Kancoll: The Kansas Historical Quarterlies

Wichita and Her Public Libraries

by Hortense B. C. Gibson

November, 1937 (vol. 6, no. 4), pages 387 to 393.
Transcribed by lhn; digitized with permission of
the Kansas State Historical Society.

     WICHITA had scarcely assumed the status of a town when churches and schools were established; immediately afterwards a library and lecture association was promoted. As early as 1873, four years after the first settlers bought land for homes, an association was formed which secured a charter for a library and lecture association. This charter, issued on December 4, 1873, was granted to the Wichita Library Association, "a corporation; formed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a public library and reading room and for the diffusion of knowledge and the promotion of intellectual improvement in the city of Wichita, Sedgwick county, Kansas." [1] Nine directors were to govern the policies of the association; the capital stock was to be $2,000, divided into 200 shares of $10 each. Prospective shareholders were induced to join on the promise that shares could be paid for on the monthly installment plan, though the committee which made this agreeable offer also said that one payment would be highly satisfactory. John P. Harsen, William J. Hobson, Henry J. Walker, Quincy A. Smith, and M. S. Adams were the five men who drafted the charter. [2] Evidently this library never functioned, for there is no mention in later issues of the Eagle of its ever having been in business.

     In the spring of 1874 an attempt was made to establish a mercantile library association and Dr. C. C. Furley, one of its promoters, went so far as to collect pledges sufficient to purchase 500 volumes. It also never materialized. On February 3, 1876, W. P. Campbell, A. H. Fabrique, Fred Schattner, J. M. Atwood, M. M. Murdock, Frank Fisher, Charles C. Furley, W. E. Stanley, J. P. Harsen, Ben W. Aldrich, M. W. Levy, H. G. Ruggles, and George E. Harris obtained permission to operate a library association, also called the Wichita Library Association. [4] They had no money with which to buy books or rent quarters, so, under the direction of their president, W. P. Campbell, they levied a membership fee of three dollars. [5]



     Soon the women formed an auxiliary association to help raise funds, sponsoring ice cream socials, concerts, and other entertainments. [6] Mr. Campbell said in a recent conversation that lectures by Noble Prentis on a trip to Europe and Joe Waters on a "Journey of Jonah" enriched in no mean way the coffers of the association; particularly since the lecturers donated their services, and in the case of Mr. Waters paid admission to hear his own lecture. [7]

     Eagle hall, in the Greiffenstein building housed the first library, [8] the books for which were bought in 1877. [9] Later Nerius Baldwin's photograph gallery on East Douglas was used, Dell Baldwin, the photographer's daughter, serving as librarian. [10] She was followed by Mrs. Ella Glenn Shields. [11]

     At first the library was opened only on Saturday afternoon [12] Later it was opened Wednesday afternoon also. [13]

     From the first, this association was ambitious. It raised $1,250 among its own members for a building and asked Jim Hope, the mayor, and his council to contribute an equal amount, but the city, raising all its revenue from liquor taxes, refused to levy a tax on property, and the movement failed. [14]

     Later the Odd Fellows had plans drawn for a three-story building, the third story of which was for a library. [15] This project also fell through.

     The only record we have of the circulation of books is that of 1878, when 2,047 volumes were issued. [16] The Wichita Library Association ceased to exist in 1885, when the association turned over all the books to the city. [17]

     For a few months the city employed the librarian formerly in charge of the association library. [18] Then in November the city council rented for twenty-five dollars a month a room in the old Beacon building at 112 East Douglas, and signed a contract. with J. R. McIntosh, of Chicago, to take charge of the library for one year. [19] He was to receive all the income from cards sold and in


return was to buy five hundred volumes of the Century Library, which included historical and scientific works and the best fiction. Sixty-five dollars was appropriated for the printing of a catalog. [20] The fee at this time was a dollar per year, and so anxious was Mr. McIntosh to secure subscribers that he offered to allow them to pay twenty-five cents per quarter. [21]

     Perhaps he might have had competition, too, from the Sedgwick County Library which, sponsored by the W. C. T. U., flourished from the middle eighties to the early nineties, although the type of book which the Sedgwick County Library offered the public would probably appeal only to the very serious reader. Tickets in it, too, were one dollar per year. [22] In the Sedgwick County Library, Emanuel Swedenborg was represented by twenty volumes; The Garden of Eden by Doughty, and the New View of Hell and Heaven, revealed by Barren, were said "to embody a system of philosophy which is exciting the attention of the best minds of the day, and the perusal will not fail to enlighten any one who reads them." [23]

     In 1888 the board of education accepted the gift of several libraries from both individuals and from societies, and for a year or so made them available to the public, without any legal authority to do so, until during the session of the legislature in 1889, Doctor Stevenson, the superintendent of schools, and members of the board, secured the passage of a law [24] giving boards of education authority to establish and maintain public school libraries. [25] Though this type of library was called a public-school library, it was open to and patronized by the general public. [26]

     A major development in the progress of Wichita-the building of the city hall [27] was contemporary with the establishment of the Public School Library. In making their plans for housing the books, the board, then located in the Sedgwick block, petitioned and obtained permission from the city council to occupy rooms on the first floor of the city hall. In the old quarters the secretary of the board acted as librarian [28] until, on May 26, 1893, quarters were secured in the new city hall and Miss Isis Blanche Martin, now Mrs.


Charlesworth, of San Diego, Cal., was appointed librarian. [29] The daughter of Dr. C. E. Martin, [30] she had come to Wichita in 1877, and living at 411 Sherman, had attended the old "bed bug" school at Second and Wichita streets. [31]

     Her tenure of office was short, only a year, but that of Minnie McKibben, her successor, was still shorter, for Miss McKibben officiated only from May [32] to December, 1894, [33] when she married Earl Blake, a young attorney. Coming to Wichita in 1877 with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. James A. McKibben, she remained here a short time, and then lived in various parts of the country until 1890, when she returned to Wichita and remained here until her death in 1931. She was a student in Garfield Central Memorial University in 1891-1892. [34]

     Upon Miss McKibben's marriage Dula Pease, afterwards Mrs. William A. Ayres, wife of the congressman, became librarian. A native of Crabb Orchard, Williamson county, Ill., she moved to Wichita when a young girl and was educated in the city schools. [35] During her term of office, December, 1894, to July, 1896, [36] a catalog of the library was printed, and the organization of the library was such that it was almost self-supporting. [37] Marrying William A. Ayres in 1896, she lived in Wichita until 1914, when, upon her husband's election to congress, she divided her time between Wichita and Washington. She died in 1934.

     It was during the term of office of Miss Laura Gross, 1896 [38] -1902, [39] that the subscription fee of one dollar was removed and the library became free. Beginning March 1, 1900, [40] the city agreed to appropriate $50 per month for its support, and that, with the amount contributed by the board of education, made it possible for 920 members to have free cards by May 1, 1900. [41]

     Agitation started in the seventies was revived at this, the turn of the century, when the Chautauqua Social Union, under the direc-


tion of Mrs. R. M. Piatt, sponsored a movement to obtain a $50,000 Carnegie library. [42] Nothing came of it.

     Following Miss Gross, [43] who resigned to study at the congressional library in Washington, Miss Anna Eugene Wiegand became librarian. [44] A native Wichitan, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A. Wiegand, she had graduated from Lewis academy [45] and had served as an assistant librarian [46] for several years previous to her assuming the librarianship. [47] She resigned in 1908 to marry Mr. W. E. Brickman. After his death she studied secretarial science and is now engaged in that work in Detroit.

     Quarters for the library were established on the first floor of the City building in 1893, [48] and remained there until January, 1908, when the fourth floor became the scene of library activity. [49]

     A room especially for children was provided for the first time in these new quarters. There were, besides this room, which was located in the northeast turret, one large room, containing all the books and bound magazines; a reading room; and a large store room. [50] Miss Kathryn Cossitt, appointed in January, 1908, served as librarian from 1908 to 1915, while the library was in this location. She is a graduate of Lewis academy and of the Municipal University of Wichita. Both she and Mrs. Brickman completed the summer course which Melvil Dewey offered for many years at Chautauqua, N. Y. [51]

     In 1909 the legislature repealed the law passed in 1889, empowering boards of education to levy a tax for the support of a public library [52] but the board continued to operate the library until August 1, 1911, [53] when it entered into an agreement with the city commissioners, and the library was turned over to the city. Twelve hundred volumes were given to the high-school library, the remaining 12,000 were consigned to the city without remuneration. The fixtures, consisting of charging desk, steel stacks, and electric fix-


tures, were transferred to the city for the sum of $1,000. The city was to assume all bills and running expenses from August 1, 1911, on. [54]

     Negotiations with the Carnegie corporation, asking for funds for a library building, were begun in 1911, under Commissioner E. M. Leach according to Miss Cossitt, [55] who pushed the project from the first and saw it completed in 1915, but there is no official record until February, 1912, when at the instigation of Commissioner Harts the city clerk was instructed to write Andrew Carnegie, "taking up the matter of donations for a public library." [56] In August of 1912 the city commissioners accepted the offer of $75,000 for a building, and agreed to provide $7,500 for its maintenance and upkeep the first year. [57] Mr. Anthony Allaire Crowell was the architect, whose plans were approved by the Carnegie corporation and the city commissioners, [58] and Mr. H. J. Vandenberg was the contractor. [59] Mrs. R. P. Murdock designed the interior, [60] with Arthur Covey doing the mural paintings. [61]

     The personnel of the first library board included: Mayor O. H. Bentley, Mrs. Henry Ware Allen, Al Blase, Dr. A. M. Brodie, C. E. Cosand, Mrs. Will K. Jones, E. M. Leach, Mrs. L. S. Trotter, H. V. Wheeler. [62]

     The building was opened to the public on May 14, 1915, [63] but it was not until September of the same year that the formal dedication took place [64] and Mr. Julius Lucht, librarian from 1915 to 1925, took charge. [65] A graduate of Harvard University, and of the library science course at Pratt Institute, he had been librarian at Leavenworth and at the University Club of Chicago before coming to Wichita. [66] It was during his administration that the library was organized into its present departmental state, with a greatly augmented budget, staff and book collection.


     Mr. Lucht was succeeded in May, 1925, by Miss Ruth E. Hammond, [67] who came to Wichita from Muskogee, Okla., where she had been librarian for four years. Previous to that she had been a member of the staff at the Hibbing, Minn., public library. She is a graduate of the school of library science of the University of Illinois.

     During her years of service the library has grown until its staff now numbers forty-three, its book collection totals 116,000, and its circulation of books has for three years exceeded a million volumes a year. [68]

     Little did the members of the Wichita Library Association, men of vision though they were, foresee what their early efforts might bring forth. It was this spirit born of a desire to make their community foremost in all things, financial, cultural, and spiritual, that led them to start a library in this little cowtown of the prairies; it was this spirit which has persisted throughout the years, and which, culminating in the building of the Carnegie library in 1915, has brought forth in Wichita a public library from whose shelves Wichita citizens borrow each year a million books, a public library which in content, and in use, is the largest public library in Kansas.


     1. Kansas, secretary of state, "Corporations," v. 6, p. 416.

     2. Wichita Eagle, December 11, 1878, p. 3.

     3. Ibid., March 19, 1874, p. 2.

     4. original charter is in the office of the secretary of state of Kansas. The Wichita library has a certified copy of it.

     6. Wichita Weekly Eagle, December 28, 1876, p. 3, "Bylaws of the Wichita Library Association."

     6. Ibid., February 15, 1877, p. 3.

     7. Conversation of Mr. W. P. Campbell with Mrs. H. B. C. Gibson, April 30, 1935.

     8. Conversation with Mr. Campbell.

     9. Wichita Weekly Eagle, September 6, 1877, p. 3, "Appropriation for books."

     10. Wichita City Directory and Immigrant's Guide (1878), p. 119.

     11. Wichita Daily Beacon, January 18, 1882, p. 3.

     12. Wichita Weekly Eagle, May 10, 1877, p. 3.

     13. Wichita Daily Beacon, September 25, 1884, p. 1.

     14. Conversation with Mr. W. P. Campbell, April 30, 1935.

     15. Wichita Eagle, January 16, 1879, p. 3, and March 27, 1879, p. 3.

     16. Wichita Weekly Beacon, January 15, 1879, p. 5.

     17. Wichita Daily Eagle, August 30, 1885, p. 4.

     18. Ibid.

     19. Wichita City Council,"Proceedings," November 23,1885.

     20. Wichita Daily Eagle, November 26, 1885, p. 4.

     21. Ibid., December 18, 1886, p. 6.

     22. Ibid., December 7, 1890, "W. C. T. U. Notes," p. b.

     23. Wichita Daily Beacon, December 1, 1888, p. 4.

     24. Kansas, Session Laws, 1889, Ch. 227, Sec. 33.

     25. Wichita, board of education, "Proceedings," Book D, September 6, 1909-September 12, 1916, pp. 106-108.

     26. Wichita Daily Eagle, July 29, 1898, p. 6.

     27. Wichita, board of education, "Proceedings," Book A, October 6 1885, to August 17, 1891, p. 427. Permission given to the board to occupy rooms in city building.

     28. Ibid., Book B, September 7 1891, to February 6, 1899, pp. 28 and 27. Rules for the governing of the ity library adopted November 23, 1891.

     29. Ibid., pp. 170-171, May 26, 1893.

     30. Letter from Mrs. Charlesworth, April 2, 1936.

     31. Wichita Daily Eagle, September 11, 1932, p. 3.

     32. Wichita, board of education, "Proceedings," Book B, p.2 47, May 7, 1894. Elected.

     33. Ibid., p. 292, December 3, 1894. Resigned.

     34. Letter from Earl Blake, April 10, 1935.

     35. Letter from William A. Ayres, April 4, 1935.

     36. Wichita, board of education, "Proceedings," Book B, p. 292, December 3, 1894.

     37. Wichita Daily Eagle, May 5, 1896, p. 5.

     38. Wichita, board of education, "Proceedings," Book B, p. 364, May 4, 1896.

     39. Ibid., Book C, March 6, 1899, to August 24, 1909, p. 183, December 23, 1902.

     40. Ibid., p. 34, February 6, 1900.

     41. Ibid., p. 42, May 7, 1900.

     42. Wichita Daily Eagle, February 11, 1900, p. 5.

     43. Ibid., December 20, 1902, p. 6.

     44. Wichita, board of education, "Proceedings," Book C, p. 163, December 23, 1902.

     45. Letter from Mrs. Brickman, April 19, 1935.

     46. Ibid., April 9, 1935.

     47. Wichita, board of education, "Proceedings," Book C, p. 42, May 7, 1900. First appointed.

     48. Ibid., Book B, pp. 170, 177, May 26, 1893.

     49. Wichita Daily Eagle, January 81, 1908, p. 6.

     50. Personal recollections of Mrs. Gibson.

     51. Municipal University of Wichita, Seventh Annual Catalogue, 1932-1933, p. 15.

     62. Kansas, Session Laws, 1909, Ch. 217. Act took effect February 27, 1909.

     53. Wichita, board of education, "Proceedings," Book D, pp. 104-108, July 24, 1811. Resume of history of library gives date of July 31, 1911, as that on which the board surrendered jurisdiction of the library to the city commissioners.

     54. Ibid., p. 101, July 17, 1911.

     55. Statement of Miss Cossitt, April, 1935. She says the records are lost.

     56. Wichita, city commissioners, "Proceedings," Journal I, p. 612, February 17, 1912.

     57. Ibid., Journal J, p. 63, August 6, 1912.

     58. Ibid., p. 124, November 7, 1912. Also p, 137, December 2, 1912.

     59. Ibid., pp. 270-272, August 6, 1913.

     60. Ibid., p. 343, January 22, 1914.

     61. Wichita, city hall records.-Letter of January 30, 1915, from the contractor H. J. Vandenberg to he city commissioners.

     62. Wichita, city commissioners, "Proceedings," Journal J, p. 517, April 9, 1915.

     63. Wichita Daily Eagle, May 13, 1915, p. 2.

     64. Wichita, city library, board of directors, "Minutes of the Meetings of the Directors of the Library Board of the City Library of Wichita, Kansas, April, 1915-December 4, 1925 p. 25. Mr. Lucht's acceptance was formally received by the library board on July 19, 1915.

     65. Ibid., opposite p. 42, printed program of the dedication. It took place September 29, 1915.

     66. Autobiographical sketch written by Mr. Lucht, April 17, 1935.

     67. Wichita, city library, board of directors, "Minutes of the Meetings of the Directors of the Library Board of the City Library of Wichita, Kansas, 1924-1931," p. 72, April 8, 1925.

     68. Latest statistics available from the records of the Wichita City Library, May, 1936.

Go to previous article     Go to next article     Go to cover page for this issue     Go to KHQ main page