The Congregational Library is located in Boston's historic Beacon Hill and was founded in 1853 with the gift of 56 books from its owners' personal collections. The Congregational Library now holds 225,000 items documenting the history of one of the nation's oldest and most influential religious traditions and offers researchers, readers, and browsers an extensive array of contemporary and classic religious material. Its collection includes a wide variety of resources on American religion, New England local and town histories, and 300 years of records documenting the history of American Congregationalism. Its reading room, overlooking Boston's famous Granary Burying Ground, is open to visitors from Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
History of the library
The Congregational Library and Archives are administered by the American Congregational Association (ACA), founded May 25, 1853. The 1853 ACA charter stated that the organization was incorporated "for the purpose of establishing and perpetuating a library of religious history and literature of New England, and for the erection of a suitable building for the accommodation of the same, and for the use of charitable societies." It was felt that the latter should be done or the original Puritan literature would be lost.
In 1853 rooms were rented for the first small library. In 1873 two buildings were acquired at the corner of Beacon and Somerset streets, near the present location. The buildings were remodeled and dedicated on February 11, 1873. This building was sold when a larger, more adequate building became a necessity. The American Congregational Association discussed a new location as early as 1890 and a committee was appointed in 1896 to investigate building lots. The ACA desired to fulfill the purpose stated in their charter, to house their large library and objects documenting the Congregational movement, as well as house Congregational organizations and charities. The present Congregational House was completed in 1898 and was designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge (now Shepley Bulfinch).
A host of Congregational organizations have had their offices in the Congregational House. 1898 tenants included the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, American Missionary Association, Boston Society for the Moral and Religious Instruction of the Poor (now City Mission Society), Congregational Education Society, The Congregationalist, Congregational Library, Massachusetts Home Missionary Society, National Council of Congregational Churches, New West Commission, Pilgrim Press Bookstore, Seaman's Friend Society, Sunday School and Publishing Society, Thomas Todd Printers and Massachusetts Woman's Home Missionary Union. The Board of Pastoral Supply and the Massachusetts Conference of Congregational Christian Churches (which absorbed the Massachusetts Home Missionary Society) came at a later date.
Other developments give some background to the records that can be found in the Congregational Library archives. In 1957 the United Church of Christ was founded and the Congregational Christians and the Evangelical Reformed churches merged. This led to the formation of the Congregational Christian Historical Society, a committee of the General Council of the Congregational Christian churches. The mission of the Congregational Christian Historical Society is to preserve the Congregational heritage.
After 1957 many Congregational churches joined the United Church of Christ and the library was designated as the records repository for the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches, the central denominational board of the Congregational church. In addition to these records, numerous associations, organizations and movements from the Congregational tradition have given their records to Congregational Library archives.
While the goals of the Congregational Library remain true to its original mission, the dawn of the 21st century has seen some changes in the way those goals have and will be met.
Archive and rare book collection
Scope and size
This repository is independent from any specific church or denomination. It operates under the auspices of the American Congregational Association, which is a non-profit organization with independent means. The archives collects material that documents the Congregational, Congregational Christian, Christian and United Church of Christ tradition throughout the world. There are approximately 900 separate archival and manuscript collections totaling over 1,200 feet (370 m).
The collection is extremely rich in New England history, due to the early influence of Congregationalism in the region. Other collection strengths include New England local church records, American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions records, missionary and charitable associations records, and manuscript sermons from the 17th to the 20th century. There are a number of collections — independent and intermingled among church records — that would be of interest to women's studies scholars, including collections documenting women's missionary associations and women's charitable organizations.
Unlike other repositories, researchers may find that there is a fluidity between "Library" and "Archive." The library contains a wealth of materials that complement the archives and manuscript collection, and vice-versa. Printed and published materials in the library provide town histories, documentation of church architecture, theological works and hymnals. The rare book collection contains a large number of antiquarian Bibles and printed works documenting early Congregational history, from the 17th century on. There is also a large collection of mid- to late-19th century periodicals, many published by missionary societies, particularly women's missionary societies.
Together the library and archives are particularly useful for documenting four periods of Congregational history:
- early Congregational history
- the Evangelical revival in early 19th-century Massachusetts
- the foundation of the United Church of Christ
- the other denominations that contribute to Congregational history: National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.
- The Congregational Library's official website
- Historian Turned Librarian: Dr. Margaret Bendroth, Executive Director
- American Congregational Library Online Catalog
- The Library's latest activities and interests
- Congregational Library on Flickr