Children’s Library History (3)

dmccsnappCurrently, I’m reading about Caroline Maria Hewins (1846 – 1926), the first influential woman to create a public library service movement in support of children. I’m reading three separate texts on Hewins, but I’m drawing on Margaret Bush’s article entitled, “New England Book Women: Their Increasing Influence,” for this blog piece.

In her article, Bush explores the “interconnected careers of four women of New England origin.” They were Caroline Hewins, Anne Carroll Moore, Alice Jordan, and Bertha Mahony. She writes that they were all “notable for their work in numerous areas: children’s librarianship, bookselling, teaching, literary criticism, writing, organizing, and leadership of professional associations. Friendship and mentoring [were] also considered as a predominant influence in their work.”

(Another book I’m planning to read, Bookwomen, by Jacalyn Eddy, also explores the connections between librarians and children’s book publishing.)

Bush refers to these four as “book women whose friendship was a remarkable force in developing the fields of both library service for children and children’s literature.”

As I mentioned in the initial paragraph, Caroline Hewins was one of the earliest pioneers for children’s library work. In the year 1882, Caroline Hewins sent a “query to ‘twenty-five of the leading libraries of the country.'” She asked, “‘What are you doing to encourage a love of good reading in boys and girls?'”

When Hewins left Boston in 1875 to “become librarian of the Hartford Young Men’s Institute,” she knew very well who her audience was, but she would nevertheless begin to “exert prodigious influence on the development of public library services for children and the publishing, selling, and reading of children’s books.” As Margaret Bush explains, the Hartford library “served hundreds of adult subscribers, but Hewins, no doubt drawing on her personal family and teaching experience, began almost immediately to promote books for the children of library members.” Bush says that while it was certainly true that a “few libraries had served children much earlier in the century, their efforts were not so widely known, and Caroline Hewins seems to have been an assertive, outgoing, and personable woman who acted on deep personal conviction in the pleasure and value provided by good books.”

Here are some of the first things Hewins did in her new position: “She quickly appraised and weeded her collection, wrote to a local newspaper exhorting parents about popular romance novels of the day, and invited children to come into the library to select their own books and discuss their reading.”

Additionally, Hewins “was energetic in promoting library services in her own community and in larger realms as well.” Not long after assuming her duties at Hartford, she “‘was traveling all over the state in horse and buggy advocating libraries for small villages, urging all libraries to work with schools and to pay better attention to children’s reading.'”

In addition to this (and perhaps most important), Hewins’ friend, fellow librarian Mary Root of Providence, Rhode Island, said that one of Hewins’ greatest gifts was her “great capacity for friendship and generous interest in the efforts of others, from the boys and girls of Hartford to librarians, book creators, and publishers.”

Bush concludes, “Her mentoring is widely acknowledged in the professional literature of librarianship. The sum of its effect can scarcely be imagined, but it set in motion a special synergism among a notable set of New Englanders who built on her pioneering efforts.”

~Dominique McCafferty-Snapp