Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature, 170 McCormick Rd, Charlottesville, VA 22904
Aquia Episcopal Church Cemetery Aquia, Stafford County, Virginia, USA
Clifton Waller Barrett (June 1, 1901 - November 6, 1991) was a shipping executive who donated one of the nation's premier collections of rare American books and manuscripts to the University of Virginia. He gave his alma mater 35,000 books and 112,000 manuscripts, including the handwritten originals of "The Red Badge of Courage" and "Leaves of Grass" and manuscripts of "Grapes of Wrath" and "The Glass Menagerie." He was a member of the Horace Walpole Society, elected in 1958, honorary member in 1990.
Barrett was a native of Alexandria, VA, the son of Robert South Barrett (1877-1959) and Viola A. Tupper (1877-1960). He graduated at Alexandria High School. He was a former member of the board of visitors at the University of Virginia. Until 1906 he resided mainly in Mexico City, where his father had business interests. He then moved to Alexandria, Va., to live with his grandmother Katherine Waller Barrett, while his father pursued a global business career. Valedictorian of his senior class at Alexandria high School, Clifton attended U. of Va. (1917-1920), where he worked on the staff of the University of Virginia Magazine, and declared a major in English literature. He interrupted his studies to serve during WWI with the Student Army Training Corps in Plattsburgh, N.Y. In 1920 he dropped out of school "for what may have been financial reasons involving a dispute with his father." Although he never graduated from college, he became a noted author and lecturer, eventually receiving honorary doctorates from Clarke U. (Litt.D., 1966), Brown U. (L.H.D., 1966), and the College of William and Mary, as well as honorary Phi Beta Kappa (1952).
Within a month of leaving the U. of Va., he made his way to New York City and landed a job as a clerk in the New York headquarters of the Munson Steam Ship line. He had innate business skills, and he rapidly absorbed the essentials of the shipping business in his new post as assistant to the vice-president. He did not hurt his career when he married (April 24, 1924) Cornelia Corinne Hughes (born in Birmingham. Ala., Sept. 27, 1902; died in Charlottesville, Va., Oct. 14, 1989). Her father was a prominent executive in the Steam Ship Line.
In 1932, at the nadir of the Depression, he boldly quit his job at Munson in order to become co-founder and vice-president of his own shipping Finn, the North Atlantic & Gulf Steam Ship Company, in New York City. He began the new enterprise with one leased ship, and at the time of his retirement he controlled a fleet of 66 ships. In his new firm, he rose from co-founder and vice-president, to director and finally president (1952-1954). During WWII, he served in the War Shipping Administration as director of sugar transportation. He meanwhile pursued numerous other successful business enterprises, serving as president and chairman of the Norgulf Corp. and on the board of directors of Eastern Broadcasting Corp. and Holt, Rinehart & Winston. Simultaneously, he used his skill in the stock market to develop a huge portfolio.
Highly chic minded and devoted to the cause of learning, he was president of the Board of Education of Garden City, N.Y. (1945-1946), a member of the New York City Art Commission, and chairman of the Fellows of the Pierpon Morgan library. He also served as a trustee of the U. of Virginia's McGregor Library, the New York Public Library, Sweet Briar College, Clark U., and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. He was also chairman of the board of regents of the James Monroe Memorial Library, member of the board of visitors of the U. of Va., and president of both the American Antiquanan Society and the Bibliographical Society of America (1962-1964). A prolific author, his books include Bibliographical Adventures in Ametica (1950), Henry Adams (1951), and American Fiction: The First Seventy-Five Years (1954).
From his youth he was an avid bibliophile, and during the 1930s he spent his lunch hour roaming the bookstores near Wall Street in search of Depression-era bargains. Meanwhile, he used his long commutes from Manhattan to his home on Long Island to continue his study of American literary history. Over the course of many years, he gathered a famous collection of more than 40,000 manuscripts and 30,000 books, including many first editions and the handwritten originals of Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. When he donated his entire collection to the U. of Va. in 1960, it was appraised then at $25 million, the largest donation ever received by the university during the donor's lifetime. The dedication ceremony was attended by Barrett's aging friend Robert Frost and ca. 400 other distinguished guests. A new wing was built to accommodate it in the university's Alderman Library, where it now comprises the famed Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature. A chair in Comparative Literature at the U. of Va. is named in his honor. The Barretts resided in New York City and later near Charlottesville in Albemarle Co., Va., where he died Nov. 6, 1991. He had the following childrem: Clifton Waller Barrett, Jr. (resided in Montrose, Monmouth Co., NJ.); William Hughes Barrett (1932-1993, resided in Levittown, Bucks Co., N.Y.); John Sherwood Barrett (resided in Newport, Newport Co., R.I.); Robert Paul Barrett (resided in Grantham, Cumberland Co., P.A.); Richard Tupper Barrett (resided in Bound Brook, Somerset Co., N.J.); Kate Waller Barrett (studied in Florence, Italy, and she married Robert Winfield Rennie. They resided in Scotch Plains, Union Co, N.J.).
He died of a heart ailment Nov. 6, 1991m at his home in Charlottesville.
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