Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mary Salome Cutler Fairchild (1855 - 1921), Library Pioneer

 I recently acquired a letter on the stationery of the United States Hotel in Boston dated June 27, 1886 from George T. Cutler to his sister Mary Salome Cutler (later Mary Salome Cutler Fairchild). Salome, as she preferred to be called, was one of the outstanding American librarians of the 19th century. She was one of “40 leaders of the library movement” selected for a Library Hall of Fame by Library Journal in 1951 as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the American Library Association. Salome Fairchild is also included in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978) which has a comprehensive biography by Budd L. Gambee. Fairchild was hired by Melvil Dewey in 1884 as a cataloger for the Columbia College Library, and she also served as an instructor in cataloging at the library school founded by Dewey at Columbia. She followed Dewey to the New York State Library when the library school was moved from Columbia to New York in 1889. Fairchild became vice-director of the library school in 1891, and served in that capacity until 1905. As vice-director Fairchild was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the library school and also maintained a heavy teaching load at the school. In his biography of Fairchild, Gambee writes: “The inspirational quality of her teaching was highly praised by her contemporaries. Her enthusiasm and her faith in the perfectibility of mankind sustained her missionary zeal for the library movement. Her specialties were cataloging book selection, and a seminar that combined library history with a study of contemporary libraries.”  Fairchild was also in charge of the New York State Library for the Blind. In his biography about Dewey Irrepressible Reformer (ALA, 1996) Wayne A. Wiegand notes that Fairchild and Dewey had significant philosophical differences in regard to the their approach to library education. Dewey emphasized the practical aspect of instruction whereas Fairchild advocated for a more theoretical and cultural approach. Fairchild was an active member of ALA and served as vice-president in 1894-95 and 1900-1901. One of her major contributions to ALA was serving as chair of the committee which arranged the ALA exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 which included a model library. An annotated book selection list created for the exhibit was the first of several that became known as the A.L.A. Catalogs. The Wikipedia entry for Fairchild includes an interesting section on her 1904 study of “Women in American Libraries”.  The 1886 letter to Cutler/Fairchild from her brother includes advice to her about her upcoming extended trip to the Mid-west and information about financing the trip. There is only one library reference in the letter. At the end her brother writes, “I got the bulletin from Library Bureau.” I’m happy to have this artifact with a connection to this great library lady.

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