Obituary: Ruth Mortimer

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The Independent Online
Ruth Mortimer, librarian: born Syracuse, New York 1931; married John Lancaster; died Williamsburg, Massachusetts 31 January 1994.

RUTH MORTIMER will always be remembered for the two great catalogues of the 16th-century French and Italian books in the collection formed by the late Philip Hofer at the Houghton Library, Harvard University. They set a new standard in the scholarly study of the sources and techniques of book illustration, and were themselves a monument of good typography, as of their author's learning and industry.

Mortimer worked at Harvard from 1957 to 1975, until she left it for Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts, to be its Curator of Rare Books. Here she added important collections of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, as well as a remarkable collection of early lithographic books. She also taught a pioneering course in the history of the book.

Besides these professional activities, she served the Bibliographical Society of America as President from 1988 to 1992, and edited its quarterly Papers with her husband John Lancaster for seven years. She was also on the councils of the Renaissance Society of America and the Grolier Club. She was Rosenbach Fellow in Bibliography at the University of Pennsylvania in 1984- 85, and gave the Hanes Lecture at the University of North Carolina in 1980 on 'A Portrait of the Artist in Sixteenth-Century France'.

But it is at Smith College that Ruth Mortimer will be most missed. She was Assistant Director of Libraries there, and Acting Director (no light task) in 1991-92. A greater career has been cut short by her death, but before she died the Trustees of Smith College honoured her by naming their Rare Book Room after her.