a new library in the Collegiate Tudor Gothic style, adopted by the University as part of the 1915 campus plan—developed by Carl F. Gould, Sr. and Charles H. Bebb, Seattle architects of national stature—were under way. The original triangular design called for a carillon tower more than 300 feet high in the center. This grand plan symbolized his success in expanding the size of the campus and the prestige of the University, and ground was broken in April 1923.

Enrollment at UW had burgeoned to over 10,000, and the library was provided with its first large book appropriation, $94,600. The assistant librarian was sent to Europe on the first true buying trip, and more than 23,000 books were added during the 1923-25 biennium, bringing the collection close to 150,000 volumes.

The 1924 election of Gov. Roland Hartley would shatter the relative calm of Suzzallo’s presidency. Hartley won on a platform promising government retrenchment and lower taxes. He also had a record of longstanding antagonism towards the UW. “Education is a fine thing,” he acknowledged, “but that is not all there is to the game of life.”

The year of the election, Suzzallo had published his book Our Faith in Education, written primarily to present the case for higher education against those who wanted to limit it in favor of tax reduction.

Suzzallo found himself caught in a tangle of political disputes and rivalries as a result of the sweeping changes he had brought to the campus. Gov. Hartley, amidst great controversy, dismissed the University president in 1926, the same year the first wing of the library was completed.

Suzzallo accepted election as chairman of the board of the Carnegie Foundation.

The new library opened in January 1927, with 175,000 volumes, and in 1933, following the death of Suzzallo, the building was officially named the Henry Suzzallo Library.

The legacy of Henry Suzzallo remains and echoes through the spaces of the University Libraries year after year. We were fortunate to have such a visionary at the helm of the University Library.

- Lizabeth (Betsy) Wilson

Autumn 2011