A Lithuanian museum mission: the life and legacy of Aleksandras Mykolas Račkus

Aleksandras Mykolas Račkus was a Lithuanian American numismatist, philatelist, ethnographer, curator, and physician, who was born near Kaunas in 1893.

In 1910, he travelled to the United States, where he started his education in St. Laurent College in Canada, Montreal. He later studied at Holy Cross College in Worcester, the University of Loyola and the Medical School in Chicago where he obtained an MD in surgery.

From 1922, he practised as a doctor. He was an active member of the Lithuanian diaspora, who dedicated his life to strengthening Lithuanian communities abroad, and retaining strong connections to his home country.

Račkus belonged to various cultural organisations, doing his part as an editor and publisher for the Lithuanian press.

Already by 1917, he founded the Lithuanian Museum of Numismatics and History in Chicago. The main goals of this association were to gather Lithuanian antiquities and documents important to the country’s history.

In 1935, the First World Congress of Lithuanians took place in Kaunas. On this occasion Račkus organised an exhibition with his own collection, which featured old Lithuanian publications, flags of Lithuanian organisations, badges, uniforms, photographs attesting to cultural life of Lithuanian-Americans, archaeological finds and more.

He eventually sold his collection (about 81,000 items) for a symbolic fee to the Ministry of Education of Lithuania and founded the Vytautas Magnus Museum of Culture.

Račkus returned to live in Lithuania from 1936 to 1940. He opened a private medical practice and worked at the museum. In 1940 he returned to Chicago, where he founded the Museum of Lithuanian Studies, wrote on Lithuanian topics, and actively engaged in numismatics.

Next to being a numismatic enthusiast with a heart for Lithuanian culture, Račkus was also somewhat of an artist himself. He is known to have created a set of colorful Christmas greeting cards, in keeping with the patriotic, religious and numismatic themes that fascinated him so much. Again, these depictions of Lithuanian symbols or coins were intended as a way to raise awareness of his native country. Račkus was gifted as a political cartoonist as well. His anti-Soviet cartoons were well known in Lithuanian communities around the world.

Račkus died in 1965 in Chicago. Today, his collection is regarded as instrumental for the study and reconstruction of Lithuanian cultural life in emigration at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

By Sofie Taes, KU Leuven and Dalia Cidzikaitė, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania

Featured image: Dr. A.M. Račkus with an unidentified person next to the exposition at A.M. Rackus Museum, Kaunas, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

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