An Ongoing Legacy to Literacy
By Roberta Young Jonnet
“A room without books is like a body without a soul constant vigilance as stewards of the diverse cultures of our society.” – Cicero
The women of Everett, Washington decided in 1894 that this was also true of the city and began plans for a public reading room. This was the genesis of the Everett Public Library. The women also founded the Everett General Hospital when the city was only three years old. The story of the Woman’s Book Club is the story of Everett and Snohomish County. Our foremothers saw a need, rolled up their sleeves and made it happen.
The women founded the Woman’s Columbian Book Club of Everett in 1894 and it still meets today. Now known as the Woman’s Book Club (WBC) with members from all over Puget Sound, there are over 300 members and 21 departments that gather to discuss the books they have read. The departments meet separately from September through May and gather monthly at the Everett Main library to hear speakers deliver talks on books like Trailblazers: The Women of Boeing by Betsy Case; or speakers from the Dawson Place Advocacy Center; or a hear a synopsis of books from local independent book sellers.
The organizational meeting in 1894 was held in home of Alice Baird. Those present decided it would include married women only (this is no longer the case). Mrs. Baird was elected the first president and she formed a committee to draw up a constitution. “We do not mean to let a year go by without doing at least one good thing for our city,” Mrs. Baird said. “We hope to have a library before a year.’ A resolution that was passed at the November 12 meeting of that year petitioning the mayor and council reads in part:
“The Woman’s Book Club of said city, being desirous of founding a free public library in said city, respectfully petitions your honorable body to aid in this direction and to take such steps as may be necessary to carry out the purposes herein set forth…”
Mrs. Baird’s leadership was so significant that a bronze plaque still hangs in the entrance hall of the library on Hoyt Avenue. It was presented by the WBC October 1, 1915, the year of Mrs. Baird’s death. Mrs. J.J. Clark spoke a tribute: “our lives are richer because of her.” Also in November of that year the women elected to join the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, made up of 450 women’s organizations. This is noteworthy because Mrs. Baird then wrote to these clubs asking for a donation of books. This garnered almost half of the nearly 1000 books for the first library. In an article from the Everett Herald, April 20, 1935, entitled “Pioneer Era Recalled as Everett Public Library Prepares for 40th Anniversary” traces the donations: “The response was generous, club women from Maine to California sending volumes…representative of the best authors of their respective districts and sets of works by standard authors.” The article states “At the time of its (WBC) resolution for a library in 1895, it was the only club in the general federation of women’s clubs to start a public library.” The goal of 1000 was reached in the summer of 1896. The city had committed to the idea of a library but gave it no funding. The WBC announced it was ready to turn over the books and the city accepted. It was February 1898 that the WBC decided to accept the offer of three rooms in City Hall for the books. The books were carried there an armful at a time by the women. The library formally opened April 21, 1898. The first librarian was Mrs. J.T. Lentzy, who had been appointed at the July 2nd meeting. By the April opening Alice McFarland, who was the daughter of Mrs. R. McFarland, was librarian. The donated books had been kept in the McFarlands home on Colby Avenue. Alice later married Leverich Duryee.
Frances Sears, a founding mother, wrote on the club’s 80th anniversary “Before you can understand the important function of the Women’s Book Club in the lives of the Charter members, and in the life of the community as well, you must visualize the new and crude Everett, that was our home prior to the advent of the Book Club. We had no street cars then, no paved streets, and scarcely any boardwalks…Stumps grew like sentinels around our houses; ferns grew luxuriously around the stumps…The saloon was everywhere in evidence. It was the chief social and political centre for the masculine population…our real privations were a dearth of amusements and lack of intellectual stimulus. So, we had amateur theatricals. It was a bookless town…Then the Book Club came; it sprang, it had no infancy. Renewing our youth, we went to school again. It is impossible to estimate the influence of the Book Club.”
The Carnegie library was opened October 3, 1905 at Oakes and Wall. Andrew Carnegie, the millionaire philanthropist, donated $25,000 for the new library in 1903. The city was required to pledge $2500 yearly. Checks of $5,000 each, were sent from the East, payable to Mrs. L.E. Thayer personally whenever the board required funds. She was the first woman member of the library board and its secretary for 12 years. The Carnegie building was the library’s home until the 1930s. One tradition that continues today with the WBC members is the Foremothers’ Luncheon, honoring those who founded the organization and created the library. The first banquet was held December 11, 1899. The members used a colonial tea party theme wearing caps and kerchiefs. They sang “Auld Lang Syne” at that meeting, a practice which is followed today.
A History of Service
During 1917 the WBC spent time at the Red Cross doing sewing. Also 8 dictionaries were purchased for the Reformatory in Monroe. In the 1920s and 1930s the women provided bus fare for poor children to attend Kindergarten; they advocated for the wrapping of bread; endorsed a proposal regarding meat inspection and narcotics control. Funds were given on a regular basis to Deaconess Children’s Home, Red Cross, General Hospital and Washington Girls Home. The WBC donated 405 dozen cookies to soldiers at Fort Lewis in 1941. By 1943 the Club began sponsoring students in nurses training at both hospitals. The USO presented a “Meritorious Service” certificate to the Club in 1946.
In 1945 a new tradition of donating a book to the library in honor of a deceased member was begun, in lieu of sending flowers. The Club donated $2000 in 1975 to the Northwest Room, at the downtown library. They also split a $3000 donation in 1987 between the city library and Everett Community College library, this being the year of the fire that destroyed the college’s library and in which firefighter Gary Parks lost his life. A recent donation was given earlier this year of $5000 to the Imagine Children’s Museum to purchase new books for the PJ’s Treehouse reading room. This purchase was to refresh the book collection originally donated by WBC in 2004.
In May of 2017, the Woman’s Book Club held a used book drive at their annual Spring Tea Luncheon. Hundreds of used books – both adult and children’s – were collected, sorted, and divided by book club volunteers, then hand delivered to local charities, including Housing Hope and the Reach Out and Read program in Monroe through the Providence Foundation. This book drive signified the ongoing commitment of encouraging literacy in the community.
© Roberta Young Jonnet 2018 All Rights Reserved