Friday, January 25, 2013

The Determined Women in Wisconsin's Public Library History (Part 1)

"Brahmins, Bequests, and Determined Women:  The Beginnings to 1918".  

That's the title of chapter 2 of Introduction to Public Librarianship, the textbook I use for the UW-Madison SLIS class that I'm currently teaching.

As I shared with you earlier this week, Middleton had it own group of women determined to establish a library in the community -- the Middleton Progressive Women's Club.  

As I revised the PowerPoint slides for my "Tinted Fog" version of the history of  public libraries in the United States  -- the phrase set off by quotation marks is a reference to John Updike and a veiled confession that I am indeed no expert on the topic -- I wondered how commonly this type of library developed occurred.

Well, as the evidence shows here, it's certainly not uncommon.

I still have more emails to read, but this post is already long enough.  Thanks to everyone who shared information/links/observations about your library's history.  It will help to give a decidedly Wisconsin flavor to next Wednesday's class.

Hope you enjoy these little history lessons.

Libraries covered in this post
  • Brillion Public Library
  • Cambria's Jane Morgan Memorial Library
  • Fort Atkinson's Dwight Foster Public Library
  • Hudson Area Library
  • Kewaskum Public Library
  • Manawa's Sturm Memorial Library
  • Marshall Community Library
  • Milton Public Library
  • Port Washington's W J. Niederkorn Library
  • Sauk City Public Library
  • Seymour's Muehl Public Library
  • Spooner Memorial Library
  • Theresa Public Library
  • Verona Public Library
  • West Allis Public Library

Library Information and History, from "Of Places, Of People, Of Eras:  Cambria, 1844-1976".    
In 1895 the Cambria News advocated the opening of a reading room for the young people of the community. A few years later, Mr. Streeter, the editor, started one in his office. About fifty books were donated at the time and some were obtained from the traveling library in Portage. Within a few weeks it became so popular that he couldn't care for it along with his other work, so the books were moved to Mrs. Morgan's store and Miss Myfanwy became the first librarian at the rate of $8.00 a month in 1904.

Photo credit:  Retiring Guy (9/12/2011)

From "One Hundred Years of Progress: 1890 - 1990".

Meanwhile, in Fort Atkinson, two local women's clubs were endeavoring to establish a free public library for their city. One was the Tuesday Club, founded in 1881 by sixteen members. It is the second oldest women's club in Wisconsin. It was a women's study club that met weekly, at which time a member would present a topic for discussion such as a book review, or a paper on Italy, France, England or some such country. 

As there was no library in Fort Atkinson, books for study were procured from the State Historical Library in Madison. Finding what a necessity a library was, after some years of this inconvenience, they were determined to have one in Fort Atkinson. They began discussing the possibility of establishing a library with city leaders--many of whom probably were their husbands. 

On October 12, 1883, fourteen ladies met in the vestry of the Methodist Church in Fort Atkinson and organized a local chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. They held monthly meetings and endeavored to do their part to improve the quality of life in Fort Atkinson. 

The subject of the possibility of establishing a local public library and reading room was first discussed at their meeting on November 4, 1889, but on March 10, 1890, at the home of Mrs. J. D. Clapp, the twenty-one ladies present actually pledged to raise $100 in 1890 to help fund a new library. 

At the W.C.T.U. meeting on December 7, 1891, Mrs. W. H. Rogers, president of the society, acted as chairman and appointed a committee composed of herself, Mrs. U. P. Stair and Mrs. Hilton, to petition the city council to ask the voters to appropriate $500 for a free public library.

The Jefferson House, Hudson
Photo credit:  Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory
(Thanks for the tip, Linda.)

From the PowerPoint presentation by Linda Donaldson and Mary Davis.  
Prior to the formation of the Carnegie library in Hudson, citizens did have access to a small collection of materials that included books, newspapers, and magazines. History notes that in 1865, the Ladies Library Association was formed in Hudson. This group could be considered the first Hudsonites to start forming a library for Hudson community. The location of the library was in Mrs. Amos Jefferson’s house.

Shared by Director Steev Baker
The Kewaskum Women's Club donated books and served as volunteer library workers in a space donated by the Village. This was in 1912. A year later, the Village of Kewaskum took over the running of the library, but for many years librarians (not having to be certified at that time) were chosen from among Women's Club members.

From "A Brief History of the Sturm Memorial Library.    
According to the centennial publication, Manawa 1874-1974, the library in Manawa was started by a gentleman by the name of Roger C. Bigford in 1910. The library was housed in the Odd Fellows Hall and the books in its collection were donated by Mr. Bigford and others. Not long after that, the library was put under the direction of the Manawa Woman's Study Club whose members organized, cataloged, arranged and circulated the collection for several years.

An additional tidbit from "Pioneers of Little Wolf".  
Mrs. E. T. Avery, among others gave much time, and finally became the first paid librarian in 1923. The Library Board voted to pay her $100 a year.

From "Marshall's Library History." 
1956 proved to be a successful year for the Public Library. After two previous attempts to open a library, a group of women were able to establish an inventory of 500 books, of which local citizens donated over half of them. The women were able to arrange for space in the Methodist Church fellowship hall to begin their service. The library remained in the church basement for several years before moving into the school. Only after a brief stay, the library moved to the town hall, but once again returned to the school. The Friends of the Library Group formed and hosted talent shows, community auctions, and other fundraising events to support the library as it bounced between locations.

From Wikipedia.   On November 12, 1904, The Woman's Village Improvement Club [of Milton], organized by Mrs. J.G. Carr, set out to raise funding for Whitford Memorial Hall. They ultimately raised over $900, and when the hall was completed around 1907, the library was relocated to the new building.

The Ladies Club of Milton Junction was organized on September 24, 1904, for the purpose of systematic study. Soon known as the Fortnightly Club, they held their first literary meeting on October 21, 1904 at 3:30 p.m. Two years after its creation, on May 18, 1906, the club voted to pursue the project of organizing a public library. In October of that year, they purchased $10 worth of books to be used for the following year's literary discussions. But most importantly, the books were bought with the hope that they might serve as a nucleus for a public library. In early November, the ladies voted to sponsor a lecture course to raise funds for more books.

On April 18, 1967, Milton and Milton Junction merged.

From the library's "History" webpage.  
The Phelps Public Library was started by the Phelps Women's Club in 1934 during the depression years. It was first located in the Phelps State Bank Building. When those quarters became inadequate, it was moved to a small building adjacent to the theater. Later, it functioned at the town hall and at the school. Mrs. Jean Kopf worked faithfully on the library project. In 1949 the Phelps Woman's Club purchased the Phelps Fire Warden's house from the D.N.R. for the library's new home. It was modernized and shelving was built . It was in use for twenty years.

Port Washington, W J Niederkorn Library

From the "Library History" webpage.
Due to the Port Washington Woman’s Club’s (PWWC) determination in 1898 to inspire the community through reading we are fortunate to celebrate 114 years of library service (1899-2013) in Port Washington. The concept of a public reading room became the stimulant for the first library in the back of the Courtland Drug Store at the SW location of Franklin and Main. The first librarian was Edgar Smith, a druggist. The library was a joint effort between the City of Port Washington and the PWWC.

Library Director Ben Miller provided this history of the library excerpt by Miss Clara Merkel, a former Sauk City librarian.

At their meeting June 11, 1921, the Sauk City Women's Club had as their speaker Miss Merill, of Madison, to talk on ways and means of obtaining a library for Sauk City. She advised the club to take the initiative and begin in a small way and as the interest in the work grew there would also be a way of financing it. As a beginning, she offered several hundred books from the library commission free of charge. The club at this meeting decided to start a library and the president, Miss Josephine Merk, appointed a committee of seven to consider ways and means of earning money.

Ben also notes:  The tradition here is that once a librarian (now director) steps down, they pick up the writing of the library history up until their retirement. So far it's worked out quite well for us!

Cool idea for those of us who love reading library histories.

From the library's Wikipedia article:  
In 1901, Mrs. John Stewart, Mrs. Elmer Dean, Mrs. S. G. McCord, and Miss Lotta Griffith collected books and applied to the City Council and the Wisconsin State Library Board to create Seymour's first public library. On December 21 of 1901, the library's first books were checked out in the living room of Mrs. Barton Moss on Main Street. The Fred Rex store is said to have served as the town's first library, until the two rooms above the Seymour State Bank became the library's location. The library was staffed by volunteers until the city hired Miss Cora Lampson as Seymour's first official librarian. She served until June 11, 1911. In its first three months, the Seymour public library's collection grew to 476 volumes. They had 284 borrowers, and by June 10, 1902, they had a circulation of 2,676. Within a few years, the library outgrew its location, and moved to a room upstairs in the City Hall.

From "History of the Spooner Library".  
Spooner’s first public library was opened in 1915 financed by local fund-raising events and under the leadership of a local women’s group, the Spooner Study Club.

From the library's "History" webpage.  
The Theresa Public Library had its humble beginnings in 1962 as a summer library started by Jack and Ruth Burns. They arranged to use a room rent free in the Russ Bandlow building which is now the laundromat. There was no heat in the room, therefore it was only open in the summertime. Jack and Ruth’s two daughters, Jackie and Peggy ran the library for a couple of summers. Laura and Carolyn Smith continued the library in 1964. Suzanne Erdmann and Marlene Adelmeyer also were involved in the early years of the library.

Verona Public Library
Photo credit:  Restring Guy

From "HIstory of the Verona Public Library".    
Under the leadership of Mrs. Alice Kunstam, the first library in Verona was started in 1947 in one room in the old bank building on the corner of Verona Ave. and Main Street. It was rented for $15.00 a month which included heat and utilities. The American Legion Auxiliary paid the rent.
West Allis Public Library

Shared by Library Director Michael Koszalka.
The roots of the library began in 1898 when a group of twenty-five women started a Political Science Club “for the purpose of self-culture and the betterment of the community.” That group grew and eventually morphed into The West Allis Women’s Club” which continues to exist today. Through this group of women the first library card was issued in 1899 and by 1907 the first West Allis Public Library Board of Trustees was appointed by the mayor. That same year the library received its first budget – an appropriation of $500! In 1915 West Allis built and dedicated a new library funded through the Carnegie Foundation. We still retain the unique connection to the current Women’s Club – when a club member passes away a $25.00 donation is bestowed upon the library in memory of the deceased member.

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