ALABAMA LIBRARIES BEFORE 1920: A CHRONOLOGY IN PROGRESS
A.J. Wright, M.L.S.
Department of Anesthesiology Library
School of Medicine
University of Alabama at Birmingham
wrightaj21 at gmail.com
This chronology covers events in Alabama history related to books, reading and libraries--book culture--up to about 1920. Some entries on archives and museums will also be included.
A bibliography of sources can be found at the end.
No claim of comprehensiveness is made. Additions/corrections are welcome.
Under perpetual construction.
My blog post on "Alabama Libraries in 1886 and 1897":
My blog post on "Two Early Medical Libraries in Birmingham"
My blog post on "Alabama Libraries in 1851"
My blog post "Alabama Library History: Bookmobiles"
Spanish explorer Hernando deSoto and his expedition enter what is now Alabama; among their supplies are some books. All the books are burned in the battle of Maubila on October 18, 1540. Several accounts of the expedition describe the destruction by de Soto's men of many of their own supplies as they tried to trap Native American forces. The burning included clothes, ornaments and chalices, wafer molds and wine for mass. The books destroyed may have been mostly religious in nature; the expedition's personnel included more than 20 priests, friars and clerics who surely carried along their Bibles. The longest account by Garcilaso de la Vega, La Florida [Clayton, Lawrence A., et al, eds. The De Soto Chronicles. University of Alabama Press, 1993, 2:95-96] observes that when the expedition left Cuba for Florida. "He took his fleet so well supplied with all kinds of provisions that one seemed to be rather in a very well-provisioned city than navigating on the sea."
Don Juan Pedro Eon, cure and abbe of the district of Mobile, dies. The inventory of his estate reveals a private library of eighty-one books.
A political pamphlet is published at Wakefield; this item is the first known printing in what is now Alabama. Wakefield no longer exists, but it has a prominent place in early American history. On February 19 of that same year former vice-president Aaron Burr was arrested in Wakefield as he attempted to flee to Spanish West Florida and escape President Jefferson's warrant.
Public library movement begins in Huntsville.
1818 December 10
William Atwood purchases two shares of stock in the Huntsville Library Company. Certificates list Thomas G. Percy as President and Robert Fearn as Treasurer.
During the assembly called to form the State of Alabama, James G. Birney gives notice that he will ask to incorporate the Huntsville Library Company.
Cahaba Female Academy is established early in this decade and includes a library.
Green Academy is founded in Huntsville and exists until destroyed during the Civil War. The Cliosophic Society at the school develops a library.
First books published in Alabama.
Huntsville Library Company chartered by state legislature. Members: Thomas Fearn, Smauel Hazard, John Boardman, James G. Birney, George Fearn, Miles S. Watkins, Henry Minor and Thomas Brandon.
The State Law Library is founded in Montgomery and has 14,000 volumes by 1874.
Spring Hill College library opens and has 5000 items by 1876.
Huntsville Female Seminary library founded; 3000 volumes are collected by 1876.
University of Alabama library founded in Tuscaloosa and has 4000 volumes by 1876.
Marion Female Seminary library founded and has 1000 volumes by 1876.
Franklin Society Reading Room and LIbrary, a subscription institution, is founded in Mobile and has 3670 volumes by 1876.
Alabama Institute of Literature and Industry at Marion, a Baptist school, applies most of its students' farm labor earnings to library purchases.
Judson Female Institute library is founded and collects 3000 volumes by 1876.
A catalog of the University of Alabama library collection is compiled by Richard Furman.
Centenary Institute at Summerfield opens a library that has 1000 items by 1876.
Howard College at Marion is established; the library has 1000 volumes by 1876.
First official library in Montgomery organized 1843 in building on Court Square. Although of short duration, others followed. In 1898, Montgomery Library Association chartered as subscription library. In 1900, Andrew Carnegie, steel magnate, offered $50,000 for a building if property acquired; over $12,000 rapidly raised locally for lot at corner Perry and Adams. York and Sawyer of New York designed building with Frank Lockwood supervising architect for Beaux Arts structure. This was first free library. In 1959, Sherlock, Smith and Adams designed new building for Library and Fine Arts Museum at Lawrence and High. Racial integration took place in1962. With Museum's move to Blount Park in 1988, Library re-designed to better utilize space. In 2005, main facility renamed to honor civil rights advocate Juliette Hampton Morgan. Nine branches and the Morgan Library now serve the City and County. [Text of one side of the historical marker erected in 2008 by the Alabama Historical Association on the Montgomery City-County Public Library; marker is at High Street @ South Lawrence Street, Montgomery]
Greene Springs School library is founded and has 2500 volumes by 1876.
A catalog of the University of Alabama library is compiled by W.G. Richardson "on the plan of the Brown University catalog".
Library begun at Wetumpka State Prison after reformer Dorothea Dix visits and donates books.
Tuscaloosa Female College library founded and has 1200 volumes by 1876.
1850 March 4
The steamboat Orline St. John burns and sinks on the Alabama River in Wilcox County. On board was a book salesman and his stock.
Alabama Historical Society is founded; the 1876 library report notes that the Society's 250 volume-library was donated to the University of Alabama.
In 1851 Charles Coffin Jewett published one of the early inventories of public libraries in the United States. At the time Jewett was Librarian and Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; he moved to the Boston Public Library as Superintendent in 1858 and worked there until his death a decade later. The report, Notices of Public Libraries in the United States of America, was issued as an appendix to the 1850 report of the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents. In some 200 pages Jewett gives state-by-state library listings and descriptions. Listings are organized by town within each state. As might be expected, Jewett found through his tedious methods of circulars and private correspondence only a few libraries in Alabama at that time. His first entry for the state, under “La Grange”, says simply “College Library—3,000 vols.” He refers of course to LaGrange College, the state’s first chartered college established in 1830; the site is located eight miles southeast of Muscle Shoals. The college was burned in April 1863. From that brief entry Jewett moves on to Howard College, founded in Marion in 1842, with a library containing 1500 volumes. “It is opened once a week for half an hour”, he notes. Organized by Alabama Baptists and chartered in 1841, Howard was moved to the East Lake area of Birmingham in 1887 and finally to its present location in Homewood in 1957 and renamed in 1965. In Mobile Jewett located the library of the Franklin Society, founded in January 1835. “The library contains 1,454 volumes, with a few coins and maps….The library and reading-room are open daily for the use of members of the society and subscribers to the reading-room.” In Spring Hill, then outside of Mobile, Jewett found the state’s second largest library of the time, that of the Catholic college holding 4,000 volumes. The school was founded twenty years before Jewett’s report was published. He gives no other library details. Jewett’s longest entry is the last, as expected the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa with 7,123 volumes. This figure included the 4,500 volumes in the “Rotundo” and two student libraries containing 2,623 volumes. He notes an annual circulation of some 800 volumes, a “stated annual appropriation of $200” and two extra $500 appropriations within the past five years. “The library is opened twice a week, and kept open about an hour each time.” Jewett also mentions the two library catalogs that had been prepared by Richard Furman and Wilson G. Richardson. He notes that Richardson’s effort “is on the plan of the catalogue of Brown University Library.” In 1841 Jewett became librarian at Brown, reorganized its library and published a catalog in two parts: an alphabetical description of items and an alphabetical index of subjects. Thus Jewett found six “public libraries” in Alabama ca. 1850; he seems to have missed the one in Huntsville and probably others. By way of comparison, he found eight in Georgia, four in Mississippi and three in Florida.
Synodical Female Collegiate Institute library in Talladega is founded and collects 300 volumes by 1876.
Huntsville Female College library founded and has 575 volumes by 1876.
1854 February 15
First public school act passes Alabama legislature.
Alabama Conference Female College library founded at Tuskegee and has 300 volumes by 1876.
Florence Synodical Female College library founded and has 2500 volumes by 1876.
A sixteen page catalog of the Alabama Supreme Court Library is published.
Southern University at Greensboro library founded and collects 2000 volumes by 1876.
Medical College of Alabama library founded in Mobile and has 500 volumes by 1876.
Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind in Talladega begins a library that has 300 volumes in 1876.
Columbian Institute, a mostly-male academy founded at Taylorville in Tuscaloosa County. The school includes a room dedicated to a library.
University of Alabama library is burned by raiding Federal troops; only about 1200 volumes survive.
The Law Library of Mobile is founded and grows to 3000 volumes by 1876.
1870 March 1
Huntsville Literary Debating Society is formed and includes a library for its members.
University of Alabama is reorganized and rebuilding of library is begun.
Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama in Auburn opens a library that has 1720 volumes three years later.
State Normal School library at Florence opens and has 1000 volumes in 1876.
Collecting of books for the Alabama Geological Survey Library begins.
Alabama Historical Society establishes a library and archives, which are later donated to the University of Alabama library.
Hamner Hall School for Boys founded in Montgomery and has 500 books in 1876.
Talladega College library opens and has 300 volumes when surveyed the following year.
Park High School in Tuskegee opens a library that has 400 volumes in 1876.
Society library at Greene Springs founded and has 1500 volumes in 1876.
YMCA library in Selma founded and has 600 volumes by 1876.
Two society libraries founded in Marion and have 800 volumes by 1876.
Two society libraries in Greensboro have 1500 volumes by 1876.
The 1876 library report notes that society libraries at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama have a combined total of 2500 volumes.
A society library founded at Gainesville has 700 volumes by 1876.
Benjamin H. Riggs, outgoing secretary of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, turns over to his successor T.A. Means 400 volumes of the society's library; by 1888 this figure had grown to more than 4000 and was in possession of the State Health Officer in Montgomery.
Junius M. Riggs, librarian for the Alabama Supreme Court Library, publishes a catalog of the collection.
Biennial report of the Alabama Insane Hospital 43 describes the workings of the patient library, which has a printed catalog. The librarian is described as "one of our most intelligent patients".
Amelia Gayle Gorgas becomes director of the library at the University of Alabama and serves in that post until 1906.
Birmingham Library Association founded. Raised funds through personal contributions and promotion of baseball games and within a year had accumulated 805 volumes. Collection was soon donated to the local school system and the association dissolved.
Birmingham forms a public school system.
Louisa Dodson Holmes establishes a library and reading room for school children in her house in Hayneville. Holmes was the local school teacher.
Law library established at the University of Alabama
Jefferson County forms a public school system.
Bessemer forms public school system.
Library operated by Order of Railroad Conductors, Montgomery.
Dr. John H. Phillips, Birmingham Superintendent of Schools, establishes a library for teachers and students at the city's white high school using the book collection from the Birmingham Library Association.
Morgan County's first library, Cotaco Circulating Library, founded. Located in water works office, the library sold shares for $2.00 each, which entitled shareholders to check out books for a year and vote in the association.
Highland Book Club founded in Birmingham.
Library at Birmigham's white high school designated as Birmingham Public Library and opened to subscriptions. By 1899 this library has 6228 volumes and expenditures of $491.97
Huntsville Circulating Library formed and located until August in Murray and Smith's Book Store. Library is then moved to the YMCA on Eustis Street. Mrs. V.A. Betts is librarian.
Second annual report of the Selma City School Board is published and contains the catalog of the Dallas Male and Female Academy library. The Dallas Academy had been transformed into a Selma public school by act of the Alabama legislature on December 10, 1890.
Helen Keller Library in Tuscumbia opens as result of efforts of the Helen Keller Library and Literary Association, organized in 1892. Library opens with 940 books and had 2000 by 1896. In early years the library opens two hours each Saturday morning, with members serving unpaid terms as librarians.
Thomas McAdory Owen's collection of Alabama-related materials numbers over 2000 titles by this date. His collection--of unknown size--burns in 1906.
Etta Matthews appointed librarian of the Huntsville Circulating Library. Conrad O'Shaughnessy is secretary- treasurer of the governing body. Membership in the library is $1.00 per year.
Selma Library Association is formed. Small library financed by dues and donations opens in 1895. Eventually this library totals some 600 volumes which served as nucleus of the Carnegie library which opened in 1903 and which contained 3500 volumes by 1920.
Public library formed in Fairhope.
City Literary Club is founded in Cullman.
Ladies Lyceum established in Union Springs, Alabama, in order to devlop a public library.
The Southern Library Club in Florence is formed by a group of women; the organization includes a small library.
Anniston public library association, headed by Howard W. Sexton, places a collection of books in Lloyd's Drug Store.
Huntsville Circulating Library moves from YMCA on Eustis Street to the Gordon Building on Franklin Street.
Alabama Federation of Women's Clubs is formed and begins effort to gain public and private support for libraries.
1895 April 1-3
Benefit balls are held for the Huntsville Circulating Library.
Subscription library opens in Union Springs; membership fee is $2.00 per year. Collection of 332 books is classified, arranged and cataloged by Mollie Norman.
Tuscumbia public library has been meeting at Deshler Female Institute. In this year library via third party buys the Opera House building. After two years of renovations, library moves to a portion of first floor. Second floor remains a town performance space. https://omeka.lib.auburn.edu/items/show/1508
Thursday Study Club is organized in Gadsden. This women's organization's efforts eventually leads to the dedication of a Carnegie library for the city in December l906.
First gift from Andrew Carnegie to a town in Alabama. By 1920 Carnegie had donated over $195,000 in the state.
Montgomery Library Association chartered as subscription library.
1898 November 3
Library for blacks in Birmingham opens in the Slater School. Collection contains 1100 volumes. Teachers could use it freely, but others were charged $2.00.
Federation of Women's Clubs establishes a collection of about 25 bound volumes and 15 magazines to be circulated to any women's club requesting it. Transportation charge is one dollar and the collection can remain 3-4 months. By 1901 there are 12 of these libraries going to churches, schools, towns, etc. in addition to clubs. In 1903 the Alabama Educational Association Library Committee begins to find schools where these libraries can be used.
Public library founded in Dothan.
Andrew Carnegie, steel magnate, offered $50,000 for a building in Montgomery if property acquired; over $12,000 rapidly raised locally for lot at corner Perry and Adams. York and Sawyer of New York designed building with Frank Lockwood supervising architect for Beaux Arts structure. This was first free library in the city. [Taken from the text on one side of the historical marker erected in 2008 by the Alabama Historical Association on the Montgomery City-County Public Library; marker is at High Street @ South Lawrence Street, Montgomery]
Alabama Department of Education's Division of School Community Organization issues first "Library List for Elementary Schools" which appeared annually until about 1930.
1901 March 2
Alabama Department of Archives and History is organized by legislative act of February 27. A reference library will develop as a part of the activities of the department. Until 1940 the Archives was located in the Capitol building and materials were displayed in the State House and Senate chambers in Montgomery when the legislature was not in session.
This photograph shows collection materials displayed in the Senate chamber sometime before 1910.
These materials are displayed in the House chamber sometime before 1930.
Source for both of these Archives photos is the digital collections of the State Archives.
One of the initial large gifts to the Alabama State Department of Archives and History is the 2500-piece library of J.L.M. Curry, donated by his heirs.
1901 October 14
Suggestion to create a library for members is made at a meeting in Birmingham of the Jefferson County Medical Society.
Birmingham Medical Library Association is created for members of the Jefferson County Medical Society.
Public library founded in Birmingham.
Memorial Hall was built at the Confederate Soldiers' Home in Mountain View, Alabama, in Chilton County. The building included the commandant's office, a library, a parlor and a conference room. The second floor was used as an auditorium. Fire destroyed the building in 1924.
Source: Encyclopedia of Alabama
Alabama Educational Association forms a Library Committee, which will draw up bills to present to the legislature, help organize libraries, etc.
Carnegie library opens in Selma.
State Superintendent of Education begins support of the school library movement by announcing that schools cannot adequately perform their function without good libraries.
Thomas Owen attempts to count libraries in the state in non-educaitonal institutions.
Eufaula's Carnegie Library opened; by the end of the year it had 4,789 books.
1904 November 21
First annual meeting of the Alabama Library Association takes place in Montgomery.
Public library founded in Decatur.
Alabama Library Association offers to assume responsibility for the Federation of Women's Clubs travelling libraries, and more than 1700 books, 9 bookcases and $9.81 were turned over to the Association.
Thirty-seven out of sixty-seven counties have no school libraries; one in fifty schools in the state have a library of any kind.
Mollie Norman reorganizes Union Springs subscription library according to the Dewey system.
Public library founded in Livingston.
State Superintendent of Education begins annual survey of libraries in educational institutions.
Carnegie library organized in Decatur.
Public library founded in Talladega.
1906 December 20
Gadsden Carnegie library dedicated.
First serious consideration of library legislation by the state legislature results in the Library Act of 1907, which establishes the principle of state support for library services by authorizing and financing the Library Extension Divsion of the Department of Archives and History. This division was to operate a system of travelling libraries for the entire state. These mobile libraries would consist of 25-35 books sent to rural communities and schools for a period of up to four months; shipping and transportation costs were to be paid by recipients. Establishment of school and public libraries was to be encouraged and assisted, and a summer course in library instruction instituted.
Survey of libraries not in public schools reveals that 90 such libraries exist in 53 municipalities; all but 22 were connected with educational institutions and seven were for blacks.
Alabama State Department of Archives and History organizes a reference service for state legislators.
Public library founded in Dadeville.
"Magnificent" personal library of Dr. John Clark LaGrande, more than 300 volumes, is offered for sale in Birmingham. LaGrande died in March 1906.
Public library founded in Bessemer.
Alabama Educational Association declares that every child has a right to access to good books.
First of three summer schools for library training organized by Thomas Owen. A total of 20 students were trained at their own expense during these three summers.
Ladies Lyceum of Union Springs transfers control of its subscription library to the newly-chartered Union Springs Library Association.
Talladega's Carnegie Library opened; the first book was checked out by an eight-year-old girl, Gentry Parsons.
Alabama Teachers' and Young People's Reading Circle is formed.
Union Springs Library Association petitions the city council for an annual appropriation to support its library's operating expenses. Council agrees to appropriate $1000 per year if a $10,000 building can be constructed to house a public library.
1909 October 1
Birmingham Public Library becomes a truely public, free library.
1909 November 4
Library Day in the public schools of Alabama.
Union Springs Library Association makes initial contact with the Carnegie library program.
Union Springs Library Association elects its first paid librarian--Mollie Norman. In February 1912 she issues her first annual report, noting that the library has 1200 volumes, is open five days a week for two hours per day and has circulated more than 1400 volumes on 199 borrower cards. Ms. Norman has three young ladies as unpaid apprentices.
Rural School Library Law first proposed in 1907, is passed by Alabama legislature. Law provides for financial contributions from school districts, county and state for operation of public libraries. Amended in 1919. In 1911, 468 white school libraries held 83,152 volumes and 47 libraries in black schools held 3723 books out of a total of 6566 public schools in the state. By 1919 2135 white school libraries held 215,346 books and 131 black school libraries held 12,095 in 6459 public schools.
Carl Milam accepts position of director, Birmingham Public Library, where he remains until late 1919.
1913 November 7
First meeting of the Carnegie Library Board in Huntsville is held.
Public library is founded in Robertsdale.
Legislature passes act requiring libraries to submit to Director of the State Department of Archives and History any information he may request.
Survey indicates that fourteen of 125 high schools in the state had no library and most that did held under 100 books.
1916 February 29
Huntsville Carnegie Library opens to public.
Birmingham Public Library director Carl Milam is instrumental in creating libraries in military training camps in Alabama.
These photos are exterior and interior shots of the library at Camp Sheridan near Montgomery taken in May and June 1918. More about Camp Sheridan can be found at the Encyclopedia of Alabama. These images of Camp Sheridan and Camp McClellan are from a National Archives collection of World War I photographs.
This photo shows the exterior of the library at Camp McClellan near Anniston, probably taken in 1918. The site later became Fort McClellan; you can learn more at the Encyclopedia of Alabama.
1918 October 9
Booker T. Washington Branch Library for blacks opens in Birmingham.
City of Birmingham asked to gather 5000 books for distribution to soldiers; people gather 26,000.
Library Act of 1919 permitted counties and municipalities to establish and operate free public libraries with tax monies under certain restrictions.
Fairfield forms Board of Education for public school system.
University of Alabama George Ketchum Medical Library is moved, along with the medical school, from Mobile to Tuscaloosa.
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF SOURCES
General Resources [may contain some Alabama content]
Jewett, Charles Coffin. Notices of Public Libraries in the United States of America. Smithsonian Institution, 1851.
Public Libraries in the United States of America; part I. 1876 report, 1965 reprint by the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science.
Cheeks, Elizabeth B. Talladega Public Library 1908-1958: the first fifty years. Alabama Librarian 2004; 54(2): 26-31
Hays, Paul A. From Carnegie to Fort Book: The History of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. Published by the library, 2005
Library History Committee. Gadsden Public Library: 100 Years of Service. Arcadia Publishing, 2008
Pacey, Lesley Farrey. Old Point Clear library. Mobile Register 2002 July 11
Walworth, Susan. Carnegie Library celebrates century. Eufaula Tribune 2004 April 30
Wright AJ. Carnegie Comes to Union Spings: The Development of an Alabama Public Library. A Research Proposal. U.S. Educational Resources Information Center, 1990. ED324002
Wright AJ. Two Early Medical Libraries in Birmingham. Alabamayesterdays blog, posted 21 September 2015 http://alabamayesterdays.blogspot.com/search?q=early+medical+libraries
Cox, Richard J. Alabama's archival heritage, 1850-1985. Alabama Review 1987 October; 40: 284-307
Ellison, Rhoda Coleman. Early Alabama Publications: A Study in Literary Interests. University of Alabama Press, 1947
Graham, Patterson Toby. A Right to Read: Segregation and Civil Rights in Alabama's Public Libraries, 1900-1965. University of Alabama Press, 2002
Graham, Patterson Toby. Public librarians and the civil rights movement: Alabama, 1955-1965. Library Quarterly 2001; 71(1): 1-27
Gravois, Jim. Alabama libraries and censorship: a century of struggle. Alabama Librarian 2004; 54(2): 6-12
Howard, Milo B. Alabama museums: early efforts [1831-1928]. Alabama Review 1982 April, pp 83-93
Johnson, Kenneth R. The early library movement in Alabama. Journal of Library History 1971 April; 6(2): 120-132
Morrissette, Kate Hutcheson. Traveling libraries in Alabama. Sewanee Review 1898 July; 6(3): 345-348
Stephens, Annabel K. Bricks, books, and metaphor: the place of first libraries in Alabama communities. Southeastern Librarian 2006 spring; 54(1): 28-35
Stephens, Annabel K. The founding and early development of Alabama public libraries: a content analysis of 116 of the libraries' written histories. Alabama Librarian 2004; 54(2): 32-38
White, Shannon Diane. The Development of the Statewide Tax-Supported Library System in Alabama: 1901-1974. MA thesis, University of South Carolina, 2000
Williams, Benjamin Buford. A Literary History of Alabama: The Nineteenth Century. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1979