- For Members
Welcome to the Boston Athenæum
Founded in 1807, the Boston Athenæum is one of America’s oldest and most historically significant cultural institutions. Its assets are many: an engaged and sophisticated membership of 5,000; a beloved National Historic Landmark building in the heart of the city, with some of the most beautiful interiors in North America; a significant endowment; a professionally qualified staff of 44; research and circulating book collections totaling 480,000 volumes; special collections of 130,000 rare books and works of art, important not only for their size and intrinsic value, but because they were among the first collections of their kind formed in America; and, perhaps most importantly, a powerful history that becomes an almost palpable presence. The Athenæum is also known for the many significant authors, scholars, and political leaders who have been Athenæum members.
The Special Collections resources include rare books, maps, manuscripts, prints and photographs, paintings and sculpture, and archival documents. The Athenæum’s collections focus on history, art history, and literature, with particular strengths in Colonial North America, the American Revolution, the Civil War, Boston and New England history, maps and atlases, prints and photographs from the 19th to 21st centuries, and American painting and sculpture. Highlights include the library of George Washington; Gilbert Stuart's portrait of John Adams; the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln; busts of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and the Marquis de Lafayette by the French master Jean-Antoine Houdon, formerly owned by Thomas Jefferson; over 4,000 volumes printed in the Confederacy during the Civil War; World War I posters; and contemporary artist books, photography, and graphic art. The collections are augmented with several thousand new acquisitions each year.
Many of the Athenæum’s unique holdings are available online in digital collections, as the library has made it a priority to increase digital access to its holdings. The Conservation Laboratory is a leader in the preservation of rare books and works on paper, and its expertise is often sought by other collecting institutions.
A capital campaign funded the renovation of the Athenæum’s historic building, with the addition of modern climate control and state-of-the-art technological infrastructure, a new dedicated art gallery, and spaces for public lectures and programs that are a major part of the Athenæum’s mission and public face. The Athenæum provides its members and the broader public with a wide variety of activities including lectures, panel discussions, poetry readings, musical performances, and films, as well as programming for children and families, special events, and social gatherings.