Thursday, November 11, 2010

Soldiers' Free Library

A library story for Veterans Day. The Soldiers Free Library was founded on October 15, 1862 in Washington, D.C. by Elida Rumsey (1841-1919) and her future husband John Allen Fowle. The library opened with 1,500 books and 800 magazines. Both Rumsey and Fowle were actively involved in relief work for Union soldiers in the Washington, D.C. area. In addition to their relief work they were accomplished singers and regularly entertained the troops. Because of their popularity with the troops, they were allowed to be married in the Capitol in the Hall of the House of Representatives. The wedding took place on March 1, 1863 in front of an audience of 4,000. A new building for the Soldiers' Free Library was dedicated on the same day they were married. They spent their honeymoon raising money for the library. The library was continued to the end of the war after which the books were turned over to the Y.M.C.A. The envelope shown here has an embossed seal on the flap which says "Soldiers' Free Library - 1862 - Washington, D.C.". The U.S. Sanitary Commission shown in the return address location was a major relief organization that served Union soldiers during the Civil War.

Sources: "Elida Barkley Rumsey Fowle", Notable American Women, 1607-1950 (Harvard University Press, 1971), and The Washington Post, March 2, 1913.

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