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UW Archives’ Monuments Men: Gilbert Doane

The University of Wisconsin Libraries and Archives have two of their very own Monuments Men: Gilbert Doane and Jesse Boell.

Doane served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program from 1943 to 1945, while on leave from the UW. His service overseas was just one episode in a very accomplished career as a librarian, archivist, and scholar.


A portrait of librarian Gilbert H. Doane.

Gilbert Harry Doane was born in Vermont in 1897. His library experience began in high school, when he worked for his local public library, and continued during his time as an undergraduate at Colgate University in New York. After receiving his B.A. in 1918, Doane spent two years in the Navy, where he served as librarian for the U.S. Naval Training Station in Newport, Rhode Island.

After leaving the Navy in 1920, Doane earned a certificate from the New York State Library School in Albany. He then worked in the libraries of the Universities of Arizona, Michigan, and Nebraska (where he also continued his graduate studies) before coming to UW-Madison in 1937 as Director of Libraries.

Doane’s tenure as director was a time of huge change and expansion for the Libraries. When he arrived the Libraries had fewer than 50 full-time staff members, 400,000 volumes, a $200,000 annual budget, and had long since outgrown its space in the Wisconsin State Historical Society Building.

During his 19-year directorship, the collections expanded to over 900,000 volumes, maintained by 92 full-time staffers and more than 100 part-time student workers. The annual budget tripled, and Memorial Library was opened to house the growing collection and student body.  


Mr L.C. Burke, emeritus associate librarian, carries the first book from the ‘old library’ into the new Memorial Library building. The other men, from left to right, are University president E.B. Fred; Oscar Rennebohm, vice president, Board of Regents; Gilbert H. Doane, library director; and M.H. Ingraham, dean of the College of Letters and Science.

Doane also served as Director of the Library School from 1938 until 1941, as well as lecturing in the history of books and printing.

The Libraries granted Doane leave in 1943 to allow him to serve overseas with the MFAA, where he assisted in conservation and restitution efforts. He served until 1945 when he retired from the Army with the rank of Major. Like so many of the Monuments Men, there is little record of individual contributions.

Upon his return, Doane worked to acquire the Chester H. Thordarson Collection of rare books, which became the heart of what is now the Libraries’ Department of Special Collections.

Doane stepped down from his position as director in 1956 to work full-time on research for his biography of Rev. Jackson Kemper, the first Episcopal bishop of Wisconsin. Doane himself was ordained an Episcopal priest that year, and served at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison.


A newspaper clipping announcing Gilbert Doane’s ordination into the Episcopal Church, 1956.

He returned to the libraries in 1957 as the first University Archivist. For two years he worked side-by-side with Wisconsin State Archivist and fellow MFAA veteran Jesse Boell to arrange material from the State Historical Society and the Libraries into the core of the current collection. 

Doane remained at the Archives until his retirement in 1962. In addition to his 25-year career at the UW, he was also the author of a number of books, including a widely used genealogical research guide.


University Archivist Gilbert Doane examines records in the midst of the archives’ stacks in Memorial Library.

Doane passed away in Massachusetts in 1980.


By Elzbieta Beck for UW-Madison Archives

For more information about this story or UW-Madison campus history, visit On Wisconsin!

Filed under history WIHistory campus history Doane Boell UW-Madison library SLIS archives monuments men

  1. sahurley reblogged this from uwmadarchives and added:
    The story of one of UW-Madison’s own Monuments Men.
  2. joshzytkiewicz reblogged this from uwmadarchives
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