Former Librarian Maria Grossmann Dies

Maria Schweinburg Grossmann—who was born in 1919 and who was librarian of Harvard Divinity School from 1965 to 1973 and from 1979 to 1986—died Monday, March 31, 2003. 

Dean Samuel Miller's choice of Maria Grossmann as successor to James Tanis brought to Andover-Harvard Theological Library a specialist in sixteenth-century European history. Dr. Grossmann had joined the acquisitions staff in 1956 and was appointed librarian in 1965. During her tenure about 80,000 volumes were added to the library's holdings. She strengthened the Unitarian collection and, in the late 1960s, she accepted many of the books, periodicals, and pamphlets of the former library of the Universalist Historical Association. She built up the library's manuscript collection on this religious movement. The addition in 1970 of the archives of the American Unitarian Association from the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century further enriched the Unitarian holdings at Harvard.

During her tenure, the library also received the gifts of many other significant collections, including the personal library of Dean Miller, with its many valuable titles in pastoral psychology, religion and the arts, and religion and literature. Professor George La Piana of the Divinity School donated his library, which was particularly strong in early and medieval church history and theological thought. The papers of Paul Tillich, which she obtained when Tillich was a Harvard University professor and after his death, may be the most significant manuscript collection that she added to the library.

Between 1974 and 1979, Maria was librarian for Collection Development in the Harvard University Library. This was a period of collaboration among the libraries and the first development of computerized systems to catalog and provide online access to information about the vast holdings in Harvard's nearly 100 libraries. She was Harvard's representative to the formative effort that would result in the consortium now known as the Research Libraries Group. A significant contribution was her getting the Boston Theological Institute (BTI) libraries involved with the shared cataloging resources of OCLC, well ahead of other Harvard libraries.

The preservation of library materials was always uppermost in her concerns about providing scholarly access to materials. She appointed Doris Freitag as book conservator, the first such position in any Harvard library.

At the time of her retirement in 1986, Curator of Manuscripts and Archives Alan Seaburg was quoted in a Harvard Divinity Bulletin article in the following way: "A lot of people who have worked here have kept in touch with her. She has listened to a lot of our tales of woe and given us comfort and no-nonsense advice. She is very able. She makes hard decisions, and she's not afraid to. She has respect for books, respect for the printed word. Mary Hennessey, then director of ministerial studies, said that her friend is a marvelous mixture of incongruous qualities. 'She'll be furious if it sounds as if I'm saying too many nice things about her. She is intense and deplores superficiality. She is a very loyal friend. She has been quietly present for people in their hard moments.'"

In the late 1980s, Maria and her husband, Walter (director of the Library of the University of Massachusetts in Boston and former book selector in Widener Library), retired to their farm in Conway, Massachusetts. In retirement, she said she wanted to pursue her love of the country and gardening, as well as traveling, and reading. "What I'd really like to do is read a book. I want to re-read Plato and some French and Russian classics and do some research in sixteenth-century humanism, Luther, and Reformation."

Typically, she wanted no fuss following her death, no service, no flowers. Upon the occasion of her retirement the Maria Grossmann Book Fund in the Andover-Harvard Theological Library was created in her honor by faculty, staff, and friends. It was presented to her at her retirement party and was a surprise. Upon her return to Cambridge, for the past year and a half, Maria had been assisting with the library's book selection process and took some pleasure in being able to decide which books should be selected using the fund that was created in her honor.