Howard University: Founders Library – Washington DC


Founders Library, the centerpiece of Howard University campus, was built 1937-1938 with the aid of the Public Works Administration (PWA).  The official opening came in mid-1939.  The library stands on the site of the 19th century Old Main building, which previously housed most of the functions of the university.

The Georgian-style edifice was designed by African-American architect Albert Cassell, who did several buildings on the Howard campus.  It recalls Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  The walls are red brick, the trim is limestone, and the roof is slate.  The clock tower soars 167 feet high and is topped by a golden spire.

Congress appropriated the money to build the library in 1929 and Cassell prepared designs for nine buildings, but those plans ran into the Great Depression.  So, in the mid-1930s the PWA gave $800,000, or 4/5ths of the required funding, to carry out the plans for the new library.

The Howard University website says this:

“Built at a cost of $1,106,000, this was one of the most important academic structures of the period. It was the largest and most complete library among the historically black colleges and universities. It was considered one of the most modern and sophisticated facilities of its type in the nation. Intended to house 200,000 volumes with future capacity reaching 500,000 volumes, it was a marvel.

Founders Library made use of the current technological advancements such air conditioning and mechanical elevators for moving books. Its high ceilings, long hallways and vast reading rooms were the rival of those of the Ivy League. Its Georgian facade, oak paneled rooms and stately entrance way beckoned students and faculty into the tranquil realm of intellectual life.

Harold Ickes, U.S. Secretary of the Interior and advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt, spoke at the May 25, 1939 dedication ceremony. Newspaper accounts often described Mr. Ickes as the Ex Officio Patron of Howard University. His role in providing Federal funding through he Public Works Administration was crucial to the project.”

In his dedication speech, Ickes said:

“A library is more than a building, it is more than the volumes that rest upon its shelves… Let us hope that the library, by ever remaining an inexhaustible well of human wisdon and experience, shall help one of the genuinely creative sectors of our population to achieve the more abundant life.”

Project Details

Federal Cost Local Cost Total Cost Project #'s

Source notes

Logan, Rayford Whittingham. 1969. Howard University: the First Hundred Years, 1867-1967.  New York: New York University Press.

Short, C. W. and R. Stanley-Brown, 1939.  Public Buildings: A Survey of Architecture of Projects Constructed by Federal and Other Governmental Bodies Between the Years 1933 and 1939 with the Assistance of the Public Works Administration.  Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Project originally submitted by Shaina Potts on December 4, 2011.
Additional contributions by Evan Kalish, Richard A Walker.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

Howard University
Washington, DC 20059

Coordinates: 38.9223, -77.0197

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