Happy birthday, Armstrong Browning Library!
The first indication a visitor receives that Baylor’s Armstrong Browning Library is a special place is the entrance. Bronze doors, each weighing nearly a ton, open slowly as they dramatically reveal what’s inside — and what’s inside is not only one of the most beautiful facilities on the Baylor campus, but one of the most beautiful campus libraries and museums anywhere.
In the years since Armstrong Browning Library was dedicated on Dec. 2, 1951, generations of visitors have come to learn more about the lives and works of Victorian poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. They’ve also marveled at the library’s stunning architecture.
Even after 65+ years, Armstrong Browning Library’s original grandeur remains. In recent years, it has been recognized by such sources as the BBC and Mental Floss as one of the world’s most beautiful libraries. From Martin Entrance Foyer to the iconic McLean Foyer of Meditation and beyond, Armstrong Browning transports visitors away from the stress of campus life and encourages contemplation and reverence.
The library boasts the world’s largest collection of materials related to the Brownings’ lives and work, attracting scholars and fans from around the globe. But even visitors with limited knowledge of the Brownings can find something to enjoy, like the library’s 62 stained glass windows (believed to be the world’s largest collection of non-religious stained glass), its marble columns and its ornate designs.
The library itself is the culmination of decades of hard work and dreaming by Dr. A.J. Armstrong and his wife, Mary Maxwell Armstrong. A.J. Armstrong spent four decades as chair of the Baylor English Department, from 1912-52. Early in his tenure, he dreamed of a library that showcased his collection of Browning artifacts, which was recognized as the world’s largest. Realizing the need for a facility to house the collection, Armstrong went to Baylor President Pat Neff, who gave Armstrong $100,000 and charged him to raise the remaining funds. Amidst the difficult fundraising backdrop of World War II and the Great Depression, Armstrong raised over $1.6 million to make his dream a reality.
A few things have changed in Armstrong Browning Library’s six-plus decades. The English Department, one of the library’s initial tenants, moved to Carroll Science Building to clear space for additional collection rooms, a ground-floor entrance, a gift shop and more. In 2012, the adjoining Garden of Contentment was dedicated, fulfilling Armstrong’s original vision of an outdoor space of reflection and meditation.
Sic ’em and happy birthday, Armstrong Browning Library!