Lingelbach, William E. (William Ezra), 1871-1962

Alternative names
Birth 1871
Death 1962

Biographical notes:

William E. Lingelbach was the Librarian of the American Philosophical Society when the issue arose of the ownership of the William Clark papers discovered in an attic in Minnesota.

From the description of Documents concerning the William Clark Papers, 1953-1956. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122489493

From the guide to the Documents concerning the William Clark Papers, 1953-1956, 1953-1956, (American Philosophical Society)

William Ezra Lingelbach was a professor of modern European history (1900-1946) and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (1939-1941) at the University of Pennsylvania. He was Librarian of the American Philosophical Society from 1942-1958.

From the description of Papers, 1902-1963. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122578696

William Ezra Lingelbach (1871-1962, APS 1916) was a historian and librarian. He was Librarian of the American Philosophical Society from 1942-1958. He was also founder of the APS Library Bulletin and largely responsible for the completion of the new Library Hall in 1959.

Lingelbach was born in Shakespeare, Ontario on March 17, 1871, the son of John L. Lingelbach and Mary Young. His paternal grandfather William had emigrated to Ontario early in the nineteenth-century from the village of Lingelbach in the Rhineland, and became a pastor in one of the German Protestant in churches in the province. His father John, also a pastor, died when Lingelbach was still a child, and the boy grew up on the farm of an uncle. He matriculated at the University of Toronto and received an A.B. in 1894. At the University Lingelbach combined academic distinction with athletic achievement. He was captain of the varsity soccer team and an undergraduate champion in fencing Following his graduation, Lingelbach worked as a teaching fellow at Toronto in 1894-95, but the following year he migrated to Germany for graduate study in modern European history at the University of Leipzig. After a year of graduate study in Germany, Lingelbach returned to Ontario, but determined to complete his graduate training. He decided to pursue graduate study in the United States, and took classes at the University of Chicago during the 1897-98 academic year. The following year he taught at the Michigan Military Academy, before becoming a history instructor at the University of Pennsylvania in 1900. He received his Ph.D. in modern European history from the University of Pennsylvania in 1901 with a dissertation entitled The Internal Organization of the Merchant Adventurers of England.

In 1902, Lingelbach married Anna Lane, whom he met while studying in Chicago. They had three children, two sons and a daughter. Ms. Lingelbach, also a historian, later became Professor of History at Temple University and a member of the Philadelphia Board of Education.

During the first two decades of his scholarly career, Lingelbach’s research interests shifted to Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He published articles in the American Historical Review on Saxon-American relations from 1778-1828 (1912) and on the commercial history of the Napoleonic era (1914). Later in 1933, Lingelbach published another article in the Review entitled “Belgian Neutrality: Its Origin and Interpretation,” which showed his interest in the question of responsibility for the Great War. The latter article also reflected Lingelbach’s new focus on political and diplomatic history in the interwar years.

As a teacher of history, Lingelbach was quite influential, making his chief undergraduate course “Europe since 1815” a standard offering at the University of Pennsylvania and in other colleges, as well. He was a dignified instructor, who developed his subject with clarity and appeal. He also took a genuine interest in individual students, undergraduate and graduate students. After 1915, he devoted more time to graduate instruction, but continued to display a “sympathetic” interest in individual students. This concern, together with his enthusiasm for the sources of diplomatic history made his seminars at Penn both popular and effective. As a result of the direction he provided and the inspiration he imparted, a number of his students received American Historical Association prizes for their dissertations and many went on to become senior faculty at American universities. In 1959 eighteen of his former students dedicated to Lingelbach the Guide to the Diplomatic Archives of Western Europe, edited by Daniel H. Thomas and Lynn M. Case. Toward the end of his academic career, in 1939 Lingelbach was appointed Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, a position he held until his retirement in 1941.

In addition to his scholarly activities, Lingelbach was active as an educator and civic leader in his adopted city of Philadelphia. His talent for collaborating harmoniously with others became evident early in his career. He was elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society in 1916. Within the A.P.S. he was a member of the Council in 1924-27, a Secretary in 1934-40, and a Vice-President from 1940-43. He also served as President of the local Geographical Society (1914-1916, 1918-20) and President of the Contemporary Club (1943-44). He held memberships with the Lenape, the Franklin Inn, and the Union clubs of Philadelphia; and was active as a member in the music and Sunday School programs of First Presbyterian Church.

On a state and national level, Lingelbach was active in the American Historical Association, first as a member of its Council (1914-18), then Chairman of its Commission on History in the Schools (1923) and finally from 1935-37 Chairman of the Executive Committee. He was a member of the National Board of Historical Research from 1917-18, and served as President of the History Teachers Association of the Middle States and Maryland from 1926-27. For twenty years, from 1926-46 he served as A.P.S. representative to the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). He was ACLS Secretary-Treasurer from 1930-34 and Chairman from 1938-41. During World War II, he was Chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on the Conservation of Cultural Resources (1942-44).

In 1942, at the age of seventy-one after a successful career as a teacher, scholar and academic administrator, Lingelbach undertook a new challenge as Librarian of the American Philosophical Society. A long-serving member of the APS Committee on Library, he had strongly supported the recommendation of its Special Committee in 1941 to expand the Library’s holdings and to construct a facility adequate to house them. In the context of a 1953 historical survey of the A.P.S. Library, Lingelbach described the changes accomplished during the first ten years of his tenure as A.P.S. Librarian, as well as plans for the library’s future. In order to build the collections, he became a self-taught expert on Benjamin Franklin and dedicated himself to acquiring Frankliniana, Colonial and Revolutionary War materials, Native American collections, as well as collections in the history of science. Within the Society he worked indirectly to develop support for the proposal for a permanent library building to replace the one that temporarily housed the collections. In addition to expanding its collections, Lingelbach brought a number of important changes to the A.P.S. Library. One was the establishment of the Library Bulletin to promote the Library and its holdings, a publication that later became an independent unit within the A.P.S. annual Proceedings. He conceived several major uses for the Bulletin. The first was a means of featuring A.P.S. collections by intermittently publishing some of the key documents or groups of historical documents in the Library’s holdings. To the same end the Bulletin frequently published interesting articles, developed from the Library collections on various scholarly topics. Lingelbach also used the publication as a vehicle to campaign for a library building at the Society. Another innovation was to appoint distinguished scholars to funded Library Research Associateships, whose publications would help to promote the collections and whose advice on library acquisitions and policies would strengthen them. No doubt, Lingelbach’s greatest achievement was the planning and construction of the new Library Hall on the site of the original Library Company as part of the Independence National Historical Park. According to A.P.S. President William J. Robbins (1890-1978, APS 1941), Lingelbach was responsible, “more than any other individual” for the conception and development of the plan.

Although Lingelbach retired as A.P.S. Librarian in 1958, he retained a small office at the Society and remained a contributing member of the Committee on Library. While not interfering with the activities of his successor, Lingelbach maintained an undiminished interest in the A.P.S. Library program and offered imaginative suggestions even during his final illness. Lingelbach’s life came to an end at University Hospital on November 24, 1962, as his wife Anna read to him in his room.

Perhaps the most fitting recognition of Lingelbach’s character and service was expressed by A.P.S. President Robbins, who noted that “[Lingelbach’s] quiet manner and willingness to contribute advice and good judgment whenever and wherever asked, made him an invaluable counselor to many projects in the City of Philadelphia, the State, and the Nation as well as to the administration of the Society.”

From the guide to the William E. (William Ezra) Lingelbach papers, 1902-1963, 1902-1963, (American Philosophical Society)


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  • History, Modern
  • Archives--Law and legislation
  • International relations
  • World politics
  • Manuscripts
  • Archives--Law and legislation--United States


  • Compilers


  • Philadelphia (Pa.) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Independence National Historical Park (Philadelphia, Pa.) (as recorded)
  • Philadelphia (Pa.) (as recorded)