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In Memoriam: Edward Connery Lathem, 1926–2009

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Dartmouth College librarian and dean of libraries emeritus

Edward Lathem
Edward Connery Lathem (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Edward Connery Lathem, librarian, editor, and for nearly sixty years an administrative officer at Dartmouth College, died unexpectedly on Friday, May 15, 2009 in his Dartmouth office. He had been working at his desk in the Bryant Room in Webster Hall when he collapsed. He was 82.

Mr. Lathem was most widely known for editorial works in the fields of literature, history, and biography.

His volume The Poetry of Robert Frost (first published in 1969) constitutes the standard edition of the famous poet's verse. A close personal friend of Robert Frost, Mr. Lathem was also the editor or co-editor of several other Frost volumes, among them Selected Prose of Robert Frost (1966), Interviews with Robert Frost (1966), Robert Frost: Poetry and Prose (1972), North of Boston Poems (1977) and Prose Jottings of Robert Frost (1982).

Other of his more than 30 published books relate to such diverse figures as President Calvin Coolidge, novelists Erskine Caldwell and Wallace Stegner, historian Bernard Bailyn and graphic artist Rudolph Ruzicka, as well as to such varied subjects as landmark works of Americana, newspapers of the period 1690-1820, libraries as scholarly centers, and Dartmouth College history. (The latter category included Miraculously Builded in Our Hearts, a volume on the history of Dartmouth in the 20th century, published in 1999, which he co-authored with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette executive editor David Shribman.)

Mr. Lathem continued to publish very actively in the final years of his life. Among his recent works were Mark Twain's Four Weeks in England - 1907, a study of the famous author's trip to England to receive an honorary degree from Oxford near the end of his life. (2006, The Mark Twain House and Museum). Others were England's Homage to Longfellow (2007, Maine Historical Society), George Bernard Shaw: Eight Interviews (2002, The Perpetua Press), The Beginnings of Dr. Seuss - An Informal Reminiscence, (2004, Dartmouth College) and a bibliography, English Verse and Literary Prose in America before 1776. (American Antiquarian Society, 2002).

Mr. Lathem had recently returned from a research trip to England, where he was at work on a project relating to the correspondence between George Bernard Shaw and Gilbert Murray.

Mr. Lathem's final completed project, also prepared with Mr. Shribman, was Robert Frost: Speaking on Campus, Excerpts from his Talks, 1949-1962, which is to be published in late September by W.W. Norton.

Dartmouth College Roles

From 1952 through 1978 Mr. Lathem served as a member of Dartmouth's library staff; successively as assistant to the librarian, director of special collections, assistant librarian, associate librarian and (from 1968 through 1978) head librarian. In 1973 he was accorded the rank of dean, and he thereafter carried the dual title librarian of the college and dean of libraries.

Shortly before his disengagement from library-centered responsibilities at Dartmouth, the college's trustees bestowed upon him a special citation celebrating his quarter-century of service. In 1978 he was voted emeritus status as librarian and dean, and was thereupon designated Bezaleel Woodward Fellow, with an assignment of broadly ranging concerns within the college.

He also had a long-standing close association with Dartmouth's presidents that was formalized in 1982 by his being named Counselor to the President, the first individual in the college's history to hold such a position. He subsequently served in that capacity through the presidencies of John G. Kemeny, David T. McLaughlin, James O. Freedman and current President James Wright.

His relationship to Dartmouth's eleventh president, Ernest Martin Hopkins, had as a particular focus the tape-recording, over a period of several years, of Mr. Hopkins's autobiographical reminiscences. And his ties of friendship and interaction with the college's twelfth president, John Sloan Dickey, included their working collaboratively on the preparation of a volume of President Dickey's speeches and writings, published in 1977 as The Dartmouth Experience.

Over the course of his Dartmouth years Mr. Lathem also fulfilled a number of ancillary roles at the college, including that of literary editor of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine (in the decade 1953-63), as well as that of executive director (1980-89) of the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Endowment, the establishment of which he had helped to coordinate during the mid-1970s.

He was the organizing force for the creation at Dartmouth of a comprehensive microfilm edition of the papers of Daniel Webster, undertaken as the basis for subsequent publication of an annotated letterpress edition, selective in its coverage, and to the projection of which he had been central. Also, it was his initiative that brought about the formation at Dartmouth of the University Press of New England, as a cooperative intercollegiate publishing enterprise.

Mr. Lathem's having in 1983 pointed out that Dartmouth's royal charter of 1769 provides for inclusion among the institution's officers of an usher, as well as a steward, caused the college's board of trustees to reinstitute both of those long-dormant posts, and he from that point onward served as college usher, functioning as such within the ceremonial pagentry of annual convocation and commencement exercises.

Birth, Education and Marriage

A native of New Hampshire, Mr. Lathem was born at Littleton on December 15, 1926. He attended public schools in Longmeadow and Springfield, Massachusetts. Then, following a brief period of duty with the U.S. Army toward the close of World War II, he entered Dartmouth, from which he was graduated with the class of 1951.

He spent the academic year 1951-52 at Columbia University, pursuing his master's degree in library service. Thereafter, during intervals of leave from Dartmouth, he engaged in research at Oxford University, which awarded him a doctorate of philosophy in 1961.

In 1957 he married E. Elizabeth French, a physician whose professional career entailed long-time concurrent service with Hanover's Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital, the Hitchcock Clinic, and the Dartmouth Medical School. Mrs. Lathem died in 1992.

Civic and Professional Service Activities

Mr. Lathem was very actively involved with civic service on the local and state levels and in his professional field.

He was for two decades (1967-87) a trustee of the Howe Library in Hanover, N.H. He also served as chairman (1958-62) of Hanover's bicentennial committee, and for more than 30 years (from 1962) he held elective office as a fence viewer of the town.

Mr. Lathem was for nearly twenty years (1956-75) a trustee of the New Hampshire Historical Society, as well as for varying lengths of time a member of advisory panels of governmental agencies in the area of recreation and natural resources.

During 1976-77 Mr. Lathem was president of the Association of Research Libraries, having previously been vice president and also on the board of directors of that organization, comprised of leading research institutions of the United States and Canada.

Among Mr. Lathem's special engagements within the library world were his six years of service (1978-84) as a member of the overseers' committee to visit the Harvard University library and his membership (from 1980 to 1993) on the advisory board of the American Trust for the British Library.

He was from 1985 until the time of his death a trustee of the Dr. Seuss Foundation, as well as from 1986 onward co-trustee of the William L. Bryant Foundation (the assets of which were dissolved several years ago and transferred to Dartmouth).

In accordance with Mr. Lathem's wishes, no funeral or memorial service will be held.

Last Updated: 5/28/09