In December 2018, Washington University Libraries acquired the Eugene O’Neill Collection, an archive of manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, and other materials related to the life and work of playwright Eugene O’Neill.
A native New Yorker, O’Neill (1888-1953) was an acclaimed dramatist who completed more than 50 plays, including Long Day’s Journey into Night, The Iceman Cometh, Desire under the Elms, and A Moon for the Misbegotten. These and other works by O’Neill are considered masterpieces of 20th-century theatre and remain in widespread production.
In his plays, O’Neill made use of the techniques of realism, and he often focused on working-class characters. He was a four-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1936.
The Eugene O’Neill Collection was acquired from Harley Hammerman, an alumnus of the Washington University School of Medicine and a longtime O’Neill enthusiast. Hammerman provided materials for Washington University’s 1988 Eugene O’Neill Centennial exhibition. He is the creator of the website eoneill.com, where materials from the collection can be viewed.
“The Libraries are honored to be chosen as the permanent home of this amazing collection that has taken Dr. Hammerman decades, and extreme devotion, to build,” says Nadia Ghasedi, associate university librarian for Special Collections Services. “We look forward to sharing the collection with faculty, students, and the greater community.”
Along with first editions of the playwright’s works, the collection features handwritten and typed letters written by O’Neill to significant cultural figures; handwritten manuscripts and typescripts; vintage photographs of O’Neill and his immediate family—many by key photographers—and rare handbills, posters, scripts, and promotional books related to productions of his plays. Personal items belonging to O’Neill and a sculpture of him commissioned by Hammerman round out the archive.
Before Hammerman’s collection was acquired by the Washington University Libraries, it was the largest Eugene O’Neill archive in private hands. It is now the second-largest O’Neill collection at an institution; Yale University’s Eugene O’Neill Collection is the largest.
“To have this fabulous collection now housed permanently at Washington University is a scholar’s dream come true,” says Henry Schvey, professor of drama and comparative literature at Washington University. “The collection will provide tremendous opportunities for research on arguably America’s greatest playwright by graduate students, biographers, and scholars from the world over.”
The collection is housed in Washington University Libraries’ Julian Edison Department of Special Collections. It will be processed and cataloged later this year.