UCB Libraries

photo: George Norlin

George Norlin (1871-1942)

Norlin Library was named for George Norlin at the end of his 22 years of University leadership. Raised in Kansas, Professor Norlin began teaching Greek language and literature at CU in 1899. He was named Acting President in 1917 and assumed the permanent post in 1919 until he retired in 1939.


During his tenure he oversaw Charles Klauder's redesign of the Boulder campus, stood up to the Ku Klux Klan when it was a powerful influence in Colorado politics, led the university through the hard years of the Depression, and eloquently defended academic excellence and freedom.


Norlin was popular with the Board of Regents, the Faculty, and the Students. He presided over the expansion of the University after World War I. During his presidency, the campus enrollment tripled to 4,500.


George Norlin wrote essays and gave speeches which were critical of the Scopes "monkey" trial. He rebuffed the blandishments of the Ku Klux Klan governor of Colorado, who offered him legislative support in return for firing Jewish and Catholic faculty. After a year in Germany as lecturer on American Civilization at Berlin University in 1933, Norlin spoke and wrote articles warning of the dangers of Nazism and anti Semitism. Hitler, he told a journalist, was not someone with whom you could go fishing. Unfortunately, few listened to Norlin's warnings. Like Churchill, he had the dubious fate of living just long enough to see his warnings come true.


By 1939, he had raised the prominence of the University of Colorado to rank among the best "medium-sized" institutions of higher education in the nation.


Norlin's tenure as president coincided with Klauder's years at Boulder. The mutual vision and positive working relationship between the two men may account for the success of the architectural achievement. Although the main public entrance to Norlin Library moved to the east side in 1977, the west terrace opening onto the Quadrangle remains the sentimental front of the building.


  • Quotes / Inscriptions
  • Charge
  • Legacy
  • Related Links

The quotes inscribed over Norlin Library's west entrance.



Inscribed over the west portal of the University Library is a quote suggested by Dr. George Norlin, former president of the University of Colorado. Mr. Klauder, the University architect, asked Dr. Norlin for suggestions and this is one of the two inscriptions over the library entrances.


The phrasing is original, Dr. Norlin said, but the thought was frequently expressed in writing of both Greek and Latin classical authors. Dr. Norlin's wording resembles very closely the thought expressed in Marcus Tullius Cicero's (106-43 BCE) Orator (46 BCE), chapter XXXIV [section 120], which is as follows: "Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum." Translated it reads: "To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child."




To understand fully Dr. Norlin's purpose in suggesting this inscription, read his address, Things that should go without saying, in his volume, Things in the Saddle: Selected Essays and Addresses, published by the Harvard University Press, 1940. His address concludes with the following paragraph:

Above the portal of our new library building there will be this inscription, Who knows only his own generation remains always a child. I hope that the purpose of the University, thus expressed, to enable the student to grow in the full stature of his being through companionship that ranges beyond his day and time, will stand unshaken as long as those words shall endure in stone.

M. Tvlli Ciceronis Orator ad M. Brvtvm (Full text from the Latin Library)

Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum. Quid enim est aetas hominis, nisi ea memoria rerum veterum cum superiorum aetate contexitur?


To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it be woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?

Perhaps Cicero inspired George Santayana to write

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Orientation Tour at Norlin's West Entrance


-- which is inscribed directly over Norlin's west portal doors, is a direct quotation from Dr. George Norlin.




It has been suggested that the two flanking figures are representative of Publius Valerius Publicola, a Roman Consul. Other evidence suggests two Venetians who were pioneering figures in printing and typography.


The figure on the left is holding a book which displays an intertwined dolphin-and-anchor, flanked by "ALDVS" -- the printer's device of Aldus Manutius (1449-1515).


The figure on the right holds a book bearing the symbol of a cross and orb -- the typographer's mark of Nicolas Jenson (1420-1480).

Norlin's charge to the graduates


The first commencement at the University of Colorado was held for six graduates on June 8, 1882, in the chapel of Old Main. It was not until 40 years later, on September 4, 1922, that the first summer commencement was held. Since the first commencement in 1882, over 222,000 degrees have been awarded by the University of Colorado at Boulder. The traditional Norlin Charge to the graduates was read by the late President George Norlin to the June 1935 graduating class.

You are now certified to the world at large as alumni of the University. She is your kindly mother and you her cherished sons and daughters. This exercise denotes not your severance from her, but your union with her. Commencement does not mean, as many wrongly think, the breaking of ties and the beginning of life apart. Rather, it marks your initiation in the fullest sense into the fellowship of the University, as bearers of her torch, as centers of her influence, as promoters of her spirit.


The University is not the campus, not the buildings on the campus, not the faculties, not the students of any one time -- not one of these or all of them. The University consists of all who come into and go forth from her halls, who are touched by her influence and who carry on her spirit. Wherever you go, the University goes with you. Wherever you are at work, there is the University at work.


What the University purposes to be, what it must always strive to be, is represented on its seal, which is stamped on your diplomas -- a lamp in the hands of youth. If its light shine not in you and from you, how great is its darkness! But if it shine in you today, and in the thousands before you, who can measure its power?


With hope and faith, I welcome you into the fellowship. I bid you farewell only in the sense that I pray you may fare well. You go forth, but not from us. We remain, but not severed from you. God go with you and be with you and us.

When did the tradition of the Norlin Charge to graduates at Commencement begin? 1943 is the year President Stearns first started using the Norlin charge in the commencement addresses:

Commencement Address, June 14, 1943, entitled, A Travel Guide for the Future.  Excerpt::


Members of the Classes of 1943 here and elsewhere:  In addressing you for this last time as students of the University, I cannot do better than use the words with which my distinguished predecessor addressed the graduating classes some years ago.  Perhaps in this way we can perpetuate, in some small measure at least, for you and for me, his influence, his wisdom, his warmth and his very human presence.  I speak to you now in the words of George Norlin.

Norlin's legacy in the Libraries


Writings by and about Norlin may be found in the open collections at Norlin Library:


Allen, Frederick S. et. al.

The University of Colorado 1876 - 1976
New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1976.

Davis, William E.

Glory Colorado!: A History of the University of Colorado 1858 - 1963
Boulder, Colo: Pruett Press, 1965.

Norlin, George

Fascism and Citizenship
Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1934.


Integrity in Education and Other Papers

New York: The Macmillan Co., 1926.



Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1928.


An Odious Comparison

Phi Beta Kappa Addresses, [Columbia, Mo?], 1917.


The Quest of American Life

Boulder, Colo: University of Colorado, 1945.


Things in the Saddle: Selected Essays and Addresses by George Norlin

Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1940.


A Voice From Colorado's Past for the Present: Selected Writings of George Norlin; selected and edited by Ralph E. Ellsworth
Boulder, Colo: Colorado Associated University Press, 1985.

Archives holds many primary documents and books, and the library stacks hold several books, which contain information on George Norlin. Archives holdings which contain Norlin material include:


  • George Norlin Papers
  • President's Office Papers
  • Robert L. Stearns Collection
  • F. Hellems Collection
  • Van Ek Collection
  • Dean of Arts & Science Papers
  • Silver & Gold