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Ladies' Libraries

In various American communities, women led the way to provide library service to their communities. In some cases, these were dedicated safe spaces for ladies. I don't pretend to be able to provide comprehensive lists and images, but here is a rough beginning.

There are some fabulous postcards from Michigan of these libraries. However, by the time the postcard craze hit in the 1910s, the libraries in other states were superseded by the Carnegie libraries. And, as women's suffrage approached, the thought of the libraries, generally segregated by gender, became antiquated.

 Arizona Territory 
  • Florence: A Ladies' Library was precursor to public library service in Florence-Lauderdale.


The General Federation of Women's Clubs in Arkansas focused on forming traveling libraries rather than fixed library service.


Information from Carnegie Libraries of California.

The WCTU formed libraries which preceded the Carnegie buildings in ChicoCoronaHealdsburgHollisterImperialLong BeachRichmond (with the Women's Improvement Club), Salinas (with the Odd Fellows and the Salinas Women's Club),  San RafaelSanta AnaSanta MonicaSelma (one of 3 founding groups),  VacavilleVallejoVisalia (one of 3 founding groups), Watsonville (one of 3 founding groups), and Whittier

  • Alturas' Women's Improvement Club provided library service and obtained Carnegie funding.

  • Antioch's Women's club obtained Carnegie monies. 

  • Auburn's Ladies' Library Association also obtained a Carnegie grant.

  • Beaumont's library district was founded by the San Gorgonio club. 

  • Coalinga had library service courtesy of the Women's Improvement Club.

  • Corning had library service courtesy of the Maywood Colony Women's Club.

  • Dinuba began deposit station library service in 1910, organized by the Dinuba Women's Club.

  • Escondido had an 1890 library association whose female members had the 1894 building constructed which the Carnegie building replaced.

  • Gilroy's first dedicated library came from the Ladies Reading Circle.

  • Hemet's Women Club ran the community's first public library prior to the Carnegie building.

  • Hollywood had a precursor library from its Women's Club which became the city library.

  • Huntington Beach's Women's Club purchased a dedicated building for library service, prior to the Carnegie building.

  • Inglewood's Women's Club provided library service prior to ca.1908.

  • Newman's Women's Club provided a city reading room before the Carnegie library was built.

  • According to the 08 Jan 1900 Kenosha News, the Women's Ebell Society raised $50,000 to purchase the site for the Oakland Carnegie library.

  • Orland Women's Improvement Club, fed up with multiple moves, bought land and donated it to the city as the site of the Carnegie library.

  • Oroville's Ladies Library had scarcely found its dedicated home when the Carnegie grant was obtained.

  • Palo Alto's Women's Club library was superseded by the Carnegie library.

  • Petaluma's Carnegie grant was obtained by the Ladies' Improvement club, according to the Press-Democrat, 8 September 1900, from California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, <>.

  • Pomona's first public library was founded in 1887 from a women's combined flower club and public library association.

  • San Francisco's  1879 B'nai Brith library was open to the public, according to the Report of the Commissioner of Education. The city also had a Sodality social library.

  • San Mateo's first library was formed by the St. Mathew's Episcopal Church Guild women.

  • Santa Maria was first served by the Minerva Library Club.

  • Santa Rosa's first library was organized by unspecified women's organizations.

  • Sonoma Valley Women's Club built the first library of the city.

  • Ukiah women of the 1860s had a library society, but whether there was a gap between its service and the Carnegie library is uncertain.

  • Willows library was founded by the Women's Improvement Club, but it is uncertain if they actually managed the library.

  • Woodland's library was begun by the community's women.

  • Yreka Improvement Club library was the immediate precursor to the public library.


  • Canyon City had a Ladies' Library Association, founded in 1886.

Although Connecticut women were granted suffrage in library matters in 1909, they were never allowed to vote until granted full suffrage in 1920.

  • Winter Park  had long-running library service provided by the Winter Park Circulating Association, founded by 9 women in 1885.

Winter Park, Florida, library
  • Nampa's library was founded by a member group of the General Federation of Women's Clubs in 1901. This group was instrumental in obtaining the city's Carnegie library grant.

  • Albion: Three women's clubs ran the public library up until at least 1918. It is unknown if this postcard celebrates their effort.

  • Berwyn: A group of women founded a circulating library in 1894, many years before Berwyn incorporated distinct from Cicero.

       Berwyn Women's Club funded a children's library in 1922.​

  • Bloomington: An article in the 20 May 1887 Weekly Pantagraph details the history of the Ladies' Library Association, founded 1857, and the Masonic ceremonies associated with laying the cornerstone of the Withers building.

  • Brookfield: The Carnegie grant was obtained through the efforts of the Brookfield Woman's club, whose member served as the Carnegie Library's librarian (Chicago Tribune, 23 June 1963, on the occasion of the building's 60th anniversary).

  • Cairo: According to The Cairo Bulletin of 26 August 1917, in 1875 the Cairo Woman's Club and Library began library service to the community, predating the Safford Library. The 31 October 1883 issue details the cornerstone laying ceremony of the Safford Library.

  • Downers Grove: Ladies' Library predated Carnegie building and was instrumental in obtaining grant. Amusingly, the building which housed the first library is now a bar.

  • Frankfort: The Women's Club ran a volunteer public library from 1961-1966.

  • Grayville: Shakespeare Club instrumental in obtaining grant. Site of library unknown.

  • Henry:  The Women's Club Library was active in 1911 in an (unsuccessful) attempt to procure a Carnegie library for the community. According to the Henry Republican of 4/5/1917, the Women's Club Library was founded in 1896.

  • Kankakee: Ladies Library was founded in 1872.

  • Park Ridge: Obtained its Carnegie grant through the work of its Women's Club Civics Committee.

  • Streator's Ladies' Library apparently received remainder government documents.

The Report of the Commissioner of Education Made to the Secretary of the Interior for the Year ... with Accompanying Papers: Volume 1 lists Chicago's Married Ladies' Sodality Library and the corresponding Young Ladies' Sodality Library.

Subscription libraries listed (1904) in Illinois Libraries, Vol. 1, by Katharine Lucinda Sharp, which may be considered Ladies' Libraries, include the communities of BementBudaCarbondaleCarlinvilleEffinghamEl PasoHenry, and St. Anne.

  • Attica's 1885 Ladies' Library Association's books comprised much of the Carnegie library's opening collection.

  • Mishawaka was served 1873-1900 by its Ladies' Library, collection dispersed.

  • Noblesville Ladies' Library Association served as a geological deposit library.

  • Wabash Woman's Library (social) was founded in 1889.

  • Cherokee Ladies' Library Association was a remainder document recipient.

  • Mount Pleasant had a Ladies' Library, founded in 1889.

  • Blue Rapids Ladies' Library was founded in 1873, and was the precursor to today's public library.

  • Kingman library service was begun by the WCTU, and taken over by the Nineteenth Century Club in 1890.

  • Junction City Ladies' Reading Club House provided early library service.

  • Leavenworth's base collection was assembled by the WCTU.


Women of the WPA's Pack Horse Library provided books to rural Kentucky during the Great Depression.

  • Jennings Carnegie library was founded by its Ladies Library Association, which furnished its collection and lot.

  • Opelousas Women's Club founded the St. Landry Parish Public Library.

  • Colby's Civic League of Women ran a small lending library ca. 1911 in a local residence. No lasting success.

  • Ellsworth apparently had a Young Ladies' Library Association in 1855

  • Thomaston's Ladies' Library was founded in 1841.

  • Waterville Woman's Association founded a library in 1887.

  • Winterport's Ladies Circle Library was found in 1865.

  • Boston had the Women's Educational & Industrial Union library.

  • Brewster Ladies' Library has morphed into the community's public library.

  • Canton had the Ladies' Social Library, which may not have served a public library function.

  • Malden had a Ladies' Exchange Circulating Library (1886).

  • Randolph had the 1855 social library for the Ladies'  Library Association, in addition to its public library.

  • Templeton had the 1847 library for the Ladies' Social Circle Library, in addition to its public library.


In 1998, "Do what You Can": Creating an Institution, the Ladies' Library Associations in Michigan, 1852-1900, Volume 2, by Mildred Louise Jackson, was printed. I hope to read this some day.

Mentioned in a Michigan Historical Commission publication index are Ladies' Libraries in AdrianColdwaterDetroitEast SaginawFrankfortHowellOwossoPort Huron, and Traverse City.

  • Albion Ladies' Library Association was founded in 1870.

  • Ann Arbor​'s Ladies' Library Association's catalogues survive, according to Google Books.

  • Birmingham Ladies' Library Association (social library) was founded in 1886.

  • Dearborn's public library began as a garden club library: Mrs. Henry Ford donated land for the current building.

  • Dowagiac had an 1872 Ladies' Library Association, predating its Carnegie Library.

  • Hillsdale had an 1879 Ladies' Library Association in addition to the municipal public library.

  • Kalamazoo's Ladies Library Association is still extant, with a thorough history available

  • Grand Ledge library service began with a Ladies' Library.

  • Jonesville is noted by S.S. Gannett as having a Ladies' Library.

  • Marcellus was served by a Ladies' Library.

 Grand Rapids 
 Ladies' Literary Club 
 Ladies' Library 
 Ladies' Library 
Ladies' Library 
Henika Ladies' Library 
Ladies' Library
  • Duluth's Ladies' Library Association was successful enough to warrant use of the second floor of the Duluth  Grand Opera House by 1880, but alas--the collection was lost in an 1889 fire.  Still, they persisted, this time in the second floor of the Masonic Temple. They obtained a Carnegie grant in 1901, enabling full public service.

  • Wabasha had a Ladies' Library Association, founded in 1879.

Views of York, NE's library, its Ladies Club Room, and its Book Room, i.e. service desk and surroundings.

York became a library to investigate further when I found this postcard. Yes, my instincts about the Ladies Club Room were correct. 

The I.C. Sorosis club assembled the first library collection in 1885. A Woman's Club collection was merged with a YMCA book collection, plus other accumulations to comprise the opening day collection for this building, which was superseded in 1986.

  • Nebraska City had a Ladies' Library Association, founded in 1876.

  • Superior had a Ladies' Library Association, with a social library founded in 1884.

  • University Place Women's Club tried three times to get a Carnegie grant (Lincoln Journal Star, 19 Oct 2008) and succeeded in getting a public library funded, which opened in 1914.

 New Hampshire 
Daniel Webster Library
  • Hampton Falls Ladies' Social Library was founded in 1845.

  • Plymouth's library service was begun with its Young Ladies' Library Association.

 New Jersey 
 New Mexico 
  • Cranford's 3 women's clubs approached Andrew Carnegie for a grant to house the local library.

Deming, NM public library
  • Deming got its Library via the Library Association (of the Deming Women's Club.

 New York 
  • Belmont Literary & Historical Society was founded by a group of eight women.

  • Haverstraw received its public library from the efforts of the King's Daughters Society.

  • Leroy had a Ladies' Library Association (1875)

  • New York City (19 Clinton Place) had a Woman's Library (Social; 1864)

  • Cardington had a Ladies' Public Library founded in 1878.

  • Newark had a Ladies' Circulating Library founded 1876.

  • Painesville's public library was founded by the WCTU in 1887.


Mansfield's Memorial Association Library was founded by a group of fifty women in 1887.  It found its own space with the Carnegie grant, applied for in 1902.

This building was that of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building. It can be debated whether this was a true ladies' library, but the women of Mansfield were instrumental in both forming this library and obtaining the Carnegie grant.


Women's clubs in Oregon fought for public library legislation at the state level beginning in 1899, with 1901 success. From The Oregon Encyclopedia we also learn that:

  • Eugene had a library, courtesy of the Fortnightly Club as early as 1904. These women obtained a 1906 Carnegie grant.


Grove City's resumption of library service after nearly a half century hiatus was accomplished by its Junior Women's Club. in 1958.

 Rhode Island 
 South Dakota 
  • Pascoag was served by the Ladies' Pascoag Library.

  • Providence had a Young Women's Tea Room (social) Library, founded in 1884

  • Leola's public library was founded by the local ladies' Civic League in the 1920s.

  • Fort Worth's Library Association was a women's only organization. including its patrons, until their Carnegie grant appeared imminent.

  • Taylor's Women's Study Club finally succeeded in forming a public library ca. 1957.

  • Brandon had an organized Ladies' Book Club, founded 1864 as a social library.

  • Danville had a Ladies' Library Association, founded in 1880.

  • East Burke's Community Library began with the 1872 Ladies' Library Association.

  • Middlebury Ladies' Library Association, ca. 1880, had a catalogue which still exists.

  • Randolph's Ladies' Library Association donated its collection to the Kimball Library in 1898.


Sun Prairie Public Library's history page states that many Dane County municipalities' libraries had women's club roots.

  • Cassville Ladies' Library Association is founded in 1853. Cassville is currently served by Eckstein Memorial Library.

  • Lodi is served by the Lodi Women's Club Library, founded in 1900.

  • Middleton gained its public library through the efforts of the Middleton Progressive Women's Club, 1927-1930.

  • Oconto Falls' Cook's Memorial Library was begun by its women's Freedom of Speech club.

  • River Falls' public library was founded by the River Falls Tuesday (women's) Club in 1923, although it took 6 years, and the library was housed in City Hall.

  • Sun Prairie had two women's clubs, first the Ladies Home Social Club, then the 20th Century Club, instrumental in the founding (1901) of its public library service.

 Oconto Falls 
 Cook's Memorial Library 
Cook's Memorial Library, Oconto Falls, WI

States for which there was no apparent women's group library activity prior to 1890

Using the Report of the Commissioner of Education Made to the Secretary of the Interior for the Year ... with Accompanying Papers: Volume 1 as a primary source, states and territories without ladies libraries are:

  • Connecticut

  • Delaware

  • Florida

  • Georgia

  • Indian Territory/Oklahoma

  • Maryland

  • Mississippi

  • Missouri

  • Montana

  • Nevada

  • New Jersey

  • New Mexico

  • North Carolina

  • North Dakota

  • Pennsylvania*

  • South Carolina

  • Tennessee

  • Utah

  • Virginia

  • Washington

  • West Virginia

  • Wyoming

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