Indiana University Acquires the Collection of Madeline Kripke, the “Dame of Dictionaries”

Indiana University’s Lilly Library has established the Merriam-Webster Archive from business correspondence recently acquired as part of the Madeline Kripke Dictionary Collection. Kripke, known as the “Dame of Dictionaries,” kept a stockpile in her New York City apartment of more than 20,000 linguistic books and ephemera that was often referred to as the world’s largest and finest dictionary collection. Kripke died in April 2020 from complications relating to COVID-19.

Michael Adams, Provost Professor and chair of the department of English in the College of Arts and Sciences on the Indiana University Bloomington campus had met Kripke through the Dictionary Society of North America. After she died, Professor Adams began collaborating with Lilly Library Director Joel Silver to acquire her collection. Only about 6,000 volumes have been inventoried, likely less than one-third of the final total.

“It was of primary importance to the community of dictionary people that the collection stay together,” Professor Adams said. “But we knew Madeline would have wanted the collection to end up at a public university, where all the very rarest materials would be available to everyone.”

In addition to her many dictionaries, Kripke also held an uncatalogued trove of correspondence and business records from the Merriam-Webster company, which will now form the Lilly Library’s Merriam-Webster Archive. It is believed to include the original letter speculating on the benefits of purchasing Webster’s 1841 edition of An American Dictionary of the English Language, Corrected and Enlarged. Webster is best-known for publishing the first American dictionary in 1806.

“We’re very pleased to be able to preserve Madeline Kripke’s remarkable collection here at the Lilly Library,” Silver said. “We’ll always be grateful for her unrivaled knowledge and dedication, which enabled her to assemble this matchless resource. We look forward to making it available to all interested researchers and visitors for many decades to come.”

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