The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter XX
Ladies' Library Association

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton

 

LADIES' LIBRARY ASSOCIATION.

The Ladies' Library Association was formed in 1851 and incorporated in 1853. By 1854 it was acquired a library of five hundred volumes. In 1861 the library was nearly destroyed by fire, but, by the awakened sympathies of the community and the prompt payment of the amount insured, they were able to take advantage of the low prices of books from a failing publishing house. This nearly repaired their loss and placed in their collection many valuable works. At this time the circulation of a subscription paper for the purpose of providing for the library a more commodious building met with great success. A lot was purchased on the corner of Beach and Kearsley streets, and within the same year of its commencement the corner-stone of the edifice was laid, with Masonic ceremonies, under the supervision of the Hon. William M. Fenton. The cost of the building was about six thousand dollars. It was dedicated on June 30, 1868. The dedicatory address, by his Excellency, Governor Crapo, contained this high tribute of praise to the ladies for their zeal and perseverance. "They, from the beginning tot he present tine have never abandoned their task or became disheartened in view of discouragements and difficulties. Conscious of the good work in which they were engaged, they have yielded to no obstacles or embarrassments, and the result is this fine structure, both a credit and an ornament to the city, those volumes, the chariots of knowledge, and this hall, which they so well adorn, and of which we all may so well be proud."

This dedication of a ladies' library building was an event new in the annals of our country, but it was soon to be followed by numerous like associations throughout the state. In 1871 the library celebrated its twentieth anniversary. On this occasion many literary and floral offerings were contributed and valuable gifts received in money and books. Many tokens of encouragement and commendation were received from persons of long-established literary merit. On March 22, 1876, the centennial persons of our nation's life, the ladies celebrated the quarter-centennial of their library. Several sister libraries were well represented and participated in the exercises by able addresses and poems.

The objects of the society at the outset could not be better expressed than by quoting a portion of a letter form one who was present and bore a part in its organizations, Mrs. E. M. Pratt, of Lansing. "We remember," wrote she, "this organization came of a sentiment to secure and foster a more cultivated social and moral atmosphere--not only for ourselves, but for a field beyond--securing avenues for wider views, for higher and nobler aspirations.' Mrs. k. Bartow, of Buffalo, a former member who aided in its formations, wrote thus: "Your kind invitation brings a rush of pleasant memories." Its life and growth have been a precious desire of mine. I regret I cannot clasp hands, as of old, with the members on the appointed day."

The poem written for and read on the occasion by F. H. Rankin, contained a fine eulogy on the ladies' taste in their selection of books.

Why talk of printing thoughts? Look around.
Upon these shelves the answer may be found.
No cave of rubies, no Gotconda's mine.
No golden vein, no Oriental shrine.
E'er know he wealth of treasure locked away--
Preserved imprinted thoughts; that grand array
You ladies have accumulated here,

Which we, in this august centennial year--
Your quarter-centenary--have met to greet
The fruit of all your labors, so complete.
Could guests have finer banquet than we find?
Or with more choice companionship be joined?
The kinds of mind; the emperors of thought;
The intellectual giants who have wrought
In every field of literary fame,
Is company entitled to acclaim.

Mrs. Damon Stewart writes: "The idea of making the Ladies' Library a free public library was latent in the association. it had come up again and again for discussion. Resolutions to that effect were voted down repeatedly, because not all could see quite alike, and the public did not give much encouragement, yet there was a very general desire to do what seemed to be the best thing for the city. Finally, at a special meeting, on June 28, 1884, it was unanimously decided to present the library to the city. the following resolutions were adopted, and the Hon. George H. Durand was requested to present them to the city:

"'At a special meeting of the Ladies' Library Association of Flint, having associated ourselves together for the purpose of cultivating a taste for literature and establishing a library in our midst, and,

"'Whereas, having labored for this purpose for a period of twenty years, we now find our labors crowned with success; and,

"'Whereas, the liberality of a generous public having so greatly contributed to this success, we do hereby

"'Resolve, that the ladies of said association, to show their appreciation of such liberality and believing that the wants of the public will be better subserved in the future by a free public city library, be it therefore

"'Resolved, that said association do hereby present the city of Flint the library and building now belonging to said association, to be forever a free city library and reading room,. The ladies reserving the right to appoint four trustees who shall co-operate with said city in carrying our the above object.'

"A committee of the following named ladies was authorized to carry out and pout in effect these resolutions by presenting to the said city, through your honorable body, the library building, and such other property as they may have to dispose of, the city to guarantee the carrying out of the above requirements in connection with a debating club. And the said library and reading room to be kept open through every day and evening of the years of the future for the benefit of the public. M. G. Stockton, Arabella Rankin, Helen Hill and Lizzie M. Carman, committee.

"Judge Durand presented the resolutions to the common council. The matter was referred to a committee, which reported as follows:

"'Your committee, to whom was referred the communication of the Ladies' library Association, fine, after a careful consideration of the matter, that it would cost the city to run the library in the present building, to the best judgment of the committee, at least one thousand two hundred and one thousand five hundred dollars per year, with five hundred dollars to start with for new books and rebinding old ones. This would be offset in part by the rent of the lower part of the building, if it could be rented, leaving the balance to be raised by tax. It has been said that the fines from the justice's office would go to a free library. We would say that the fines collected under city ordinance amount to but little more than enough to pay the justice. The fines collected under state laws are paid to the county treasurer and by him distributed to the schools of the county. We would say that the city would be called upon within the next two years to build two or three bridges at a cost of many thousand dollars. We would also state that within the next two years, the city will lose the tax list personal property to the amount of one hundred and fifty thousand to one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars (W. W. Crapo and Begole, Fox & Company, lumber), a loss at the present rate of taxation of more then two thousand dollars. While acknowledging the value of the gift and the great good that would come of it, yet your committee would deem it unwise under the circumstances for the city to assume any additional burden at the present time.'

"'The report of the committee was adopted.

"'The more the subject was considered, the more desirable it seemed that the Ladies' Library should be transformed into a free public library. The Scientific Library has, as stated above, made a bill of sale of its library and museum to union school district, January 5, 1877, and with this example in mind, a committee was appointed to consult with the school board, April 25, 1885, and the following resolution was adopted.

"'That the officers of this, the Ladies' Library Association of Flint, be and are hereby authorized and instructed, in the name of this association, to execute a deed and bill of sale, of al the property of the association, both real and personal, to union school district of the city of Flint, under the sole condition that said property be devoted to library purposes.'

"'This resolution was presented to the school board and, after due consideration, the following resolution, presented by Trustee Wisner, was unanimously adopted:

"'Resolved, that, on behalf of the union school district of the city of Flint, we accept the building on the southwest corner of Kearsely and Beach streets, known as the Ladies' Library Association building, and books and fixtures which it contains, to be used, or if any portion be sold to be used solely for the maintenance of a public library in the city of Flint;

"'Resolved, that the committee on libraries is hereby authorized to see that the necessary papers are executed and recorded, transferring the title to said property to union school district;

"'Resolved, that we tender our thanks tot he ladies of the Library association for their generous and unselfish act in devoting to public use and the common good so much valuable property, the result of many years of untiring effort and representing not only the labors of the present donors, but of many who have ceased from their labors and entered into their reward, and who works do follow them.'

"'The secretary of the board of trustees, Mrs. Dibble, was instructed to cause to be prepared an engrossed copy of the above resolutions and forward it to the secretary of the ladies' Library Association.

"'There were about four thousand books in the library. The deed thus giving the Ladies' Library in trust to the union school district, was signed by Frances McQuigg Stewart, president, and Anna Walker McCall, secretary. July 11, 1885, the remaining thirty-seven dollars fifty-seven cents in the treasury was given to the Woman's Relief corps as the successors of the Soldiers' aid society. From 1885 until 1905 the public library occupied the same buildings, the list of volumes increasing each year with the growth of the city."

This general survey of our library's growth must pay a special tribute to that same Dr. Daniel Clarke, elsewhere mentioned. It was due in large part to his critical knowledge of literature and science that so high a standard was originally set. He not only supervised the selection of new books, but enriched the little library with many volumes from his own shelves. Any one who prowls today among the less frequented nooks of the library will still discover a few well-bound, finely-printed old classics, with the name of this benefactor in autograph on the fly leaf. Many lovers of good literature feel indebted to him for showing the way to a better appreciation of the world's best mind, and hold him, though unknown, in grateful remembrance.

 

History of Genesee County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions
by Edwin O. Wood, LL.D, President Michigan Historical Commission, 1916

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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