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William Robertson Coe, Philanthropist
A supporter of free enterprise, William Robertson Coe, a British financier who lived both in Oyster Bay, New York and Cody, Wyoming, bequeathed the university $1.2 million for the new library and School of American Studies department, which was to reside in the library building.
Milward Simpson, University of Wyoming Board of Trustees President and friend of Coe, was instrumental in securing Coe’s donation for the new library building. The library gift discussions materialized due to Simpson and Coe’s observation that the University of Wyoming did not have an adequate library to house Coe’s extensive western book collection.
The Wyoming legislature eventually authorized a matching gift in the form of a bond for $750,000 to assist with building costs. Oil royalties funded this bond. In all, Coe’s gifts and bequests to the University of Wyoming were the largest that the university had ever been given at that time—and totaled approximately four million dollars between 1951–1961. May 1956 ushered in the ground–breaking of the new William Robertson Coe Library building. The building was typical of the modular architectural style, which was very popular during the 1950s. Coe Library Director Orwin Rush promoted the idea of a new modular building, rather than an expansion of the Aven Nelson building.
Coe’s generosity and dedication to the University of Wyoming has permanently strengthened UW’s landscape. The William Robertson Coe Library is named in his honor.
Courtesy of the University of Wyoming Libraries, The History of Coe Library. Image courtesy of the UW American Heritage Center.