The Library of French Thought is intertwined with the history of both France and the Bay Area. After the Battle of Marne during World War I, the French Government worried that the jewels of French thought might be crushed under the wheels of the advancing war machine. In order to safeguard their intellectual treasure, the government sent 2,500 volumes, “The solid qualities and enlivening graces of French scholarship,”* to San Francisco, the site of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Out of harm’s way, the books were displayed in the Salle de la Pensée française in the French Pavilion. Unfortunately, the end of the exposition did not coincide with the end of the war and it was still not safe for the books to return to France. At that time a California group called “The Friends of France” was sending volunteers to drive ambulances and serve as medics on the Western Front. The French Government contacted them and together they decided that by endowing the books to UC Berkeley, they would help to facilitate friendship and understanding between the two countries. Indeed, the President of the Friends of France, Mr. W.B. Bourn, stated that when the youth of California come to know the books they would learn three things from the French: “How to fight, how to love, and how to die.”** The library was inaugurated on September 6, 1917 (Lafayette Day) in a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by Bay Area and French dignitaries.
*”The Dedication of The Library of French Thought: Exercises Conducted by the Friends of France at the University of California on September 6 (Lafayette Day), 1917″ (Berkeley: University of California, 1918), 9.
**”The Dedication of The Library of French Thought,” 11.