Magazine Article

Celebrating 50 Years of the Wolfgram Memorial Library

Emily Barrett, assistant director of communications
A photo of Wolfgram Memorial library from 1970
An early image of the Wolfgram Memorial Library taken in 1970.

For 50 years, the Wolfgram Memorial Library has stood in the center of Widener's campus anchoring the university in academic scholarship and promoting the advancement of intellectual excellence throughout the institution.

Take a look back at how the library has shaped and supported the Widener community through the years. 

A cadet stands in front the construction site for the Wolfgram Memorial Library.
A cadet stands in front of the construction site for the Wolfgram Memorial Library in 1969.

Historically referred to as the “jewel of campus,” the building opened in 1970 to accommodate campus growth driven by an increase in student enrollment and program development. It was named in memory of William J. Wolfgram ’43, a Pennsylvania Military College (PMC) alumnus who was killed in action in Italy during WWII.

Wolfgram transferred to PMC from Harvard University after the start of WWII to join the Advance Course ROTC program in preparation for a career in the military. Wolfgram was known for his brilliant mind, military achievements, and love of reading, and so his family bestowed his name to the library to mark his legacy on Widener’s campus. 

A portrait of William J. Wolfgram, PMC '43
William J. Wolfgram, PMC '43

The library’s iconic architecture was designed by Vincent Kling and Associates to house 290,000 volumes and more than 700 readers. It was celebrated for its use of “new media” such as microfilms, transparencies and film strips in its first years. The state-of-the-art facility was lauded as “one of the more advanced information retrieval centers to be found on any campus.” 

A student uses an original card catalog in the library c. 1970
A student flips a card catalog c. 1970.

From electronic catalogs and an extensive CD-ROM database, to digital research databases, library services continued to evolve through the decades to support the academic needs of students, faculty, and members of the surrounding communities. In today’s COVID world, the library and its committed faculty and staff remain connected to members of the Pride through virtual research assistance and consultation, expansive online databases, e-books, and streaming content sources.

A student uses an electronic index in 1995
Electronic indexes, as shown here, were one of the many technological upgrades found in the library in 1995.

In addition to serving as the research hub of the university, Wolfgram Memorial boasts historical milestones as unique as its triangular structure. 

Days ahead of its debut, members of the Widener community rallied behind the library’s opening and transferred books by foot from the previous library housed in Muller Hall to the new location in Wolfgram Memorial. Dubbed the “book walk,” students, faculty, and staff – as well as friends and family -- displayed a sense of unity as they carried nearly 80,000 volumes across campus to the structure where they are still held today.

Students and faculty walk books to the new Wolfgram Memorial Library in 1970
President Clarence Moll leads a group of students during the 1970 "book walk."

The library has served as host for a variety of events through the years from teaching workshops and book discussions, to distinguished speaker series and finals week activities. Perhaps the most notable events held at the library were the 1978 and 1980 commencement ceremonies. Twice in its 50 years, Wolfgram Memorial served as the backdrop to celebrate students at the pinnacle of their academic achievements. 

The commencement ceremony was held on the steps of Wolfgram Memorial Library.
The Wolfgram Memorial Library hosted the university's commencement ceremony once in 1978 and then again in 1980 as pictured above.

Shortly after its opening in 1970, the library installed the adored Little Nipper stained-glass window in the ceiling above the main floor stairs. The colorfully decorated window depicts the famous 19th century painting by Francis Barraud of a small dog, Nipper, listening for "his master's voice."

The window was gifted to the library by former trustee Eldridge R. Johnson II, the grandson of Eldridge R. Johnson who founded the Victor Talking Machine Company. For years the Victor Talking Machine Company used the image as a marketing tool and commissioned to have the stained glass made to decorate its headquarters. Little Nipper is one of four stained-glass creations that once sat in the original Victor Talking Machine Co. building in Camden. 

An image of the Little Nipper stain glass window in the library
The Little Nipper stained glass offers a pleasant surprise over the main staircase.

The library’s vibrant history and commitment to pursing academic excellence through the university’s schools and colleges has been woven into the fabric of the Widener community. As demonstrated through its time on campus, the library's leadership, faculty and staff will continue to meet the evolving needs across every corner of the university.

Explore the 50th Anniversary Digital Exhibit

Watch the 50th Anniversary Celebration Video

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