The Early 1900’s Woman’s Movement and the Formation of the Wilson County Library

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The Connor family. Kate Connor, at the very top with her husband, Judge Henry Connor, was the first president of the Wilson Library Association. Elizabeth Connor is married to Kate’s son, one of her 12 children, and was the the president of the Wilson Woman’s Club when the library was first opened in 1921. The library would be run by the Wilson Woman’s Club until 1939.

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of giving a talk titled, “The Relationship between the Wilson Woman’s Club and the Wilson County Public Library.”   it was in celebration of the Wilson Woman’s Club’s 100th anniversary.  There was a nice crowd of 35-40 people, mostly from the Woman’s Club and the Friends of the Library and here are some of the highlights.
           Beginnings of the Wilson Woman’s Club

  • The Wilson Woman’s Club had its origins in a feminist and progressive movement that swept the nation at the dawn of the 20th century landing on the front porches of Wilson in 1914.
  • And on the front porch of Mrs. WA Finch of 212 West Nash Street, the Wilson Woman’s Club was born in May, 1915.
  • The Club soon moved to a small frame building on Pine Street and Carrie Sparger Coon became its first president.

    The Wilson Woman’s Club Establishes a Library
  • In December 1898 the first book club was formed by Wilson County women.
  • In 1900 the book club formed the Wilson Library Association.
  • At first there was only 6-15 members with Kate Connor as president. There was a subscription fee of $1.00 to join and 10 cents a month to become a member.
  • A member was only allowed to check out one book at a time.
  • The library occupied space over a pharmacy and was run by librarian, Sue Pettus.
  • According to a 1903-1904 ledger there were 84 men registered and 124 women with 83 of them married/divorced/widowed and 41 single.
  • Unfortunately by 1909 the WLA was no longer in existence and Wilson was without a library for twelve years.
    Library is Open, at Certain Hours
  • On December 1st, 1921 the Wilson County Library was established in the Wilson Woman’s Club building on Pine Street. It was primarily financed by $2 a year subscriptions. Elizabeth Connor (daughter-in-law of Kate Connor) was president at the time and they had a total of 758 books from 500 donations and the leftover collection from the Wilson Library Association.
  • Gertrude Blount McLean (1875- 1949) was its first librarian and would later be the library’s historian.You can’t keep on and on wanting something as badly as we wanted a public library, something had to be done about it and in 1921 the women of Wilson did something.”
    Gertrude McLean

    library_1921

    Article in the Wilson Daily Times on 3 Dec, 1921, one day after the library opened. I thought they might say something more profound.

    The Wilson Library Becomes Public

  • In 1920 women were finally given the right to vote.
  • In June, 1922 the Wilson city council finally acquiesced to providing the library $30 a month so that subscription fees could be abolished.
  • According to Valentine, the fact the women were the primary supporters of the library and were now newly empowered voters, may have been the reason that the city council was finally swayed to support the library.
  • Now that there were no more subscription fees Wilson had its first municipal public library even though it was still run by the Wilson Woman’s Club.
  • Although the library was begun in the Wilson Woman’s Club building it was moved in 1923 “…to make it appear more of community library” above the Woolworth’s on the corner of Nash and Tarboro streets.
  • In 1925 the library moved its 3,800 books and 27 periodical subscriptions into two rooms in the new Wilson County Courthouse, which would be its home until 1939.
  • Mattie Moss was made Wilson Woman’s Club librarian in 1922 and Blanche Hines was made the Library’s chairwoman and would hold the position until 1939. Mrs. Hines “…remained the real force behind the library…”The Wilson County Library becomes the Wilson County Public Library
    We cannot cut the libraries and pinch our way out of the depression. We must continue to invest in intellectual and spiritual resources of youth and the people.– State Librarian, Carrie L. Broughton

    Why move from a semi-public Woman’s Club Library to a government run and financed library?

  • Space in the courthouse was cramped, funds sparse, and there was limited public supervision.
  • Lack of strong funding provided by the city and county government.
  • 2000 books had been lost from the inventory during the 14 years of its operation, which the county and city government may have concluded was from poor oversight.
  • It was decided that the town was large and prosperous enough (24,000 pop.) to maintain a full-time public library.
  • There was money to be had from the suddenly charitable Federal government that was trying to end the Depression.A Building of its own
  • As appropriations increased for the library during the Depression, plans were made in 1937 to construct and manage a library independent of the Woman’s Club and move out of its cramped facilities in the Wilson County Courthouse.
  • The federal government would provide half of the money for the construction of that library as a part of its anti-Depression measures.
  • The Neo-Georgian building was erected for $75,000 and was dedicated on December 8, 1939.
  • Nancy Gray was appointed the first library director and Mattie Moss was the assistant librarian.
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Assistant Mattie Moss, Librarian Nancy Gray and a student manning the front desk not long after the library had opened in December, 1939.

 

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The stacks in 1945.

 

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