The Rationalist Collection

In 2002, Victoria University Library agreed to accept the Rationalist Library as one of its research collections and house it at the Footscray Park Campus Library. This collection of books, journals and pamphlets is now called the Rationalist Collection and is located in the Library’s Special Collections Room, P402, Footscray Park.

History of the Rationalist Collection

The Rationalist Collection
The Rationalist Collection

The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) has been influential in its involvement in the educational, economic, religious and political debates in Australian society. The Rationalist Library was founded in 1909 by the first Secretary of the Victorian Rationalist Association (VRA), Edward Martineau Higginson, to support its campaigns and promote public debate. Edward Higginson had a great ability for organisation which included developing the Rationalist Collection through donations and also running the 1910 and 1913 Australian tours of Rationalist thinker, Joseph McCabe.

In 1919, noted public speaker, John Samuel Langley, was appointed as Secretary of the VRA. He founded the Rationalist Journal in 1924 and became the inaugural Secretary of the RSA upon its formation in 1926. Langley continued expanding the Rationalist Library through donations and in 1934 established it as a Lending Library and Reading Room in Melbourne’s CBD.

In 1938 William Glanville Cook became Secretary of the RSA, Editor of the Rationalist Journal and custodian of the Rationalist Library. Bill Cook’s expertise in book collecting, essay writing and research lead to the next phase of development of the Rationalist Library. It was moved to Bill Cook’s house in Malvern where the Rationalist Library gradually merged with his own large personal collection of books and journals becoming the key Rationalist Reference Collection in Australia. Bill Cook extended the Rationalist Collection, building subject strengths around the RSA’s many campaigns over the next 40 years. After his death in 1983 Bill Cook’s Rationalist Collection of around 2 000 items was bequeathed to the RSA and moved back to the CBD, eventually becoming the Rationalist Library and Reading Room on the 3rd and 4th Floors of Commerce House in Flinders Street.

On 13th March 2003, an event was held in the Library to launch the Rationalist Collection. An article about the launch appeared on page 5 of the April 2003 edition of Victoria University’s journal, Nexus.

What’s in the Collection?

The Rationalist Society of Australia summarises its interests in the following statement, “The Rationalist Society of Australia prefers reason to prejudice, evidence to faith; promotes secular ethics and education; and holds lectures, conferences and social activities.” As a result the Rationalist Collection contains books, pamphlets and journals on a diverse range of subjects including:

  • Australian history
  • Australian politics
  • education
  • theology
  • economics
  • civil society
  • anthropology.


Works on philosophy, especially Humanism and Free Thought, are a feature of the collection. Many of the publications come from the Rationalist Press Association based in England but with branches in many countries world-wide. Featured authors include Joseph McCabe and Emanuel Haldeman-Julius.

Access to the Collection

The Library catalogued the Rationalist Collection over the period 2003 – 2005. In the Library Catalogue, all items in this collection have the prefix FTS RATIONAL before the shelf number. The Library Catalogue can be accessed in the Library.

The Rationalist Collection is a research collection and the items cannot be borrowed but may be used in the Footscray Park Library.

To make an appointment to use the Rationalist Collection, email Linda Forbes at linda.forbes@vu.edu.au or phone 03 9919 8506.

All the more reason.