Back Bay, July 2014, Reader Submission

reading room

bates hall, boston public library  ( @rachelsandler )

bates hall, boston public library (@rachelsandler)

Bates Hall is the heart of Boston Public Library in Copley Square. The library's website describes the 218-foot-long reading room as "architecturally one of the most important rooms in the world."

The hall was named after the financier Joshua Bates, who was raised in Weymouth and Boston in the late 18th century. As a boy, Bates did not have enough money to buy books, so he spent his evenings in bookstores reading whatever they would permit. In his late 20s, he received a job offer at the international bank Baring Bros., and his self-education paid off โ€” he eventually worked his way up to become a senior partner.

As an adult, Bates wanted to make books more available to the general public. In 1852, he helped found the Boston Public Library with its first donation โ€” in the amount of $50,000. In today's currency, Bates's donation would be equivalent to several million.


Not much has changed in Bates Hall since its original construction โ€” you can still see the same 27 busts of historical figures placed throughout. Additionally, the original plan for murals by famed painter James McNeil Whistler fell through, so the hall's walls remain completely bare.