Joseph Henry's Letter to Nancy Clarke Fowler Bache (February 19, 1866)

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  • Letter from Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, to Nancy Clarke Fowler Bache, the wife of his close friend Alexander Dallas Bache, February 19, 1866. In the letter, Henry discusses a proposition then before the United States Congress to join the libraries of the Smithsonian and the Capitol. He also notes that another debate will take place about whether to abolish the United States Light House Board and give their duties to the Navy Department.
  • On April 5, 1866, the United States Congress passed an act transferring the custody of the library of the Smithsonian Institution to the Library of Congress (Stat., XIV, 19). The library turned over approximately 40,000 volumes of scientific works to form the basis of the "Smithsonian Deposit." By the law authorizing the transfer, the Institution is at liberty to draw any books it may require for its use either from its own collection or from those of Congress. Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry had used the fire at the Smithsonian Building on January 24, 1865, to strengthen his longstanding contention that the Institution's library should be deposited in the Library of Congress, which had just finished constructing new fireproof quarters.
  • On September 25, 1852, Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, was appointed to the newly-established United States Light House Board, serving as one of two civilian scientists. Alexander Dallas Bache, Superintendent of the United States Coast Survey and Henry's friend, is the other civilian appointment. Henry would become Chairman of the Light-House Board in 1871, and would serve until is death in 1878.


  • Bache, Nancy
  • Bache, A. D (Alexander Dallas) 1806-1867
  • Library of Congress
  • Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL)
  • United States Coast Survey
  • United States Congress
  • United States Navy
  • Smithsonian Deposit (Library of Congress)
  • United States Light House Board


Historic Images of the Smithsonian


The accompanying PDF contains SIA2012-3042, SIA2012-3043, SIA2012-3044, and SIA2012-3045, which are pages scanned from the edited transcript of the original version and notes in the Joseph Henry Papers Volume 11, pages 11-14 (Document 7).

Contained within

  • Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7053, Box 6, Folder: Correspondence to Mrs. A. D. Bache, 1859-1869
  • Rothenberg, Marc, et al, eds., The Papers of Joseph Henry, Volume 11, The Smithsonian Years: January 1866-May 1878 (Smithsonian Institution in association with Science History Publications/USA, 2007), 11-14

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


February 19, 1866

Restrictions & Rights

No restrictions


  • Law
  • Letters
  • Libraries
  • Interagency Transfers
  • Scientists
  • Legislation


  • Document
  • Paper

ID Number

SIA2012-2680 and SIA2012-2681 and SIA2012-2682 and SIA2012-2683 and SIA2012-2684 and SIA2012-2685

Physical description

Number of Images: 6 ; Color: Color ; Size: 8 1/4w x 10 1/2h ; Type of Image: Document ; Medium: Paper

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