John Cushman Abbott (1921-2005), academic librarian and scholar, guided the establishment of library services at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE). Abbott joined the university effective September 15, 1960 as associate professor and head librarian for the Southwestern Illinois campus, with the responsibility of coordinating the two residence center libraries in Alton and East St. Louis. Abbott, his wife, and four children moved into a "tract house" on Bluff Road on the evolving Edwardsville campus.
A native of Auburn, Maine, Abbott earned a bachelor's degree in history from Bowdoin College in 1943. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, attaining the rank of second lieutenant. During the war he met Frances Beatrice Noon of Fort Worth, Texas, whom he married in 1945.
Following his military service, Abbott received a master's degree in history from Syracuse University in 1949. He then turned his focus to librarianship, earning a master's degree in library science from the University of Michigan in 1950 and a doctorate from the same institution in 1957. Abbott began his professional career as an assistant at the Library of Congress from 1951 through 1954. From 1955 until 1960, he served as the head librarian at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.
While the process of acquiring new properties to complete the Edwardsville campus continued, Abbott and his staff operated out of a second "tract house" on Bluff Road, ordering and cataloging materials. Abbott participated in the planning and design of the envisioned central library structure (Lovejoy Library), selected and supervised the library staff and faculty, and directed the acquisition of materials to support teaching and research at the new university. In 1964, Abbott and his colleagues established a temporary facility for patrons at the university's Wagner Electric staging base in Edwardsville. Subsequent to the opening of Lovejoy Library when the campus began operation in September 1965, Abbott's title was changed to director.
For over twenty years, Abbott served as the key decision-maker in library matters at SIUE. He built substantial collections of books, periodicals, and manuscripts and established two successful friends of the library organizations. He retired as director in 1981, becoming head of special collections. Freed from his extensive administrative duties as director, Abbott enjoyed more time to devote to his favorite task, the acquisition of rare books and historical manuscripts, often at his own expense. He succeeded in fostering the establishment of a university archives within Lovejoy Library as well. Upon retirement from the university in 1986, Abbott transitioned to the part-time role of special collections librarian.
Throughout his career as a professional librarian at Lovejoy Library, Abbott vigorously promoted the acquisition of regional history materials. In this effort he was aided by Paul V. Chamless, a former bookstore operator and out-of-print book dealer from East St. Louis whom Abbott first hired in 1962 as a "book scout" to seek out rare titles. Abbott also worked closely with Research Professor John Francis McDermott and SIUE President John Rendleman in establishing an ambitious Center for Study of Mississippi Valley Culture in 1970. Thanks to Abbott's efforts, Lovejoy Library today enjoys significant holdings of regional history materials in its rare book and university archives collections.
As a strong believer in collaboration with teaching faculty, Abbott supported historian Stanley Kimball in collecting copies of documents illustrating the difficult experience of the Mormon community in the Nauvoo, Illinois, area and in collecting ephemera related to Eastern European immigrants to Southwestern Illinois. Working with Raymond Spahn, a professor of German language and literature, Abbott also encouraged and participated in the publication of several scholarly works dealing with the history of Swiss immigrants in the Highland, Illinois, area.
Abbott became an enthusiastic advocate for the preservation of the natural and the built environment in his adopted community. In addition, he shared university staff architect John Randall's interest in the work of architect Louis Sullivan. Richard Nickel, a preservationist known to Randall, had been salvaging building ornament from endangered Chicago structures designed by Louis Sullivan. Abbott and Randall convinced President Rendleman to purchase the items rescued from destruction by Richard Nickel and then displayed many of them in the new library.
John Neal Hoover, director of the prestigious St. Louis Mercantile Library, worked closely with John Abbott at Lovejoy Library early in his career and has graciously contributed a personal reflection upon Abbott to this digital exhibit.
As a tribute to John Abbott's passion for and skill at collecting noteworthy regional history sources, we have selected several representative works for inclusion in this digital exhibit. Among these distinguished titles are:
Georges-Henri-Victor Collot, Voyage dans l'Amérique Septentrionale (Paris, 1826), An account of a 1796 expedition by Collot on behalf of the French along the Ohio River to St. Louis and downriver through Spanish Louisiana to New Orleans. Click here for volume 1 -- volume 2 -- atlas.
John Mason Peck, A Guide for Emigrants (Boston, 1831) and A Gazetteer of Illinois (Jacksonville, Illinois, 1834), two fact-filled promotional books authored by the pioneer Baptist preacher and educator who founded the Rock Spring seminary, parent of Shurtleff College, the first college in Illinois and predecessor of SIUE.
Paul Wilhelm, Duke of Wurttemberg, Erste Reise nach dem Nördlichen Americka in den Jahren 1822 bis 1824 (Stuttgart, 1835), an account by a titled natural scientist and adventurer who in 1822-1824 made an incognito journey of discovery and observtion up the Mississippi from New Orleans to St. Louis and explored the Kansas River.
Joseph C. Lovejoy and Owen Lovejoy, Memoir of the Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy (New York, 1838), a memorial tribute by Joseph and Owen Lovejoy to their abolitionist newspaper editor brother Elijah, murdered by an Alton, Illinois, mob on November 7, 1837, and containing an introduction by John Quincy Adams.
John Caspar Wild, The Valley of the Mississippi Illustrated in a Series of Views (St. Louis, 1841-1842), a portfolio of the work of an early American lithographer and topographic landscape painter of Swiss origin who recorded views of many frontier river cities along the Ohio and Mississippi.
Joseph Nicolas Nicollet, also known as Jean N. Nicollet, Report Intended to Illustrate a Map of the Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi River (Washington, D.C., 1843), a posthumous publication reflecting the important scientific explorations and studies made by French geographer, astronomer and mathematician J. N. Nicollet along the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
Thomas Ford, A History of Illinois, from its Commencement as a State in 1818 to 1847 (Chicago, 1854), a significant early history of the state written by its eighth governor, an experienced jurist, whose political and religious beliefs and whose inactivity may perhaps have contributed to the murder of Joseph Smith and the expulsion of the Mormon population from Illinois.
Henry Lewis, Das Illustrirte Mississippithal (Dusseldorf, 1857), the final published version of a remarkable series of landscapes and views along the Mississippi previously painted on a 1,300-yard-long set of three canvasses and displayed commercially by the artist to audiences in America and Europe. This copy was donated to Lovejoy Library in 1966 by Jennie Latzer Kaeser of Highland, for whom the SIUE rare book collection is named, and celebrated as the one millionth book added to the university library collections.
---Written by Stephen Kerber