Yankee Librarian in the Diamond City: Hannah Packard James, the Osterhout Free Library of Wilkes-Barre, and the Public Library Movement in Pennsylvania
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Yankee Librarian in the Diamond City:
Hannah Packard James, the Osterhout Free Library of Wilkes-Barre, and the Public Library Movement in Pennsylvania
Figure 1. Hannah Packard James, ca. 1885. From Myra Poland, "Miss Hannah Packard James," in Proceedings and Collections of the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society for the Years 1902–1903 (Wilkes-Barre, PA: The Society, 1904), 300–304.
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Figure 1.

Hannah Packard James, ca. 1885. From Myra Poland, "Miss Hannah Packard James," in Proceedings and Collections of the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society for the Years 1902–1903 (Wilkes-Barre, PA: The Society, 1904), 300–304.

Nearly twenty-five years ago, Laurel Grotzinger wrote about the "paucity, perils, and pleasures" of researching women in librarianship. Citing the lack of "herstory" in library history scholarship, as well as the absence of librarianship in works on women's history, Grotzinger found few studies that used primary source material to interpret female librarians within the context of their times.1 Since then, there have been numerous articles and book chapters documenting female librarians. Recently, researchers have described the careers of government documents pioneers Edith Guerrier (1870–1958) and Adelaide Hasse (1868–1953), theological librarian/cataloger Julia Pettee (1872–1967), Oregon State Librarian Cornelia Marvin Pierce (1873–1957), library educator Mary Wright Plummer (1856–1916), and children's librarian Effie Louise Power (1873–1969).2 Yet few if any have studied women in Pennsylvania. In fact, there has been no article [End Page 123] in either Pennsylvania History or the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography on women librarians in the past forty years.3

Perhaps more important, published studies of female librarians who were active before the American Civil War are relatively scant. There is a dire need for such research because, as Dee Garrison has found, there were two distinct generations practicing librarianship in the late Gilded Age and Progressive era. There was a "gentry" that had been in the field prior to the 1870s, and a new "professional class," led by Melvil Dewey (of Dewey Decimal fame), which came to the fore in the mid-1890s. The studies cited above already tell us a great deal about new professional library women of the early twentieth century and, particularly in the case of Hasse and Pierce, how they interacted with the Progressive movement. However, none describe an older woman transitioning from a small-town society and worldview to an industrial, progressive outlook. Existing research may lead us to believe that most female librarians of the early 1900s were staunch Progressives, but some women were quite ambivalent about professional and social change.

Robert Wiebe's and Steven Diner's scholarship can help us contextualize and predict older librarians' responses to the Progressive movement. Wiebe describes the period from the 1870s through the 1920s as a "search for order." Prior to the Civil War, he argues, most communities were quite autonomous and handled community needs in informal ways. In fact, people who came of age in antebellum America had grown up on "islands," "judging the world as they would their neighborhood. Their truths derived from what they knew; the economics of a family budget, the returns that came to the industrious and the lazy, the obnoxious behavior of the drunken braggart, the advantages of a wife who stayed home and kept a good house." This generation "had little reason to believe that these daily precepts were not universally valid, and few doubted that the nation's ills were caused by men who had dared to deny them." This "society without a core" lacked "national centers of authority and information" that could have helped people cope with the economic and social effects of rapid industrialization.4

Over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it appears that nearly every American sought answers in higher education, morality crusades, social science, government and social programs, or other such activities. Yet Steven Diner's research reveals that many "Progressive" individuals' commitments were selective and their ideals were contradictory.5 Some social activists retained earlier beliefs in limited government, protection of property rights, and Social Darwinism, even as their contemporaries were [End Page 124] arguing for the expansion of state authority, were moving into communal settlement houses, and were questioning the entire socioeconomic order.

Unsurprisingly, such ambivalence emerged within librarianship, a profession that often marks its beginning with the founding...