The Emergence of a Profession for Women

By: 
Martha Deming Maytnier, Local History Librarian, Paw Paw District Library

   On Saturday, June 27, the Village of Paw Paw and Paw Paw District Library will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Paw Paw Public Library and the Carnegie Community Center.
   In 1897, the world was changing. The Progressive Era (1897-1920) was a period of wide-spread social activism and political reform caused by industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and political corruption.
   The movement for women’s suffrage (the right to vote) that had begun in 1848 at the Seneca Falls conference was gaining momentum partly because women were now becoming necessary to the work force and many middle-class women either willingly or were obliged to seek paid employment.
   Men from New England’s elite families were the predominant players in the early history of libraries in the United States. They were graduates from New England colleges and some came from other careers in law and ministry.
   It is said that these men viewed being a librarian like being a missionary bringing civilization and reform to the masses through educational opportunities.
   During the Progressive Era, librarianship became seen as an alternative career path for white middle-class and working-class women. Librarianship also offered an opportunity for public service and as the nation moved west, an opportunity for adventure.
   Ninety men and 13 women were present at the first meeting of the American Library Association in 1876. They passed a resolution that their mission would be, “to enable librarians to do their present work more easily and at less expense.”
   In 1904, librarian May Cutler Fairchild conducted research of the field. Her research showed that women librarians now greatly outnumbered men in the field, and held a large proportion of the administrative responsibilities.  However, they did not hold the administrative positions and did not receive the same level of compensation for the same level of work.
   The ALA elected its first female President, Theresa West Elmendorf (1855-1932), in 1911. Theresa was head librarian for the Milwaukee Public Library when she married another librarian, Henry Elmendorf in 1896. Henry and Theresa moved to Buffalo when Henry took a job as the head librarian at the Buffalo Public Library. 
   Theresa worked behind the scenes on “The Buffalo Plan”, to create library services for city schools.  She also cataloged the Gluck Collection, an important collection of manuscripts left to the Buffalo Library that included the original manuscript for Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. She edited Catalogue of Books for Small Libraries for the ALA, and authored Classroom Libraries for Public Schools.
   Theresa was president of the New York Library Association in 1903 and 1904. In 1906, Henry died and the Buffalo library board appointed Theresa vice-librarian, a position she held for 20 years until retirement.
   Tessa Kelso (1863-1933) transformed the Los Angeles Public Library as its head librarian, using methods considered to be radical. Kelso abolished membership fees, agitated for open stacks, and established the first systematic training program for library employees.
   Kelso’s first career was as a journalist and publicist. Then in 1886 she had to join the ALA in order to cover their annual meeting for the Cincinnati Illustrated News, and became an active member of the organization.
   In her 16 years at the LAPL, the library adopted the Dewey Decimal System, created an interlibrary loan program, and purchased the library’s first card catalog. 
   In 1924, Kelso objected to the New York Library Association’s plans to host the annual Library Week at the Lake Placid estate of Melvil Dewey. According to a May 2019 entry in the LAPL Blog, Kelso objected, stating, “For many years women librarians have been the special prey of Mr. Dewey in a series of outrages against decency, having serious and far reaching effects upon his victims…”  After a review by the NYLA, ALA, and American Library Institute, the conference was relocated to Lake George.
   Adelaide Hasse (1868-1953), began her career at the age of 20 years old as an assistant to Tessa Kelso at the Los Angeles Public Library.  She had a 54-year, often controversial, career in libraries.  In 1999, American Libraries listed her as one of the 100 most influential leaders of the 20th Century.    Hasse’s most important contribution to librarianship was developing a system to collect, organize, and classify government documents for the Government Printing Office. The Government Printing Office is responsible for producing and distributing information from all three branches of the Federal Government; Executive, Congressional, and Judicial. 
   According to a 1986 article published in the Government Publishing Review, in her first year with the GPO, Adelaide “unearthed” 252,602 volumes that had been stored in a sealed vault for more than 20 years.  Her work has given the American public access to a century’s worth of government publications and documents.
   Jean Blackwell Hutson (1914-1998) was an activist, writer, curator, and educator.  In 1935, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Barnard College, and then applied to Enoch Pratt Library Training School in Baltimore, Maryland. 
   Hutson was denied entrance, brought and won a lawsuit against Enoch Pratt, believing she had been denied entrance because of race. She received her Master’s degree in Library Science from Columbia University in 1936.
   In 1925, the New York Public Library convinced the Carnegie Corporation to spend $10,000 to purchase the private collection of Afro-Puerto Rican scholar Arturo Alfonso Schomburg and donate it to the library. 
   In 1948, Hutson became the curator of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture located at the Cullen Branch of the NYPL in Harlem. Over the next 32 years, she raised funds from state, federal, and foundation grants to enable the library to build a separate facility to house this collection known today as the Schomberg Research Institute.
   Mary Wright Plummer (1856-1916) founded the first accredited school of library science, the Pratt Institute in 1895.  Plummer was the second female to be President of the ALA in 1915.
   Mary also pioneered education for children’s librarians and raised the issue of ethics for the library profession.
   Librarians participated in many aspects of the World’s Columbian Exposition (the Great White Way) held in Chicago in 1983. The managing board of the exposition agreed to “allow” women to participate. A separate Board of Lady Managers led by Bertha Potter Palmer (1849-1918) as president, created an “unprecedented collection of works by women of all ages and all countries” for the Woman’s Building. 
   Palmer was a remarkable women for any age.  Earnest Poole, a journalist, novelist, playwright, and fellow Chicagoan, once described her as “beautiful, dashing, quick, and smart; and more than that, she was sure of herself.”  She has also been described as a skilled musician, proficient linguist, brilliant writer, able politician, and a fine administrator. 
   The Women’s Building was designed inside and out, entirely by women and the exhibits reflected the prevailing ideology of “separate spheres” that relegated women to domestic roles and the emerging notion of the “new woman”; educated, professional, and politically active.
   The exhibits of works by women across a variety of fields from fine art, literature and music to science and home economics and exhibits about women in American history and in other cultures.  In addition to these exhibits, the building hosted a conference attended by more than 200,000 women.
   Librarians participated in many aspects of the fair.  A model library was assembled by ALA members for the express purpose of showcasing women’s literary achievements, and to demonstrate innovative practices in the emerging field. 
   Committees of club women in nearly every state of the Union and from many foreign countries, identified female authors, both living and deceased, and shipped copies of their works.  The resulting collection topped 8,000 volumes and represented 24 nations. Melvil Dewey handpicked the female librarians hired to catalog the collection.
   In 1876, the year the American Library Association was founded, there were 1,612 librarians and 19 percent, or 306, were women.  By the year 1900, there were 4,814 librarians and 74.7 percent were women.

Paw Paw’s First Librarian
   In 1920, Clara Anderson Rennie (1867-1946) became the first librarian for the new Paw Paw Public Library.  Clara did not have a conventional life for a woman of her time.
   Her parents were Susannah Morris and LeGrand Anderson.  Clara, her parents, a sister Mary, and a brother lived near Decatur in Porter Township. Clara’s grandparents, and Susannah’s parents, Esther and Charles Henry Morris also lived nearby in Porter Township.
   On September 28, 1879, Esther and Charles Morris were inexplicably shot dead. Newspaper accounts reported that Jennie Bull, who worked for the Morris’s, had been in the house that night but claimed she saw and heard nothing. Jennie told a farmhand arriving for work on the morning of September 29th, that she had found both of them shot dead.
   The Morris’s were considered wealthy but it appeared that money and “jewels”, easily visible were left behind by the assailant.  The only thing missing was a horse later found in South Bend, Indiana. A neighbor, Charles Rosewarne said he saw a man ride by on the horse between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. on the night of the 28th. Rosewarne said he did not recognize the rider, but that he wore a “funny hat”.
   The murders were heavily covered by Michigan newspapers and also received national attention. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was called in to investigate, but the crime has never been solved.
   Clara’s father, LeGrand Anderson, came from Ohio to Michigan in the spring of 1831. LeGrand bought 434 acres in Decatur Township near to Porter Township and the Morris home. 
   LeGrand must have been quite a scoundrel. The True Northerner has accounts of at least three different lawsuits involving him.
   The court record reads, “during the summer of 1899, Leo Switzer, a tenant of Anderson’s and occupying one of the numerous farms owned by that gentleman…when difficulties and disagreements in regard to the manner in which Switzer was fulfilling his contract. Hard words passed between the parties and on December 7th, Switzer filed a lawsuit for slander, alleging $50,000 in damages.”
   Anderson’s reply was that he did not recall using the language reputed to him by the plaintiff, but “insisted that if he had…he was justified in doing so and that whatever he might have said about the plaintiff was true in substance and in fact.”
   After five days of testimony and two hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, Switzer for the sum of $1,500 for injury to his business and profession.
   A second lawsuit in which Anderson sued George Lyle for non-payment of debts, was settled in favor of the defendant with no cause of action and no costs to be taxed.
   Clara’s mother, Susannah, died in 1870. Clara, age three, and her sister Mary, age eight, moved to Paw Paw to the home of her aunt, and mother’s sister, and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin A. Murdock. There is no mention of what happened to her brother, whose name is not known.
   In 1902, Clara’s father LeGrand was sued for breach of promise.  The plaintiff, Etta Hayward Halliday alleged that, “prior to January 1st, 1896, when LeGrand Ander-son came to live in her home, she was the wife of Charles Halliday with whom she lived in love and affection.”  Anderson began paying her attention and to circulate false and scandalous stories about her husband. 
   Clara attended Paw Paw High School and graduated in 1884.  She left Paw Paw to attend Erie College for four years.  Erie College is a private liberal arts college located in Plainsville, Ohio.  It was very unusual for a woman of her time to achieve a college education. 
   In 1889, Clara married James Hatt Rennie.  An account of the wedding appeared on the front page of The True Northerner.  It was a beautiful and impressive wedding held in the parlor of her aunt, Mrs. Benjamin A. Murdock.  Clara is described as, “one of our most highly cultured and popular young ladies.” James is described as, “having won the esteem and confidence of all our people as minister of the Presbyterian Church.”
   James came to America from Scotland in 1881 to attend Park College in Missouri. He returned to Scotland in 1882, and retuned back to the United States in 1883 to attend Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. 
   James came to Paw Paw in 1886 to become the minister for the Presbyterian Church. He died in 1903, at the age of 42 of a degenerative nerve disease called ataxia.  He was buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery.
   This generation of independent women librarians found innovative ways to provide access to information with few resources.  They transformed their libraries into cultural centers at the heart of their towns. 

(Information for this article came from the “A History of United States Public Libraries” found on the Digital Public Library website. “Women in the White City” February 29, 2012, written by Susan E. Searing.  “Here I See My Own Books: The Women’s Building Library at the World’s Columbian Exposition” a video edited and directed by Sarah Wadsworth and Wayne Wiegand.  “The History, Progression, and Issues of Women Librarians” a paper written by Annie L. Downy.)

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32280 E. Red Arrow Hwy. • P.O. Box 129
Paw Paw, MI 49079
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