Arts & Culture

The Widener Memorial Room

1 min read

The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Room houses about 3,300 volumes from the book collection of its namesake, a 1907 Harvard graduate who died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic a century ago.

His books include first editions by Charles Dickens, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and Charlotte Bronte. There are also original illustrations from novels he loved and costume books that inspired some of his era’s Hasty Pudding Club theatricals. Creating the Memorial Room was a condition of building the library, along with the requirements that Harry’s collection not be moved or mixed into the general collection.

In 1916, Eleanor Elkins Widener — by then Eleanor Elkins Rice — wrote to Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell, requesting that fresh-cut flowers be kept near the portrait of “my dear son Harry” in the Memorial Room.

Despite a complete written record relating to the Widener gift, two mythical Widener requirements are still in general circulation: that ice cream (Harry’s favorite dessert) be served in every dining hall, and that all incoming students pass a swim test. Neither is true.

— Corydon Ireland