Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Women Librarians and ALA's Library War Service in WWI

Mary Josephine Booth



By 1917 women librarians in the United States had begun to exert more and more leadership in a profession previously dominated by men.  With the decision of the American Library Association to play an active role in providing reading materials to America's armed forces during World War I, it was only natural that women would seek to be involved in that enterprise.  Their efforts, however, to be part of ALA's Library War Service was thwarted to a large degree by Herbert Putnam, the Librarian of Congress and the General Director of the Library War Service. In particular Putnam opposed women serving as the head of the camp libraries operated by ALA. At the ALA Conference in Saratoga Springs in the summer of 1918, seven women including Theresa Elmendorf, ALA's first woman president, petitioned ALA's War Service Committee which had oversight over the Library War Service to modify the policy against women serving as camp librarians. Interestingly, Blanche Galloway had become the first woman to direct an ALA camp library (at the Pelham Bay Naval training Station in NY) in May of 1918 just prior to the ALA Conference. Even before that, female librarians had played other roles in the ALA Library War Service including serving as hospital librarians on military bases. Two prominent women librarians, Gratia A. Countryman and Electra C. Doren, served on the Library War Service Committee.  Female librarians also served in ALA libraries overseas including Portland librarian Mary Frances Isom who served in hospitals in France. She wrote to her Portland library staff: "I can stand anything now. I can even look on the most horrible wounds without flinching." By the summer of 1919 women were in charge of eight camp libraries.  The source for most of the information in this post is Arthur P. Young's Books for Sammies: The American Library Association and World War I (Beta Phi Mu, 1981). Also consulted was Cultural Crusaders: Women Librarians in the American West, 1900-1917 by Joanne E. Passet (Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1994).  The photograph of a Library War Service worker in Europe shown above was recently sold on eBay. Robert V. Hillman, University Archivist at Eastern Illinois University has identified her as Mary Josephine Booth. According to Hillman, Booth was on leave for a couple of years (1917-1919) from her position as library director at Eastern Illinois State Normal School (now Eastern Illinois University.)  During those years she served overseas, first as a Red Cross volunteer, and then as a member of ALA’s Library War Service.  When she returned to Eastern she resumed her duties as library director here, a position she held for a total of 41 years. The library building at Eastern is now named in her honor. The postcard showing the  World War I military hospital library in New Haven, CT with a female librarian is from my collection. 

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am now a proud military librarian. How nice to learn about the history of our profession.
Marcia

Anonymous said...

Fantastic image of Mary Josephine Booth. I was the winner of the eBay auction and have her image posted on my blog. I can now fill in the missing info on her! Thanks!

http://portraitsofwar.wordpress.com/favorite-images/americanlibrary422/

Anonymous said...

I own the photo listed above. I had no idea it had been identified! Glad I stumbled across your site. With the name in hand, I was able to find her 1919 passport photo!