On August 11, 1949, Emma Baily Speer sent an invitation to Dr. Pierce Beaver, curator of the Missionary Research Library, requesting that he and his wife pay her a cordial visit in Connecticut to look over the materials in her late husband’s library:
Robert Elliot Speer had passed away two years earlier at the age of 80 after a long and successful career as a lay leader in public ministry and foreign missions work, and the Missionary Research Library at Union Theological Seminary had expressed an interest in possibly obtaining some of his papers for their collection. Speer had served on the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions for 46 years, and had been involved in a number of ecumenical efforts including the Foreign Missions Conference of North America and the Federal Council of Churches.
Dr. Beaver and his wife happily accepted the invitation to visit in early September, and shortly thereafter, wrote to Mrs. Speer:
It was in this correspondence that Beaver requested the acquisition of a large number of materials on behalf of the Missionary Research Library. He wrote,
Indeed, Robert Speer’s library contained an impressive number of bound and indexed volumes of pamphlets, reports, newsletters, and correspondence related to the wide variety of topics that had occupied his work throughout the course of his career: missions in China, Japan, Korea, India, Persia, the Middle East, and Latin America; the Student Volunteer Movement; the Jerusalem Conference, World War II; the Sino-Japanese Conflict; international peace efforts; race relations; missionary policy; and biographical materials of foreign missionaries. The earliest items in the collection date back all the way to 1795, spanning over a century of print materials. The theological diversity of these pamphlets serve as testament of Speer’s ecumenical commitment, and reflect the cacophany of voices present in the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the early 20th century.
In the end, over 400 hand-bound volumes were acquisitioned by the Missionary Research Library. Speers’ daughter Margaret expressed much gratitude on behalf of her family that the materials would go to good use:
Unfortunately, the Missionary Research Library has been closed to the public since 1967, and so these books have remained unavailable for decades, collecting dust on the shelves of a large storage room in Union Theological Seminary’s Brown Tower.
Today we are happy to announce that the Robert E. Speer collection has now been fully catalogued within Burke Library archives, and is once again available for perusal. Those with an interest in researching subject matters related to religion and international politics from the turn of the twentieth century to the aftermath of World War II will find a wealth of information and insights within this vast collection.
The finding aid for the Robert E. Speer collection may be found online at: http://library.columbia.edu/content/dam/libraryweb/locations/burke/fa/mrl/ldpd_10503782.pdf