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Collection Overview

Schweitzer, Albert, 1875-1965.
Princeton University. Library. Special Collections
Albert Schweitzer Collection
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
1896-1976 (mostly 1930-1965)
14 boxes and 5.8 linear feet
Storage Note:
  • ReCAP (scarcpxm): Box 1-14


The collection contains both original and printed material relating to Albert Schweitzer, the French missionary physician who founded the Lambaréné Hospital in French Equatorial Africa in 1913 and who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for his philosophy of "reverence for life."

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The collection consists primarily of printed material about Schweitzer, but also contains manuscripts of two works by him as well as correspondence, photographs, and miscellaneous material. Included are the manuscript of Schweitzer's article "Le Problème de l'éthique dans l'évolution de la Pensée Humaine" and one page of the manuscript of his book Die Weltanschung de Indischen Denker. There is original Schweitzer correspondence (in French), and copies of his correspondence with Albert Einstein and Walter Lenel (in German). There are also photographs of Schweitzer, his hospital at Lambaréné in Gabon, French Equatorial Africa, and Alsace, his birthplace. Of significance are over 150 4x5 photographs by Charles R. Joy, many of which appeared in his photographic works about Schweitzer, including The Africa of Albert Schweitzer (Boston, 1948).

The printed material contains magazine articles in English, but also in French and German, and includes caricatures, cartoons, postage stamps, calendars with pictures of Schweitzer and Lambaréné, book jackets, and information about the film Albert Schweitzer (1957). Correspondence by Howard C. Rice, Jr., and other Princeton University librarians regarding the collection, material used for an exhibition about Schweitzer in 1956 at Firestone Library, and copies of articles which appeared in the Princeton University Library Chronicle (1958) constitute the rest of the collection.

Collection Creator Biography:

Schweitzer, Albert, 1875-1965.

Albert Schweitzer was born on January 14, 1875, in Kayersberg in Alsace. He was a frail, tiny baby and for weeks was not expected to live. Growing up, Schweitzer found great pleasure and satisfaction attending his father's and other church services. In addition to the usual sermon, his father periodically would tell his congregation of missionaries in the far corners of the earth, especially the reminiscences of Casalis who had administered to the Blacks of South Africa. These memories profoundly affected Schweitzer in his later years.

On both sides of Schweitzer's ancestry there was a long background of musical ability and training. Schweitzer's musical education began early, for even before he went to school his father gave him lessons on the piano, and when he was eight he began to play the organ. Surprisingly enough, Schweitzer was slow in learning to read and write. When he was 10, he went to the Gymnasium, a classical high school in Mulhouse, in Upper Alsace. After an initial period of maladjustment, Schweitzer improved in his studies and became one of the best scholars.

At eighteen, Schweitzer went to Paris. He studied theology, philosophy, and the organ intensively. In the midst of his studies he was conscripted into the German army for a year of compulsory service. Returning to his studies after the army, he plunged himself into every field of intellectual thought. At twenty-one, Schweitzer resolved to study until he was thirty and thereafter to give himself to some direct service of mankind.

One day he casually picked up a magazine which proved to be a report of the Paris Missionary Society. The president of the Society, a fellow Alsatian, was explaining how short of workers the French Congo was. Schweitzer's reaction was to write a letter to his family and his friends, telling them that he, now thirty, had decided to devote himself to the study of medicine so that he might go to Africa as a doctor to the natives. Criticism poured in upon him when his decision became known. However, Schweitzer calmly and rationally made up his mind and went ahead with his medical education. Eight years of rigorous study followed. Night and day he attempted to complete his medical courses, while at the same time continuing his writing and his music, and pursuing his former intellectual interests.

On June 18, 1912, Schweitzer married Helen Bresslau, the daughter of the Strasbourg historian. She assisted him in his preparations for Africa. In March 1913, he and his wife left for Lambaréné in Africa. They arrived there only to find that the buildings that were to have been constructed for their use had not been started because of a labor shortage. At first he had to use an old fowl house for his consulting room.

Then on August 4, 1914, came an ominous word from Cape Lopez: "In Europe they are mobilizing and probably already at war." Many thought the war would be a short one, but the Doctor had to be prepared. He laid in a store of new supplies in readiness for all emergencies. Food became scarce. They learned to eat strange meat at Lambaréné. The work of the Hospital had now largely ceased. The Doctor, being an Alsatian (at a time considered part of Germany), was forbidden to practice, and he was even interned. Later the rule against his hospital activities was relaxed, and he began to practice again. But, just as he was resuming his routine duties, the order came that he, among other prisoners of war, was to be transferred to Europe for internment there. During a series of internments in various locations, Dr. Schweitzer and his wife became very ill and were eventually allowed to return to Strasburg and then Gunsbach where they could recover. On February, 14, 1924, he finally left Strasburg to return to Lambaréné. From that time forward, Dr. Schweitzer operated his hospital in Lambaréné. Several times he had to return to Europe, to write books, lecture, or perform in concert in order to earn the necessary funds to maintain his hospital.

In addition to working with his hospital, Dr. Schweitzer devoted what free time he had to writing and correspondence. A philosophical thinker, he developed early in his career the concept of "reverence for life"—the idea that one must respect the life of all other living creatures (from beasts to insects to plants) just as much as one respects his own life—and adhered to it at his hospital and attempted to spread the idea throughout the world. Dr. Schweitzer was also a strong opponent of the atomic bomb, nuclear weapons, and nuclear testing and voiced his opinions in many of his writings. In 1953, Dr. Schweitzer received the Nobel Peace Prize (the delayed award from 1952) for his efforts at his hospital and in promoting peace around the world.

Mrs. Helen Schweitzer died on July 5, 1957, in Europe, and Dr. Schweitzer died on September 4, 1965, in Lambaréné at the age of ninety after a brief illness resulting from myocardial insufficiency and pneumonia. He left the administration of his hospital to their daughter, Rhena Eckert-Schweitzer, and Dr. Walter Munz, with the final request that his hospital be modernized but that "reverence for life" be maintained.

[The two sources referenced for this biographical sketch are: Fairbain, Robert H. "Albert Schweitzer—History in the Making." Journal De Acemi—Camsi Journal, October 1956: 7-13. Joy, Charles R., and Melvin Arnold. The Africa of Albert Schweitzer. Boston: The Beacon Press, 1948.]

Collection History


The collection is the result of various gifts received and purchases made over many years.


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Traci Ballou in June and July, 2005. Finding aid written by Traci Ballou in July 2005.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Albert Schweitzer Collection; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • ReCAP (scarcpxm): Box 1-14

Find More


Some of the photographs in the collection came to print in the following publications: Charles R. Joy and Melvin Arnold, The Africa of Albert Schweitzer (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1948), and Charles R. Joy, editor, The Animal World of Albert Schweitzer (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1950).

The following two sources were consulted in preparation of the biographical sketch: (1) Fairbain, Robert H. "Albert Schweitzer—History in the Making." Journal De Acemi—Camsi Journal, October 1956: 7-13. (2) Joy, Charles R., and Melvin Arnold. The Africa of Albert Schweitzer. Boston: The Beacon Press, 1948.

Subject Terms:
Humanists--Germany--20th century.
Physicians--Gabon--20th century.
Genre Terms:
Clippings files.
Photographs, Original.
Joy, Charles Rhind, 1885- .
Schweitzer, Albert, 1875-1965.
Alsace (France)--Photographs.
Lambaréné (Moyen-Ogooué, Gabon)--Photographs.