Historical Libraries

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1958 Article

Collections of writings on Anabaptist-Mennonite history and of writings by Anabaptists and Mennonites were first of all made by scholars and writers in the field, then by certain of the older and wealthier Mennonite congregations in Europe, and finally by American Mennonite colleges and seminaries. Extensive special Mennonite historical libraries, well-cataloged and serviced, date from the first part of the 20th century except for the [[Amsterdam Mennonite Library (Bibliotheek en Archief van de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente te Amsterdam)|Amsterdam Mennonite Library]], and in the 1950s were to be found only in a few American Mennonite schools. Most of the personal historical libraries and collections of the historians have found their way into the institutional libraries, hence in 1956 there were no extensive private collections. Numerous catalogs of private and congregational collections in Europe have been published. Only one such catalog has been published in America, that of the Mennonite Publishing House Library, Scottdale, Pennsylvania. (1929).

Private Historical Collections

The first of such collections was that of the Dutch Mennonite preacher Marten Schagen (1700-1770), who published a list of Mennonite writers and works in 1745 presumably based upon his own collection (sale catalog published in 1771), which was bequeathed to the Utrecht, Holland, congregation, which in turn later presented it to the Amsterdam Mennonite Library. The fate of Gerardus Maatschoen's (d. 1751) large collection (the sale catalog of 1752 contained 258 pages, though not all Mennonite) is not known. The fate of the collections of Steven Blaupot ten Cate (1807-1884), sale catalog in 1885, and J. D. Hesselink, sale catalog in 1878, is unknown. Most of W. J. Kühler's (1874-1946) small collection was secured by the Goshen College Library. The smaller collections of the German Mennonite historian Christian Neff (1863-1946) and Christian Hege (1869-1943) have become the property of the German Mennonite Historical Society (Mennonitischer Geschichtsverein), the former remaining at Weierhof, the latter now incorporated into the library of the Mennonite Research Center (Mennonitische Forschungsstelle) at Göttingen. Ulrich Hege (1808-1872) of Reihen had a small circulating library, of which a catalog was published at Leipzig in 1843 (Verzeichnis der Leih-Bibliothek von Ulrich Hege in Bockschajt). It was largely pietistic in content; its Mennonite books were secured by John Horsch in 1922. In America J. F. Funk's (1835-1930) extensive collection, largely selected and purchased by John Horsch (1867-1941) in 1887-1895, ultimately came to the Goshen College Library. The smaller collections of C. Henry Smith (1875-1948), N. B. Grubb (1850-1938), and C. H. A. van der Smissen (1851-1950) came to the Bluffton College Library. John Horsch's personal collection was incorporated in the Mennonite Publishing House Library and came to the Goshen College Library. S. W. Pennypacker (1843-1916), a former governor of Pennsylvania, had a considerable collection of Mennonitica (auction catalog 1920), much of which was purchased by the Schwenkfelder Library at Pennsburg, Pennsylvania. Bethel College obtained the F. C. Fleischer library of the Netherlands, and the collections of C. E. Krehbiel of Newton, Kansas, and Cornelius Jansen of Beatrice, Nebraska, as well as numerous smaller libraries of its constituency of the prairie states. Some of these libraries are preserved as memorial collections. The Franconia Mennonite Historical Society has established a regional historical library at Souderton, Pennsylvania, and a similar library was being established at Salunga, Pennsylvania, for the Lancaster Mennonite (MC)  Conference district.

Institutional Libraries


The oldest institutional Mennonite historical library is that of the Amsterdam (Holland) Mennonite Church. The library, which contained much more than Mennonitica, was established in 1680, although its major accessions of Anabaptistica and Mennonitica came after 1750 and chiefly in the 19th century. Catalogs of the Mennonite publications in the library have been published in 1854, 1888, 1919. In 1919, 3,800 Mennonite titles were listed, not including serials. A catalog of the large archival collection in the library was published in 1883-1884. The director in 1956 of the Amsterdam Library and Archives was N. van der Zijpp.

The small library of the Danzig Mennonite Church (a catalog, Katalog der Kirchenbibliothek der Mennonitengemeinde zu Danzig, published in 1869 at Danzig, listed 140 Mennonite titles) was scattered in the fighting of 1945 and following years, some items being brought to the Bethel and Goshen College libraries by returning relief workers and others. The larger library of the Hamburg Mennonite Church published a catalog in 1890, Katalog von der Bibliothe\ der Mennoniten-Gemeinde zu Hamburg und Altona, which listed over 500 titles by and about Mennonites. This library, established at the end of the 18th century by the bequest of the preacher R. Rahusen (1735-1793), was attempting in 1890 (according to the foreword in the catalog by the church board of the congregation) to assemble a complete collection of all such writings. It had numerous rare Dutch titles of the 17th and 18th centuries. The library was temporarily stored elsewhere for safety during the last years of World War II and suffered some loss by theft. There were few accessions between 1920 and 1950, but in 1916 it had 2,000 volumes, over half of them Mennonitica. The German Conference known as the Vereinigung der Mennoniten-Gemeinden im Deutschen Reich attempted to create a theological library, which was added to the Hamburg Mennonite congregational library. The congregations of Krefeld, Emden, and Heubuden had small libraries with Mennonite collections. The Heubuden library, kept in the meetinghouse as a circulating library, was in part destroyed 1945-1948, and in part taken over by Polish authorities who may have placed it in the Danzig city library collection. The Weierhof school (Realanstalt am Donnersberg) had only a small collection of Mennonitica in 1956. The Mennonitische Forschungsstelle at Göttingen (est. 1948) was vigorously building up a Mennonite library and in 1956 had over 500 titles and numerous serials. It was the only active Mennonite library in 1956 in Europe outside of Amsterdam. The Swiss Mennonite Conference had a small library and archives housed in the Jeangisboden meetinghouse in the Jura district near Tramelan.


The major Mennonite historical libraries in the 1950s, outside of Amsterdam, were those of the Mennonite colleges at Newton, Kansas (Bethel College) and Goshen, Indiana (Goshen College). The Goshen College Mennonite Historical Library was established in 1907 by the Goshen College Alumni Association and developed in a small way by C. Henry Smith until his departure from the institution in 1913. The serious development of the library did not begin until 1929 (holding then ca. 200 titles) when Harold S. Bender was given charge of the collection and the Mennonite Historical Society began its substantial support. In 1940 when the collection was placed in the new college library building, it had ca. 1,800 volumes. In 1956 its holdings were over 12,500 volumes including serials. The director was Bender and curator Nelson P. Springer, the latter in charge of the library since 1949. The Mennonite Historical Library of the Mennonite Publishing House at Scottdale, founded ca. 1908 (librarian John Horsch), reached its height about 1929, when its catalog was published (Catalogue of the Mennonite Historical Library in Scottdale, Pa.) containing more than 3,000 items. The catalog listed only some 1,300 titles of books and pamphlets valuable for Mennonite History. Of this number slightly more than 900 (all the foreign language titles and some English) were given in exchange to the Goshen College Library in 1944 where they are shelved as the "John Horsch Collection." The remaining historical materials at Scottdale were a part of the larger working theological library there serving the Publishing House editorial staff (Alta Erb, librarian). The Goshen library was particularly rich in 16th- and 17-century Anabaptistica, as well as in Mennonitica Americana.

The Bethel College Mennonite Historical Library, in 1956 holding over 12,000 volumes, including serials (Cornelius Krahn director after 1944), was established by A. Warkentin in 1935 (1,130 cataloged books in 1940), although the collection was begun by C. H. Wedel (d. 1910). The library grew steadily under the direction of Cornelius Krahn, assisted by John F. Schmidt after 1947. Some 2,000 books and pamphlets were obtained through its director during his sojourns in Europe in 1952 and 1953-54. Larger collections of Mennonitica such as the collection of the Mennonite Historical Association have been incorporated, although part of the latter collection went to the Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Chicago. Although the library aimed to collect every item pertaining to the Anabaptists and Mennonites in general its holdings were possibly most complete in the realm of Dutch, Prussian, Polish, and Russian Mennonitica. The library was housed in spacious quarters in the new Bethel College Library building, which was completed in 1953.

Additional notable smaller Mennonite historical collections were found in 1956 as follows: Bluffton College, established as a separate collection in 1928, holdings in 1956 about 4,000 volumes; Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Chicago, established in 1944, holdings in 1956 about 1,600; Eastern Mennonite College, established ca. 1950, holdings in 1956 about 1,000.

The Schwenkfelder Library at Pennsburg, Pennsylvania, has a small collection of Mennonitica, mostly American, the core of which it secured from the S. W. Pennypacker collection in 1920. It attempted to serve as a depository for Mennonite materials from Eastern Pennsylvania, especially Montgomery, Bucks, and Chester counties. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Library at Philadelphia has a considerable number of Mennonitica Americana, especially Pennsylvania imprints, as did also the large collection of Pennsylvania German imprints in the Pennsylvania German Folklore Center at Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA.

The largest collection of Anabaptist material, outside of Amsterdam, Goshen, and Bethel, was to be found in the Prussian State Library (formerly in Berlin, now at the University of Marburg except for unknown war losses), the University of Munich, Germany, and the libraries in Zürich, Switzerland (university, canton, and city). In the United States the Baptist historical libraries at Crozer (Chester, Pennsylvania) and Colgate-Rochester (Rochester, New York, USA) theological seminaries had considerable amounts of Hubmaier and early Anabaptist material. The Union Theological Seminary Library in New York City had the largest general collection of Anabaptist materials in the New World outside of the Mennonite libraries. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Library at Louisville, Kentucky was building up an Anabaptist collection, as was the Baptist Theological Seminary Library at Zürich/Rüschlikon, Switzerland.

Most of the Mennonite Historical Library collections contain not only printed books and pamphlets, but also periodicals, historical documents, historical manuscripts such as dissertations and papers, microfilms, photocopies, photographs, pictures, recordings, and museum items. Not infrequently denominational archival collections were attached to or housed with or near the collections. Only the Bethel College and Goshen College libraries were attempting exhaustive collections in all fields, languages, and groups. They have established a union catalog.

See [[Amsterdam Mennonite Library (Bibliotheek en Archief van de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente te Amsterdam)|Amsterdam Mennonite Library]]; Archives; and the articles Mennonite Historical Library of Bethel College, Mennonite Historical Library of Bluffton College, Mennonite Historical Library of Goshen College, Menno Simons Historical Library and Mennonite Historical Library of Mennonite Biblical Seminary. -- Harold S. Bender

1990 Update

Historical Libraries Since the 1950s many older Mennonite historical libraries have been strengthened greatly in terms of housing, staffing, growth, and professional control. The number of institutional and private Mennonite historical libraries continues to increase. Some institutions combine library, archival, and museum collections. Others maintain sharper distinctions. There remains a great deal of confusion in the minds of patrons between archival and library collections.

In Europe, the Amsterdam Mennonite Library has been moved from Singel Mennonite Church across the canal to the University of Amsterdam where it is maintained as a special collection within the university library. With the deaths of Ernst and Rose Crous the Mennonitische Forschungsstelle has been relocated to the Weierhof near Bolanden, West Germany. The Schweizerischer Verein für Täufergeschichte has established a library and archives housed at the European Mennonite Bible School, Bienenberg-Liestal. Another Swiss collection, the Archliv der Schweizer Mennonitengemeinden (begun by Samuel Geiser), is located in Jean-Gui, Sonnenberg, Corgémont. The Mennonites of France have recently organized and begun a collection under the direction of the Association Française d'Histoire Anabaptiste-Mennonite.

North American Mennonite librarians and archivists meet occasionally to share information and discuss mutual problems. They produce a newsletter for reporting between sessions. The two largest collections, Mennonite Historical Library, Goshen, Ind., and Mennonite Library and Archives, North Newton, Kansas, have improved the professional quality of their card catalogs with funding from the United States National Endowment for the Humanities. They and several other Mennonite libraries have entered cataloging records into the OCLC bibliographic data base to which approximately 7,000 libraries have access by computer. The North Newton library has published catalogs of its holdings of archival materials, art objects, and photographs. Mennonite Brethren have vigorous programs in three Centers for Mennonite Brethren Studies on the campuses of their colleges at Fresno, California; Hillsboro, Kansas; and Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Menno Simons Library and Archives, Harrisonburg, Va., has strengthened its holdings, particularly of Dutch Mennonitica. Other historical collections are to be found at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries, Elkhart, Indiana; Bluffton College, Ohio; Conrad Grebel College, Waterloo, Ontario; Canadian Mennonite Bible College, Winnipeg, Manitoba; Freeman Academy, South Dakota; and Messiah College, Grantham, Pennsylvania.

Amos B. Hoover's private collection of Old Order Mennonite materials in his Muddy Creek Farm Library, 296 Wheat Ridge Dr., Ephrata, Pennsylvania., includes archival, library, and museum materials. Amish materials are being collected at the Heritage Historical Library, Aylmer, Ontario, and, more recently, in the collections of Leroy Beachy, Millersburg, Ohio; Abner Better's Pequea Bruderschaft Library, Gordonville, Pa.; and others. The late Martin E. Ressler, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had a collection of Mennonite hymnals numbering 4,000 volumes.

The Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, Pennsylvania, has re-cataloged its collection. Perhaps no other Mennonite library has been affected as much by the heavily increased demand for genealogical services. Mennonite Genealogy, Winnipeg, specializes in genealogical materials relating to descendants of Russian Mennonites. The regional collections of the Eastern District (GCM) and Franconia Conference (MC) have been combined at Harleysville, Pennsylvania, in the Mennonite Heritage Center. Other regional collections include those of the Juniata Mennonite district, Pa. (MC), and libraries operated by British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Illinois, Iowa and other local Mennonite historical societies.

In South America, there are some beginning collections, particularly that of the Geschichtsarchiv der Mennonitischen Brüdergemeinde Paraguay in Asuncion. The collection begun by Gan Sakakibara at the Japan Anabaptist Center in Tokyo has played a role in the publication of more than a dozen Anabaptist books in Japanese, both new studies and translations.

A current list of historical libraries and archives is published in the Mennonite Church USA Directory.


Directory of Mennonite Archives and Historical Libraries, 3rd ed. Winnipeg, MB: Mennonite Heritage Centre, 1990.

Additional Information

Canadian Mennonite University (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada); includes the Mennonite Heritage Centre

Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)

Columbia Bible College (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada)

Conrad Grebel University College (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada)

Conrad Grebel University College library holdings are listed as part of the TRELLIS online catalog catalog which serves the University of Waterloo, University of Guelph and Wilfrid Laurier University

Essex-Kent Mennonite Historical Association (Leamington, Ontario, Canada)

Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society

Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta

Mennonite Historical Society of British Columbia

Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan


Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives (Grantham, Pennsylvania)

California Mennonite Historical Society

Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies (Fresno, California)

[http://www.tabor.edu/about-tabor/center-mennonite-brethren-studies Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies (Hillsboro, Kansas)

]Deleware Mennonite Historical Society

Illinois Mennonite Historical & Genealogical Society (Metamora, Illinois)

Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society

Menno Simons Historical Library (Harrisonburg, Virginia)

Mennonite Historians of Eastern PA and the Heritage Center

Mennonite Historical Library (Bluffton College, Bluffton, Ohio); the Library is searchable through the Ohio Private Academic Libraries (OPAL) online system

Mennonite Historical Library (Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana); the Goshen College library is searchable via the PALNI Library network. A search on this network also includes the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Elkhart, Indiana).

Mennonite Library and Archives (Bethel, College, North Newton Kansas)

Mifflin County Mennonite Historical Society (Belleville, Pennsylvania

Missionary Church Archives and Historical Collections (Mishawaka, Indiana; Fort Wayne, Indiana)

Ohio Mennonite Genealogy Project (Kidron, Ohio)

Oregon Mennonite Historical and Genealogical Society (Salem, Oregon)

Author(s) Harold S. Bender
Nelson P. Springer
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. and Nelson P. Springer. "Historical Libraries." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 2 Mar 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Historical_Libraries&oldid=177017.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. and Nelson P. Springer. (1989). Historical Libraries. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2 March 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Historical_Libraries&oldid=177017.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 749-751, v. 5, pp. 373-374. All rights reserved.

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