James C. Strout: Destined for Librarianship

The following is a guest post by Beverly Brannan, Curator of Photography, Prints & Photographs Division:

The Library of Congress has employed a number of military veterans and provided soldiers to serve in wars over the years. One of these from the Civil War recently came to light when the Library acquired a daguerreotype of James Charles Strout.

Photograph shows portrait of James C. Strout just before entering Bowdoin College; he would later become Assistant Librarian of the Library of Congress.

James C. Strout. Daguerreotype by George W. Butler, June 19, 1852. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.38826

Photographer George W. Butler made a sixth-plate daguerreotype portrait of Strout on June 19, 1852, in Portland, Maine. Although the next-to-table, hand-on-book pose is standard for this era of long photographic exposure time, in this case it was prophetic–Strout was seemingly destined for librarianship.

After Strout graduated from Bowdoin College in the class of 1857, he settled into a boarding house in Boston where he worked as a clerk for the Young Men’s Christian Association. In 1861, he was elected Grand Worthy Secretary of the Boston chapter of the Cadets of Temperance, a youth group associated with the Sons of Temperance. The Cadets demanded total abstinence from alcohol and tobacco and also functioned as a mutual aid society in cases of illness. Over the decades Strout attended several of their conventions.

On August 12, 1862, at age twenty-eight, Strout enlisted as a private in Company H, Massachusetts 22d Infantry Regiment. His military career was short-lived. On February 13, 1863, after only six months’ duty as a clerk for the Ordnance Department in Alexandria, Virginia, he was mustered out on disability. Subsequently, Strout lived in a boarding house at 427 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in Washington, D.C. while employed as a clerk for a couple of years before beginning his life’s work.

Stereograph showing an interior view of the Library of Congress with reading room and stacks in the U.S. Capitol building.

Interior of Library of Congress, Stereograph copyrighted by G.D. Wakely, 1866.

In 1865 Strout was hired to work at the Congressional Library, shown in its entirety in the stereograph above, inside the U.S. Capitol. He arrived just a year after Abraham Lincoln had appointed Ainsworth Spofford as Librarian of Congress. During his long tenure, with Strout as one of his able assistants, Spofford broadened the Library’s original mission of serving the Congress to include service to the American people.

Learn More

  • See the resources gathered on the History of the Library page if this introduction to James C. Strout sparked further interest in the Library’s historical development or its transformation to a national institution under Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford.
  • View more of the Library of Congress collection of some 800 Daguerreotypes. These earliest photographs in America are predominantly comprised of portraits, but the collection does include a few early architectural views, outdoor scenes, and copies of works of art.

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