Evans, Luther Harris (1902–1981)

By: Maurice G. Fortin

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Luther Evans, librarian of Congress and director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, the son of George Washington and Lillie (Johnson) Evans, was born on October 13, 1902, in Sayersville, Texas. The University of Texas awarded him a B.A. in 1923 and an M.A. in 1924. Subsequently Evans went to Stanford University and received a Ph.D. in political science in 1927. He served as an instructor in citizenship at Stanford (1924–27), an instructor in government at New York University (1927–28), an assistant professor of political science at Dartmouth (1928–30), and an assistant professor of politics at Princeton (1930–35).

Evans began his association with the federal government in 1935, when he was named national director of the Historical Records Survey, a part of the Work Projects Administration that attempted to survey the archives of the nation. With the survey came organization and dissemination of information concerning the significant as well as the mundane documents and records of local, state, and public archives.

In 1939 Evans was brought to the Library of Congress by Archibald MacLeish, who had recently become librarian of Congress. Evans was the director of the Legislative Reference Service (1939–40) and chief assistant librarian (1940–45). He also served as director of the reference department. While MacLeish took a wartime assignment, Evans was the acting librarian of Congress in 1942–43. President Harry Truman nominated him for the post of librarian of Congress, and he was sworn in on June 30, 1945. In that post he increased the library's budget, acquired new manuscript collections, revamped the Legislative Reference Service, and in general led the postwar expansion of library holdings and services to both Congress and the public. He was active in resisting censorship of library materials during the McCarthy years and chaired a conference that issued a statement called Freedom to Read.

Evans resigned from the library in 1953 to become the director general of UNESCO. Before this, he had served as an advisor to the United States delegation when UNESCO was established and had served on the executive board from 1949 until he became director general. A major accomplishment of his tenure was the preparation of the Universal Copyright Convention.

After his departure from UNESCO in 1958, he directed a library project for the Brookings Institution and a study on the education implications of automation for the National Education Association. In 1962 he became director of the international and legal collections of the Columbia University Library. After retiring in 1971 he retained an active interest in many organizations concerned with international cooperation and affairs.

Evans was a Methodist and a Democrat. He was active in many professional organizations, including the American Library Association, the American Political Science Association, the Society of American Archivists, and the American Documentation Institute. He was given honorary degrees by several universities and was decorated by the governments of Brazil, France, Japan, Lebanon, and Peru. On September 12, 1925, he married Helen Murphy of Gainesville, Texas. They had one son. Evans died in San Antonio on December 23, 1981.

Current Biography, 1945. William J. Sittig, "Luther Evans, Man for a New Age," in Librarians of Congress, 1802–1974 (Washington: Library of Congress, 1977).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Maurice G. Fortin, “Evans, Luther Harris,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 01, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/evans-luther-harris.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995