Libraries might just be the most perfect places on earth. Stepping into a library, with the world's knowledge and creativity at our fingertips, fills us with a sense of limitless potential.
After scouring the list of public libraries at librarytechnology.org and losing myself down several fascinating rabbit holes, I am happy to announce that, unsurprisingly, women have been at the forefront of making these beacons of possibility available for all to enjoy. From teachers to librarians to philanthropists, women have founded or inspired the founding of libraries across the country, and their contributions have not gone unappreciated. In fact, there are so many public libraries in the U.S. named after women that I'm splitting this post into two bite-sized parts -- and this isn't even all of them!
Ainsworth Public Library
2338 VT Route 14 • Williamstown, VT
In 1911, Williamstown, VT was in a strange way when it came to libraries. Not only did the two existing library groups operate out of stores, homes, and the Town Hall, but there weren't really enough books to go around. So every quarter the men who ran the two groups would hold an auction, bidding for inventory to circulate among its members. (Sounds like the kind of system a bunch of dudes would come up with!) Enter Laura Ainsworth. She offered both property and funds to build a library, with the condition that all the books be housed under one roof. Share!
Photo via facebook
Alice L. Pendleton Library
309 Main Road • Islesboro, ME
First of all, how cool is Alice in that portrait? She looks like she's about to lay the smack down on some mouthy bystander. Anyway, the Pendletons were a prominent shipping family in Islesboro, ME, with the largest fleet of sailing vessels in America for the first decade of the 20th century. Alice Lavinia Pendleton was the first librarian in town, but making that happen didn't come easily. Starting in 1905, it took seven years for her to convince enough townspeople that a permanent library would benefit the community, and another six to get it built. Then she worked as assistant librarian every summer until she died in 1951. Most likely due to her family's history, Alice was also an expert in sailing vessels, and even had one named after her.
Photos via alplibrary.org
Angie Williams Cox Public Library
119 North Main St. • Pardeeville, WI
Angie's husband made a fortune as vice president and treasurer for the Wrigley gum company, and she put that cash to good use, spending the last forty years of her life lobbying for, expanding, and supporting (both in money and labor) the town's library. Although she wasn't a librarian, she wasn't afraid to use her sway when it came to her namesake: ordering the removal of a Ku Klux Klan placard that had been installed on the property, for example. According to the library website, Angie Williams Cox is a novel-worthy "figure of local controversy," which needless to say piqued my interest, but I couldn't find any details about her anywhere except for the sanitized info on that site. If you know what's so controversial about her, please let me know!
Photo via pardeevillelibrary.com
Anna Porter Public Library
158 Proffitt Rd • Gaitlinburg, TN
The first Anna Porter Library was located in Anna's own house. In 1932 she wrote to friends and family saying, "Send me your books for the children of Gaitlinburg have nothing to read." It took eight years and three moves for the library to become official, and even though it has moved three more times since then, the name hasn't changed, honoring Anna's contribution to the community. And look how cozy it is! (Did you notice the biography of Hedy Lamarr?)
Photo via facebook
Baldwin Public Library
300 W. Merrill St. • Birmingham, MI
In 1869, Martha Baldwin became one of the nineteen (all-female) founding members of the Birmingham Library Association. Under her leadership, the Association grew their collection from 48 books to more than 2,000, and successfully lobbied for the construction of a free public library. Great achievement? Yes. Did Martha stop there? No. Born in Birmingham, Martha was passionate about education. She never married, choosing a career over keeping house. For nearly 40 years she taught in Franklin, Birmingham, and Detroit, and served as principal of a school with more students than the entire population of her hometown. In her will, she left money to the town for a new high school, with the stipulation that it include shower rooms for both boys AND girls, to encourage girls to engage in sports. But even a life spent molding future generations wasn't enough for Martha. She lobbied for women's suffrage, organized town clean-ups, convinced the town to install a waterworks system, campaigned for improved jail conditions, and was even the first woman in town to hold public office. And the library's beautiful to boot!
Photo via baldwinlib.org
Cary Memorial Library
1874 Massachusetts Ave. • Lexington, MA
In 1868, Maria Hastings Cary prompted the town of Lexington to build a public library by offering to pay for $1,000 worth of books, as long as the town built a free library to go with them. Maria was a Lexington native, and both her father and grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War's famous Battle of Lexington. She was a well known philanthropist, donating to her Unitarian church, and funding the creation of marble statues to go in Cary Memorial Hall (named for her brother-in-law). The Maria Hastings Elementary School in Lexington is also named after her.
Photo via wickedlocal.com
Cora J. Belden Library
33 Church St • Rocky Hill, CT
Love that staircase! The Rocky Hill Library already existed when, in 1950, the town voted to change the name to honor longtime friend of the library Cora Belden. For thirty years, Belden served the library in various capacities, including as volunteer, treasurer, and chair of the Library Board. Be sure to say "Thank you!" to her portrait, which hangs in the fiction section.
Photos via patch.com and flickr
Dominy Memorial Library
201 S. 3rd St. • Fairbury, IL
In 1901, 17-year-old Hazel Dominy died of typhoid fever. Her parents, wishing to honor her memory, began plans to build a library. Mr. Dominy selected the location, but then he died before the design was finalized. Luckily Mrs. Dominy was up to completing the project, and she made the donation contingent on a super-sweet-and-sad-at-the-same-time guarantee that the name of the library would never change.
Photo via enjoyillinois.com
Dorothy Alling Memorial Library
21 Library Ln. • Williston, VT
While Williston Public Library already existed in the 1940s, it was on the second floor of a general store and did little to appeal to local children. Every summer during the forties and fifties, Dorothy Alling, a teacher, invited kids to her "Little Folks Library" -- a.k.a. Her House -- for snacks, stories, and books. She built her collection through any and all methods, including writing to local celebrities like Norman Rockwell and asking for donations. Alling didn't forget the parents, however, donating many books to the main library as well. After Alling died, her husband paid for a new library built in her honor, combining both collections.
Photo via facebook
Edith Wheeler Memorial Library
733 Monroe Turnpike • Monroe, CT
Libraries in Monroe, CT have a strong history of female leadership (although many of them are only listed by their husband's names -- grr). The earliest town libraries were established by churches, one in 1910 by the wife of a local Episcopal Church Rector, and another in the forties by Vera Tracy, who donated books to a Methodist Church. It wasn't until 1958 that an independent library was built, with Mrs. I. L. Harshbarger serving as chair of the board until 1966. A larger building was constructed in the seventies, prompted by Mrs. George B. Tyler, Jr., who also led the construction committee. And finally we get to Edith Wheeler, a phys ed teacher and library volunteer who in 1993 donated the money to create a brand new building.
Photo via dailyvoice.com
Ethel Everhard Memorial Library
117 East Third St. • Westfield, WI
When retired art teacher Ethel Everhard died in 1965, she surprised everyone by leaving half of her estate to the Westfield Public Library (she gave the other half to the Sheboygan Library). At the time, the Westfield library was relegated to a back room in what would eventually become the fire department. Ethel's sister Mabel also left money for a library, enabling a new facility to be built in 1972.
Photo via villageofwestfieldwi.com
Frances L. Simek Memorial Library
639 S. Second St. • Medford, WI
One of the founders of the Tombstone frozen pizza company, Medford resident Frances Simek retired from the company in 1986 when it was bought by Nestle. She donated to several local institutions, including the fire department, schools, and, of course, the library!
Photo via citymedfordwi.com
Grace A. Dow Memorial Library
1710 West St Andrews • Midland, MI
Although named for Grace Dow, this library was a family affair. In 1899, Mary Dow (Grace's sister-in-law) became a founding member and first librarian of the Midland Library Association, a subscription library that cost $1 per year. Fifty-six years later, after the library had switched hands and buildings a few times, Mary's nephew, architect Alden B. Dow, designed a new facility funded by his mother (Grace) who also served on the Midland Library Board for 42 years. Grace was married to the founder of Dow Chemical Company, and after he died she established the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, which has since donated more than $600 million to social and civic organizations throughout Michigan.
Photos via hhgadowfdn.org, wtaarch.com, trccompany.com, and cityofmidlandmi.gov
Hazen Memorial Library
3 Keady Way • Shirley, MA
This library is named after Betsy Hazen, who donated the money to build the first permanent home for what was then the Shirley Public Library. Her husband provided the land, and a portrait of each hangs in the library's Historical Room, which is a treasure trove of local history artifacts and literature.
Photo via shirleylibrary.org
Ida Public Library
320 N. State St. • Belvidere, IL
Ida Fuller Hovey graduated from the Rockford Seminary music program in 1875, and put her talent to work putting on piano concerts at local venues to raise funds for the Belvidere Ladies Library Society. When she died of consumption at 24 years old, her father gave $5,000 to the town to build a new library in her honor.
Photo via idapubliclibrary.org
Lodi Woman's Club Public Library
130 Lodi St. • Lodi, WI
This library isn't named after just one woman, it's named after a whole group of women. The Lodi Woman's Club was founded in 1894, largely instigated by a Mrs. Loveland. Part study group/ book club/ gal pals, the members bought books and magazines to pass around and discuss. After five years they wanted to make their literary gold mine available to others, and established a library committee that eventually convinced the town to carve out some space for the Lodi Woman's Club Free Library in City Hall. The Woman's Club continued to manage the library for more than eight decades when, in 1979, it became part of the regional system. In 1990 it moved to its current home, complete with a cool books sculpture/ dog perch.
Photo via facebook
Lucy Robbins Welles Library
95 Cedar St. • Newington, CT
Built by women in honor of a woman, this library and the land on which it sits were the gifts of the two daughters of Lucy Robbins Welles. Her husband grew up in a house on the same land, and when he married Lucy they moved across the street. The library has been renovated multiple times since its birth in 1939, but the original brick building remains an integral part of the structure.
Photo via facebook
Mabel C. Fry Public Library
500 W. Main St. • Yukon, OK
Mabel Fry lived for a full century, teaching three generations of Yukon students. Born in 1889, she served as librarian for both the school and community libraries simultaneously, holding both positions for more than 40 years. In 1980 the community library moved, and the new building was named in her honor.
Photos via waymarking.com
Mamie Doud Eisenhower Library
3 Community Park Rd • Broomfield, CO
The first permanent public library in Broomfield, CO opened in 1963, and per the request of the land donor it was named after popular First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. Mrs. Eisenhower and her husband attended the dedication. The library has moved and expanded considerably since, as evidenced by the MASSIVE building pictured above. It is now more than 28,000 square feet, and houses a 300-seat auditorium and an outdoor reading terrace on the second floor.
Photo via Waymarking.com
See you next week for part two!