The English Poetry Collection is the largest of the Wellesley Special Collections, with over 12,000 volumes and fifteen linear feet of autograph letters and manuscripts.
It was established in 1911 by George Herbert Palmer in memory of his wife, Alice Freeman Palmer, the second president of the College. The first installment of Professor Palmer's gift was a collection of first editions of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, soon followed by first editions of Blake, Shelley and Tennyson. Professor Palmer's intention in giving his English poetry collection to Wellesley was that it would be enjoyed by students and faculty of the College, and he encouraged others to add to his original collection.
The rare English Poetry volumes originally acquired by the Durants, the 1532 Chaucer and editions of Milton, among them, were eventually integrated into this collection. Other sizable collections came from Wellesley faculty members, notably, Katharine Lee Bates' collection of Yeats, and Elizabeth Manwaring's collection of T.S. Eliot. The enduring jewel of the English Poetry Collection is the original love letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, given in 1930 by Caroline Hazard, fifth president of Wellesley College.
The English Poetry Collection maintains both a retrospective and contemporary scope, encompassing over five and a half centuries, from Geoffrey Chaucer to Ted Hughes, and from Anne Bradstreet to Maya Angelou. Modern poetry is actively collected, thanks to a fund endowed by Professor Palmer.
For a description of the original Palmer portion of the collection, see George Herbert Palmer, A Catalogue of Early and Rare Editions of English Poetry , Collected and Presented to Wellesley College, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1923.
Pictured: William Blake. Songs of innocence. 1789.