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Tue, June 18

Days Past: Women's club forms Prescott's first public library: Part I

Courtesy photo<br>A few of the ladies of the Monday Club in the early 1900s.

Courtesy photo<br>A few of the ladies of the Monday Club in the early 1900s.

In August of 1895, a group of women in frontier Prescott felt the need for a club where they could "meet for study, mutual counsel and united action pertaining to education and civic betterment." It was called, "The Women's Club of Prescott," and met twice monthly on the least socially busy day of the week, Monday. They were not and did not wish to be considered a part of the usual women's groups of the time, specifically women suffragettes.

Originally, meeting on Mondays came about as a means of showing class division. Monday was, at that time, laundry day. The club "was for the ladies in the community who didn't have to stay home on Monday to do the laundry."

Early members came to the meetings in long skirts, hats and gloves. None of Prescott's streets were paved at the time and, in wet weather, mud in the streets was a challenge.

The ladies were sophisticated and well-educated; some were college graduates. Mrs. F.A. Tritle, wife of the sixth Territorial governor, was the club's first president.

With no public library in Prescott, the ladies had little access to good books and few chances to attend cultural events or hear lectures. The club changed its name to "The Monday Club" in 1897, and it became the cultural center where the women could borrow books and acquire knowledge otherwise closed to them. The club met for several years in private homes, mostly in the rooming house of Frances Gould.

The club members began to donate and exchange their own books. They formed a Library Board of Directors, elected officers to the board, and began meeting in 1897 to discuss a location for a library. They advertised in the two local newspapers for book donations, and the public responded. In July of that year, needing a place to store all the books, the club rented a room at the Mining Exchange in the basement of the Bank of Arizona for $5 per month, and set the date of Sept. 1 to open a "library" to the public. The ladies volunteered to take turns at library duty. The club ordered book covers and library "tickets" to be printed by a local newspaper office. Book donations continued to come in. Pictures were ordered from Ladies Home Journal to be sold as a money- raising project at a library reception in early 1898.

By mid-1899, the population of Prescott was about 3,000, and the ladies were determined to establish the town's first public library building. In June, Julia (Mrs. Henry) Goldwater, then president of the Library Board of Directors, wrote to philanthropist Andrew Carnegie of Pittsburgh, Pa., to request a grant for construction of a new library building. In her plea, she wrote, "Your well-known philanthropy has prompted me to appeal to you in the interest of a truly charitable work." She asked, in her letter, for "$10,000 or even $8,000." In reference to a library reading room, she added, "In no place could such a room be more needed than in Prescott, with its large floating population of young men, many of whom cannot afford to keep their rooms lighted and heated, and therefore have no resource but the saloons and dives, for there are no innocent amusements in the town."

The Carnegie Foundation replied to the request in a letter of July 1899 that Mr. Carnegie "will contribute the last half of the eight thousand dollars ($8,000) required to make the library free." The library construction would, therefore, be a "challenge grant" with the community of Prescott required to raise the first $4,000. The movement for the library became the pet hobby of Mrs. E.B. Gage, ably assisted by Mrs. Goldwater. It remained for these ladies to do the work, and under efficient management, the money was raised quickly from Prescott citizens.

In October of 1899, the books were moved to a room in the office building belonging to Mr. Coles Bashford. The rent, $5 per month, was the same as at the former location at the Mining Exchange. By early 1900, a librarian, Miss Stikeman, was hired for a salary of $5 per month. The Monday Club members still volunteered their time as well. In February, a letter was written to the Carnegie Foundation from the Library Board that Prescott's share, the first $4,000, was in the bank and awaiting the foundation's equal donation as promised. A letter soon afterward from the Carnegie Foundation stated that the club balance was only $3,204. The bank immediately wrote the foundation that an additional amount of $1,017 had been deposited soon after their inquiry had been made as to the club's balance. In March, the Library Board wrote to Carnegie that "building will begin in a few weeks." However, the property for the building had not yet been procured.

The Carnegie Foundation wrote April 12, 1900: "Mr. Carnegie has instructed his cashier to send you his promist (sic) contribution of four thousand dollars ($4,000) with his best wishes."

Next week, the Carnegie Library becomes a reality.

This and other Days Past articles may be read at and via RSS e-mail subscription.

The public is encouraged to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Please contact Scott Anderson at Sharlot Hall Museum Archives at 445-3122 for information.


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