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 Gilbert Harry Doane (1897-1980) 

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A respected librarian and bibliophile, Gilbert Harry Doane was born in Fairfield, Vermont on January 28, 1897. His lifelong interest in library sciences and book collecting began in high school when he volunteered at his local public library. After graduating from Colgate University in 1918, he served as librarian for the Genealogy Society at the U.S. Naval Training Station in Newport, Rhode Island. He returned to his academic studies in 1920 and received a graduate certificate from the New York State Library School in Albany. In the years before World War II, he acquired a wealth of experience in library administration. He worked as Assistant Librarian and Reference Librarian at the University of Arizona from 1921 to 1922, Assistant Librarian and Head Classifier at the University of Michigan from 1922 to 1925, and a librarian and professor of bibliography at the University of Nebraska from 1925 to 1937.


In 1937 Doane began a long career as Director of Libraries at the University of Wisconsin. At this time, the university’s small library held around 400,000 volumes managed by less than fifty staff members. During his nineteen-year tenure as director, Doane drastically expanded the library’s collection to almost one million volumes, tripled the library’s annual budget, and maintained a staff including ninety-two fulltime librarians. In addition, Doane worked to inspire the next generation of bibliophiles. He served as Director of the university’s Library School from 1938 to 1941, during which time he hosted lectures on the history of books and printing, and commenced a work-study program which swelled to more than 100 student volunteers.


In 1943 Doane was granted leave from the University of Wisconsin to serve as a captain with the MFAA. He attended training at the School of Military Government in Charlottesville, Virginia from December 1, 1943 to January 25, 1944. Upon the completion of his training, he was transferred to the American School Center in Shrivenham, England, an Officers Candidate School of the European Civil Affairs Division (ECAD) for specialists awaiting assignments to their respective detachments in the European Theater of Operation (ETO). There, Doane served as ECAD Librarian managing the Division’s collection of documents and lists of protected monuments required by Monuments Men in the field. Highly respected for his expert knowledge of libraries, in July 1944 Doane submitted a paper detailing the protected archives and libraries for inclusion in the manual of the Education and Religious Affairs Division.


After two years of service with the MFAA, Doane retired in 1945 with the rank of major. He resumed his post as Director of Libraries at the University of Wisconsin and devoted his time to plans for the new Memorial Library, which opened its doors in 1953. He was later appointed the first University Archivist in 1956, and worked alongside Wisconsin State Archivist and fellow former Monuments Officer, Jesse Boell, to reorganize the holdings of the Wisconsin State Historical Society and merge some with the university’s Department of Special Collections. In addition, he acquired the Chester H. Thordarson Collection of rare books, which includes a double-elephant folio edition of Audubon’s Birds of America as well as seventeenth-century English almanacs. Today, the Thordarson Collection remains at the heart of the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Special Collections.


Doane retired with the honorary title of Professor Emeritus in 1962. During his long and successful career, he published numerous books and articles focusing on book collecting and genealogy, including The Legend of the Book (1924), a catalogue of the library of Lord Byron (1929), About Collecting Bookplates (1941), and Searching for Your Ancestors (1937), a classic work on genealogy. His 1953 biography of Rev. Jackson Kemper, the first Episcopal bishop of Wisconsin, was a case of art imitating life. Doane himself became an ordained deacon of the Episcopal Church in 1943 and later served as a priest at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin. Similarly, he served a long term as historiographer of the Diocese of Milwaukee from 1937 to 1967. He was a fellow of the American Society of Genealogists and a member of the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Vermont Historical Society, the Church Historical Society, and The Society of Genealogists, London.


Gilbert Doane passed away on March 7, 1980 in Newton, Massachusetts after a long illness.

Photo courtesy of the Doane Family (private collection).

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