Controversy over Use of SI Lecture Room




Date: February 1863


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In his annual report to the Board of Regents, Secretary Joseph Henry states that no arrangements were made for public lectures on the part of the Smithsonian Institution for the winter of 1861-62. However, an outside organization, the Washington Lecture Association, was given permission to use the lecture room, but did not adhere to the rule that sectarian and political subjects not be discussed. Instead, the lectures addressed the issue of slavery from an abolitionist point of view. Vain attempts were made to quell the ensuing controversy by stating that the Institution was not responsible for the political character of these lectures. Secretary Henry concluded it was necessary to restrict use of the lecture room to events directly under the auspices of the Institution, provoking offence to those who desired to respond to the political views presented. Henry decided to make up for dissatisfaction by arranging, under Institution auspices, a more extended series of lectures for the winter of 1862-63, on a variety of scientific and/or educational subjects.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Abolitionist
  • Smithsonian Institution Building Lecture Hall


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Portrait photograph of Owen Lovejoy (1811-1864), an abolitionist and member of the Washington Lecture Association, c. 1860. National Portrait Gallery, image number NPG.79.49.
  • For further discussion, see Dorman's "'Interruptions and Embarrassments': The Smithsonian Institution during the Civil War" on Henry web site or Alyssa DesRochers, "Controversy in the 'Castle" Citations here are pulled from noted 21 and 22 of Dorman's paper.
  • Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1862. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1863, p. 43-44.

Contact information

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


  • February 1863
  • Civil War, 1861-1865


  • Slavery
  • Policies
  • Lectures and lecturing
  • Wartime Activities
  • Controversies
  • Secretaries
  • History
  • Antislavery movements


United States

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