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Library Associates receive complimentary copies of the quarterly newsletter Bene Legere, as well as invitations to special occasions at the Library. For more information on the Library Associates program, please write or telephone: The Library Development Office, Room 131 Doe Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-6000; telephone (510) 642-9377. Or, check our website.
Rallying the Troops in Doe Library
It stops library tours in their tracks— on a canvas 24 feet wide and 15 feet high, George Washington lifts his sword to the sky and rides across a battlefield of revolutionary soldiers and British forces, fighting hard. Smoke, drums, and wounds . . . more than our guests bargain for in a hushed reading room.
It took the Revolutionary War a long time to get a home in John Galen Howard’s stately East Reading Room. “Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth,” painted by Emanuel Leutze in 1854, had spent most of its days at Cal in storage under the pool of Hearst Gymnasium. With the help of the University Art Museum, we were proud to give it a place of honor in 1993.
That home had its own moment of revolutionary fervor. On a rainy Monday, February 17, 1969, demonstrators supporting the Third World Liberation Front Strike marched into Doe Library. TWLF capitalized on true shortcomings of Berkeley in neglecting the study of minority communities, but the movement had become destructive. The campus felt like a war zone. Earlier that term the auditorium of Wheeler Hall had been destroyed by an arson fire. The Wheeler fire, not to mention the tear gas used by the police, lingered in the air.
The visit by the protesters was announced by cherry bombs exploding in the halls. The East Reading Room in 1969 held long cabinets of author/title catalog cards. At eye level, they flanked the entrance to the book stacks and on this day, they resembled the ramparts used by soldiers in the 18th century. Journalist John Coyne described what happened next:
. . . when the militants made for the catalogs, obscure little doors flew open and scores of elderly ladies came piling out through them, out of the cataloging rooms, out of the processing rooms, out of the ordering rooms, out of the receiving rooms, out of all those rooms in the building no one had ever seen. They stamped defiantly to the catalogs, scores of them now, ladies who worked out of sight, the ladies who keep any great library running. They put their backs against the drawers and linked arms, their eyes sharp and bright behind bifocals, their sweaters thrown over their shoulders like shawls, their chins thrust out as they faced the militants. The rampagers stopped and shouted obscenities, threatened the women, ordered them to move. They didn’t budge, however, and the militants, completely confused, finally left.
Contemporary accounts differ on the exact spot of the skirmish, whether a couple dozen students stood beside the brave library folk, and the amount of damage done before the protesters retreat. The record is clear that at day’s end, University Librarian James E. Skipper proclaimed that, “our tactic of stationing library staff to protect the catalogs has been effective.”
The history that was lived around the East Reading Room highlights what Leutze’s “Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth” left out of the real history of the Revolution. A century and a half ago, the painter was obsessed with control and command: General Washington taking over from an incompetent General Lee and keeping his men in the fight. Then, and now, this is not a tale of the Revolution that Americans grow up with. What we do know about the Battle of Monmouth is that Molly Pitcher took charge of a cannon and brought water to the soldiers. Leutze left her out in his sweep of the battlefield; the Library forces call her to mind.