The Elbert Collection of approximately 800 volumes on slavery, emancipation, and Reconstruction was assembled by Ella Smith, class of 1888, the second black graduate of Wellesley College, and by her husband, Dr. Samuel G. Elbert. In 1904, they purchased a collection of more than 300 volumes gathered by Robert Mara Adger, a member of the Banneker Institute and the American Negro Historical Society. This became the nucleus of the Elbert Collection, which was presented to the College in 1938. Mrs. Elbert and her son added to it until 1955. Personal narratives, autobiographies, tracts, and pamphlets share the shelves with volumes of poetry, novels, and folklore. Works by Charles Chesnutt, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and James Weldon Johnson are strong.
Though American in focus, the Elbert Collection is not limited to works by American authors nor to information about slavery in the United States. It includes important works published in England, translations from the French, material on the experiment in Liberia, and slave conditions in the colonies of South Africa and in the West Indies.
For a detailed description of the Adger portion of the collection, see Wendy Ball and Anthony Martin, Rare Afro-Americana: a Reconstruction of the Adger Library, Boston, G.K.Hall, 1981.
Pictured: Martha Young. Plantation songs for my lady's banjo. New York, 1901.