University announces task force to discuss renaming the Henry Madden Library

. (Vendila Yang/The Collegian)

Fresno State announced in a campuswide email Monday afternoon that it is assembling a task force to consider renaming the university library because its namesake, former university librarian Henry Miller Madden, held antisemitic views and Nazi sympathies. 

University President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval said he was informed about the discovery by Fresno State professors Bradley Hart and Lori Clune, who shared the initial research that revealed Madden’s beliefs. 

“I recognize that this news will deeply impact those in our community in a variety of ways. First and foremost, I want members of our Jewish community to know that we stand with you and against both the historic and ongoing antisemitism that remains all too present in our society,” Jiménez-Sandoval said in the email.

Jiménez-Sandoval said that Michael Lukens, executive director of governmental relations, will chair the task force that will review the renaming. He also condemned some of the views Madden has expressed in the past.

The task force is “poised to meet this week,” Jiménez-Sandoval said in an email to The Collegian. When asked about the potential timeline of their work, he added that the timeline cannot be rushed given the large volume of information. 

“These views run entirely contrary to Fresno State’s core values of diversity, equity and inclusion and the efforts of our campus community to live by those values. The views attributed to Dr. Madden are more than allegations; they are reflections of his beliefs as captured in his own words, and in documents he curated and donated to the Library before his passing,” Jiménez-Sandoval said. 

Clune, who is part of the task force, said in a statement to The Collegian she assigned Hart’s book, “Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States,” which briefly touches on Madden’s love for Germany and the Nazi regime. Upon reading it, she said that she noted the parts on Madden and discussed it when Hart visited her class on Nov. 17. 

Clune and her students were “horrified” to read about Madden’s past views, she said. 

“Several students commented that the naming of the library needed to be reconsidered,” Clune said in her statement. “I am happy to be on the task force that will review the library’s name.”

Madden, who served as librarian at Fresno State for 30 years, held a love for Germany at an early age. He was born in Merritt Hospital in Oakland, California, in 1912, raised by his mother Martha Ann Miller after his father Henry Joseph died due to the influenza epidemic of 1917. 

This recent revelation is the latest in a string of buildings and landmarks that have been revealed to be named after controversial historical figures. At a time when these figures are being examined across the country, Fresno State’s latest discovery has pushed officials to reflect on the university’s own history. 

Madden’s past antisemitic views

While attending Columbia University, Madden’s antisemitism grew. The Collegian’s own initial research in the university archives found that Madden often wrote in letters about his disdain for the Jewish community.

At former luxury New York store Barneys, Madden wrote in a letter to his mother, “It would be almost impossible to walk in by yourself, for it’s an awful looking dump with about 100 Hebrew salesmen.” 

According to Hart’s book, “Hitler’s American Friends,” Madden referred to New York as a “second Jerusalem,” in which he perceived Jewish people had taken over the economy and said that Jews “are genuinely alarmed for fear that some day the Americans will follow the example of Germany and put them in their place.” 

His views even turned violent, Hart’s book details, in a letter to a friend where Madden said he developed a violent and almost uncontrollable phobia against the Jewish community. He included insensitive language and slurs and said he “trembles with rage and hatred” when he sees them.

“They are the oppressors… Whom do I hate more than the Jews? They have oppressed my mother, stolen her savings from her, chained her with interest servitude, made a Via Dolorosa of her life,” Madden wrote in the letter. “They must go!”

In the 1930s, Madden’s admiration for Adolf Hitler also grew. In a letter to a friend, Hart notes that Madden wrote “Heil Hitler!” “Heil Deutschland!”

In another letter found by The Collegian, Madden said that the 1936 Winter Olympics, which were opened by Hitler, were a “tremendous success – a sellout, an enthusiastic showing of affection for Hitler.” Just a few days after this letter, one of Madden’s correspondents, Ramsey Oppenheim, suspected Madden of being “pro-Hitler” after exchanging letters.  

Madden’s ties to Germany 

According to Hart’s book, Madden maintained a network of German pen pals and developed a general affection for the country. At 17, Hart wrote that Madden told a correspondent that he had “a deep admiration of all things German.”

“Germany to me has always been a land that is about as ideal as a country could be,” Madden said.

Madden graduated high school in 1929 and went to San Mateo Junior College after being denied admission to Stanford University. He eventually transferred to Stanford as a junior,  where he majored in history and developed his skills in the German language. 

After graduating, Madden continued his studies in history as a graduate student at Stanford and eventually at Columbia University. 

Columbia was a place where Madden found other students with similar views. In fact, Hart said in an interview with The Collegian that the former University President Nicholas Murray Butler was “essentially enabling Nazi propagandists.” Columbia was one of several universities that gave platforms to pro-German voices at the time. 

Butler’s administration was favorable toward the German embassy. He engaged in several discriminatory practices against Jewish students and faculty, from dismissing an anti-Nazi faculty member to limiting the number of Jewish students enrolled at the university, Hart alleged in his book. 

One of Madden’s close acquaintances at Columbia was William Oswald Shanahan, a history doctoral student who had done undergraduate work at UCLA. Hart detailed in his book that Shanahan sent Madden letters that included “doodled swastikas” and closed with “Heil Hitler.”

Hart wrote that Madden and Shanahan plotted about how they could spread their views to the wider student body. 

 “They were certainly part of an underground pro-Nazi group of some kind,” Hart added in an interview.

As pro-German sentiment waned in the late 1930s, Shanahan warned Madden to not be openly antisemitic, Hart wrote. Shanahan said circumstances required a “strategic retreat” from their views, and advised Madden against trying to persuade others at Columbia. 

As one of several American students who traveled to Germany, Madden eventually made his way to Central Europe in 1936, departing to Germany and Hungary to continue his research. In his book, Hart wrote that Madden recounted his adventures in detail, saying “Germany really appears to be prosperous… And the Jews aren’t hanging from the lamp-posts either.”

One of the reasons Hart became interested in researching individuals like Madden and Shanahan was that they were “eyewitnesses to the Third Reich,” he said, referring to Nazi Germany.

“I wanted to really look at these young people, especially, because older people going there obviously that’s interesting as tourists, but their views were already set,” Hart said in an interview with The Collegian. “I wanted to look at the young people who were more impressionable and answer the question why did they go there, and does this influence their later careers in any way.”

Madden’s views reflected the climate present on some college campuses, where pro-Nazi views often went largely unchallenged. When pro-German sentiment in America switched to a conversation surrounding isolationism, Madden and his confidantes remained silent. According to Hart, Shanahan told Madden when news of World War II broke that “the task is clear: strict neutrality.”

When Madden returned to the U.S., he left Columbia and took a teaching position at Stanford’s history department in 1937. But he wasn’t there for long. As World War II began in 1939, Madden taught his last class at Stanford three years into the war before volunteering for the U.S. Naval Reserve. 

Madden served four years in the Naval Reserve and was stationed in Europe until 1946. He was eventually appointed to the Tripartite Naval Commission, where he was tasked with dividing and evenly allocating the remnants of the German navy among the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union. 

Fresno State tenure

After the war, Madden received his doctorate in history at Columbia and enrolled in the school of Librarianship in University of California, Berkeley. He then moved to Austria where he received a letter from then-Dean of Instruction at Fresno State Mitchell Pirie Briggs, offering him a job as college librarian at Fresno State College in 1949.

According to “Henry Madden and the German Travelers in America, Madden’s personal collection of works describing early travel experiences of Germans in California, ”Dean Mitchell Pirie Briggs, who was tasked with finding a person to fill the role, sought the advice of Stanford history professor Ralph Haswell Lutz.”

The text explained that Lutz recommended Madden, who was a former student of his. Madden, without hesitation, accepted despite never visiting Fresno beforehand. 

“After all, the job wasn’t in my home state, [and] although I’d never been to Fresno, at least it wasn’t Iowa,” Madden said, according to the text. 

Madden remained the college librarian for most of his life, serving till 1979. He was largely credited for advocating for academic freedom and expanding the collection of books, which grew from 70,000 volumes to 576,000 volumes during his tenure. He also took part in the opposition to the Vietnam War on campus in the late 1960s. 

According to his biography in the university archives, Madden was the president of the California Library Association and editor of a library journal, the California Librarian, which won an award for the best library journal in North America under his leadership. 

He eventually declared his intention to retire on Aug. 31, 1979, according to Madden’s collection.

Naming of library

While Madden was wrapping up his tenure as the librarian, several of his colleagues lobbied to name the library after him shortly after a new wing was added. In a 1978 Fresno Bee article, “Henry Madden loves books and his Porsche,” George Hostetter wrote that “there is a concentrated effort being made by Madden’s fellow workers and associates to have the new wing of the CSUF library named after him.”

Hostetter said the problem with the proposal was that a California State University rule states a person must be dead before a building may be named after them. He added in the article that a request was made for Madden as an exception to this rule. 

According to an archived article from The Daily Collegian in 1989, there were several steps that must be done to get a building named after someone. First, a person has to make a recommendation and then the request is taken up by an administrative advisory committee of then-University President Harold Haak.

Once Haak approved the recommendation, he then had to send the nomination to the CSU Board of Trustees who gave the final approval. 

The campaign was eventually successful as the Board of Trustees approved the name change. Written on an invitation card found in the university archives, friends and associates of Madden gathered on Oct. 11, 1981, at the south lawn of the library to celebrate the naming of the library in his honor.

“When I look about me and see tinkering and busy work, in an ever rising tide, replacing reading and writing among our students, I am happy to say farewell to my successors in the Library, to wish them well, and to let them know that if anyone is to win the battle, it is they who will do so,” said Madden in his farewell address at the ceremony, detailed in his personal collection.

It’s unclear whether any of Madden’s antisemitic and pro-Nazi remarks ever appeared in published works. Hart said he spoke to people who knew Madden, and they didn’t know about his past beliefs.

“They were very surprised when I told them that I found this,” Hart said in an interview with The Collegian. “This is not something he broadcasts in his later years for sure.” 

This story was updated Dec. 1 to include a statement from Fresno State professor Lori Clune, who is part of the task force that will consider renaming the university library.

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