California Transplant Honors Connecticut Childhood with Gift to UConn Libraries

Books (Courtesy of University of Connecticut Libraries)
Books (Courtesy of University of Connecticut Libraries)
Shelves of books in Homer Babbidge Library. (Courtesy of University of Connecticut Libraries)
Shelves of books in Homer Babbidge Library. (Courtesy of University of Connecticut Libraries)

Harriet Maclean loved memories of the summers spent on her grandparents’ farm in Mansfield. She also loved languages and books.

Her fondness for both moved her to make generous gifts to UConn’s library during her lifetime and to donate nearly a quarter of her estate to the library after her death.

“It’s a librarian’s dream come true,” says Brinley Franklin, vice provost of the libraries who was surprised and delighted when the UConn Foundation received a check for $465,000 for the library’s use from her estate. “We had been in touch with her over the years, thanking her for annual gifts, but we had no idea she had pledged a gift of this magnitude.”

Maclean grew up in Willimantic and remained fond of the area after she relocated to Alaska for work in the 1940s. She settled in California, where she remained until her death in 2011.

She didn’t attend UConn, but she visited the library during a visit to Storrs in 1981. “She and her sister came to the library and spoke of their strong attachment to the area,” says Norman Stevens, director emeritus of the UConn Libraries. “She said she had very fond memories of the area and wanted to make a contribution to the library. She established a non-endowed fund for the purchase of books and materials related to French literature, which was her great passion,” says Stevens. She made regular annual contributions to the fund throughout her life.

Through travels with her husband, Maclean fell in love with Paris and everything French. She traveled there frequently, and, midlife, decided to pursue a college degree in French literature. She graduated with honors from Sonoma State College. “She was a very interesting woman,” says Stevens, who with his wife Nora visited Maclean annually in San Diego for at least 10 years and often shared with her information about Storrs. “Mrs. MacLean was always interested in what was happening in the community and in people she knew, but she never talked much about her bequest to the library,” says Stevens.

She designated her gift to establish a Connecticut Collection of books, manuscripts, historical records, photographs, prints, maps, and similar items dealing with all phases of Connecticut and related New England history. She made a similar gift to the library at the University of California at Berkeley materials related to French literature and culture.

“We have a lot of Connecticut materials in our collections already,” says Franklin, but our holdings are derived primarily from donations. This gift will enable us to buy Connecticut-related materials from dealers and estates and improve the University’s collections.” He also hopes to use part of the income from the endowment to digitize additional historical materials not already offered in Connecticut History Online, a digital collection of more 16,000 digital primary sources coupled with associated interpretive and educational material. “There is a wealth of Connecticut historical materials located in historical societies in many of the 169 towns in Connecticut,” he added. “We would love to make some of those physical materials accessible online to researchers everywhere.”

From the UConn Foundation’s Our Moment newsletter (September-October 2012)

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