Skip to Content

University Libraries - John Shaw Billings Library Endowment

John Shaw Billings Library Endowment

John Shaw Billings

The first endowment received by the University Libraries after the expanded Thomas Cooper Library opened in 1976 was a bequest from the estate of John Shaw Billings (1891–1975), the first managing editor of Life magazine. Funds generated by the John Shaw Billings Library Endowment have provided for the acquisition of significant materials for the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (such as the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493) and for other library needs.

John Shaw Billings and South Carolina


Billings’ grandfather (also John Shaw Billings) served as a medical doctor in the U.S. Army during the Civil War. After the war, he established an army medical library with the first modern bibliographical system for medical knowledge. He later became one of the best-known, early 20th-century librarians as director of the New York Public Library. Billings’ family, the Hammonds, originally came from South Carolina, and he maintained close ties with South Carolina throughout his life. In the 1930s, he bought and restored the Hammond family’s Savannah River home “Redcliffe.” The University Libraries' Moving Image Research Collections (MIRC) has home movies recording the restoration. Visits to Redcliffe convinced Henry Luce to purchase Mepkin Plantation (now Mepkin Abbey) for his wife Claire Booth Luce.

The John Shaw Billings Papers and Collections

Billings' Office

Billings’ own papers, as well as those of his ancestor, Senator James Henry Hammond (1807-1864), were given to the South Caroliniana Library. The Billings papers include diaries that chart the political influence of Henry Luce (founder of Time and Life) during World War II. Billings began working for Time in the 1930s and became the first editor of Life. After World War II, he was named editor-in-chief of Time-Life. He retired in the 1950s.

Nuremberg Chronicle

The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections received items from the Redcliffe library including Billings’ own books and books from the Hammond family, pictures, memorabilia, and Billings’ desk. A noteworthy item is a photo from Billings’ retirement party with about 50 signatures of Time-Life staff who had worked with him over the years.

For more information about the Billings papers, please contact South Caroliniana Library; for information on the books and memorabilia, contact the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

For more information on this endowment, please contact us.

To donate to the endowment:

Updated 7/12/2017