William Rainey Harper Memorial Library

William Rainey Harper Memorial Library

Completed: 1912
Architect: Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge
Address: 1116 E. 59th St.
Google Map

“There was a widespread feeling that there should be erected on the main quadrangle of the University some permanent and worthy memorial of its first president, to whose courage, energy, broad vision, and farsightedness the University was so largely indebted for the progress it had made in the first fifteen years of its existence.”

— Harper Memorial Library dedication book

The dedication of Harper Memorial Library on June 11, 1912 represented a major milestone for the University of Chicago. With its elegant Gothic architecture and advanced technology—the building featured telephones and a system of pneumatic tubes to transmit book orders—the new library was, according to the Chicago Tribune, “the largest and most important building yet erected on the campus of the University of Chicago.”

Architects Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, who had come to prominence in Chicago for their work on the Art Institute of Chicago, designed the new building. The library took inspiration from King’s College Chapel at Cambridge, as well as Magdalen College and Christ Church College at Oxford. It featured other architectural nods to colleges and universities in Europe and the United States, including stone carvings of the coats of arms of Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and the University of California, among many others.