“Assembled Piecemeal by Pack Rats and Vandalized Nightly”

As I continue to research my grandmother Velma Jane Moore’s time as a cataloguer at the Toronto Public Library from 1919–1922, I’m using the Toronto Public Library’s annual reports as primary sources for the historical context of library services at that time. Prominent in these reports is the increased demand for children’s services identified by children’s librarian Lillian Smith. While Smith’s reports were interesting, I didn’t intended to write about them because Velma worked in a different department.

However, I kept coming back to the historical context for children’s library services. Of Velma’s direct descendants, only two are children now, my grandnephews James (10) and Liam (7). As Digital Natives who could swipe an iPhone before they could walk, they have instant access to information, their only challenge being to find it. As movie critic Roger Ebert so aptly put it:

Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly.1

It then occurred to me that for the two generations following Velma’s, my mother’s and my own, our experiences with libraries were the same as hers. If we needed information that wasn’t in the family’s World Book Encyclopaedia, we had to go to the neighborhood library to look it up. If the information was in a book that wasn’t in the library’s holdings, we asked the librarian to order it through interlibrary loan.  Then we went home and waited.

James and Liam, on the other hand, go straight to Google. In order for them to understand and appreciate this young woman four generations removed from them who would become their great-great grandmother, they need the historical context for library services. They need to know that for much of the twentieth century, information was contained primarily in books and periodicals, which in turn were classified and catalogued according to a system, most commonly the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress System. This was a logical and orderly world that appealed to Velma, and she felt very much at home there. She would never, ever have entertained the notion of “a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly.”

I therefore decided to write about children’s library services from the perspective of the historical context that would be most relevant for Digital Natives such as James and Liam to compare with their own experiences at the library. They will find similarities as well as differences!

Lillian Smith: A Champion for Children’s Literacy

I first encountered the name Lillian Smith on the back of one of Velma’s snapshots in The Family Archives. She was in charge of the Children’s Department at the time Velma was there. I went on to learn that Smith was the first professionally trained children’s librarian in the British Empire.2 In 1912, when she was twenty-five years old, the Toronto Public Library recruited her from the New York City Public Library.3  Her career with the Toronto Public Library would span a period of forty years and include many innovations in children’s librarianship.4 Her work extended beyond library walls to community outreach and leadership to provide children’s library services in the city’s schools and two settlement houses.5 From what I’ve read, she was a real dynamo, and the children of Toronto were fortunate to have her as their champion. A branch of the Toronto Public Library was later named for her.6

A Decrease in Book Circulation Due to Fear of Contagion

Smith noted in her annual report for 1919 that the Children’s Department had experienced an interruption of service when the library was forced to close for three weeks due to a smallpox epidemic.7 Curious, I went back a year, and sure enough, the library had closed for a time in response to the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918.8 Smith went on to note:

The decrease [in book circulation] is not only due to the closing of the Library, but also because so many parents have  prohibited their children from taking books after the epidemic through fear of contagion.9

The fear of contracting infectious disease through library books was widely enough held at the time to prompt the Ontario Library Review to publish the article “Library Books Rarely, If Ever, Carry Disease” by the Director of the Institute of Public Health, H. W. Hill. According to Dr. Hill, the belief that diseases such as tuberculosis and scarlet fever could be spread though surface contact even after time had passed since the initial contact by the infected person was based on a faulty analogy with anthrax.10

Google Search Note: Apparently that fear is still around today, if blog posts and message boards are any indication. However, Dear Children, before you demand that Mother microwave, freeze, or spray your library books with Febreeze, just remember to wash your hands before you eat, and you’ll be fine.

Story Hour

One of Lillian Smith’s major initiatives was the establishment of regularly-scheduled story hours at all of the city’s branch libraries to encourage reading. From 1919 – 1922, the number of story hours held increased 118%, from 34511 to 73512. The number of children participating rose 151%, from 15,35913 to 38,55014. The average number of children at each story hour was 45 in 1919 and 52 in 1922. The following photograph from the 1922 annual report is testament to the Story Hour’s popularity.

What Children Were Reading

In the Library’s 1919 report, Smith wrote that “stories of pioneer life and Canadian history, Greek heroes, King Arthur and Robin Hood have been told with great success.”15 For the older children, reading clubs were established to encourage a shift away from reading the popular fiction of the day to reading “standard and classic literature.”16

In 1917, Smith developed a list of approved books to encourage children’s reading, although in her introduction, she does note that the list contains some books of mediocre literary value:

These are included through having justified their place on our shelves as stepping-stones to the better kind of books, which are not always immediately appreciated by children who come from bookless homes, or who have been saturated with the vapid serial reading matter contained in the Alger and Elsie books.17

Vapid Serial Reading Matter

Approved for Children Under Ten

Approved for Children Over Ten

I will close by asking readers to comment on the photograph at the top of this post. The children are wearing winter coats and hats. Do you think their clothing indicates that the building was cold or that the photograph was staged? I can’t decide.


1quotegeek, accessed December 16, 2018, http://quotegeek.com/personalities/roger-ebert/10697/, originally appeared in “Critical Eye” column, Yahoo! Internet Life, September 1998.

2“Lillian H. Smith (1887-1983),” Toronto Public Library, accessed December 16, 2018, https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/about-the-library/library-history/lillian-h-smith.jsp.

3“Lillian H. Smith,” Toronto Public Library.

4“Lillian H. Smith,” Toronto Public Library.

5“Lillian H. Smith,” Toronto Public Library.

6“Lillian H. Smith,” Toronto Public Library.

7Lillian H. Smith, “Reports from the Departments: Children’s Department,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Sixth Annual Report, 1919, 17.

8Lillian H. Smith, “Reports from Departments: The Children’s Department,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Fifth Annual Report, 1918, 14.

9Smith, “Children’s Department, 1918” 14.

10H. W. Hill, M.B, D.P.H., “Library Books Rarely, If Ever, Carry Disease,” Ontario Library Review and Book Selection Guide I, no. 1 (June 1916): 7.

11Smith, “Children’s Department, 1919,” 18.

12Lillian H. Smith, “Reports from Departments: Boys’ and Girls’ Library,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Ninth Annual Report, 1922, 22.

13Smith, “Children’s Department, 1919,” 18.

14Smith, “Boys’ and Girls’ Library,” 22.

15Smith, “Children’s Department, 1919,” 18.

16Smith, “Children’s Department, 1919,” 18.

17Lillian H. Smith, “A List of Approved Books for Boys and Girls,” excerpted from Ontario Library Review, August 1917, 2.

Image: “After School in the Children’s Room, Earlscourt Library,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Seventh Annual Report, 1920, 16.

Image: “Waiting for the Story Hour, College Street Library,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Eighth Annual Report, 1921, 10.

Book Cover Images: All book cover images are in the public domain, retrieved from Project Gutenberg.

Sepia Sunday: Ronald & His Mother

This Sepia Sunday is a follow-up to my last post, “Military Monday: Honoring Ronald Brown’s WWI Service.” When the Lexington Historical Society contacted me about the exhibit honoring my grandfather, I learned that they had a photograph of him wearing his Army uniform, but they didn’t have this one of him posing in his uniform with his mother, Margaret Robertson Gunn Brown (1871-1924). I sent them a scanned copy, which, I am happy to say, they are adding to their digital collection.

Military Monday: Honoring Ronald Brown’s WWI Service

Ronald Dalrymple Brown’s WWI Memorabilia Displayed at the Cary Memorial Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, November 2018

At the beginning of November, I was contacted by the Lexington Historical Society about an exhibit they were working on to honor the military service of my maternal grandfather, Ronald Dalrymple Brown (1899-1985). The exhibit would be displayed at the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, Massachusetts throughout the month of November as part of the Lexington Remembers WWI project to commemorate the centenary of the Armistice that brought to a close the War to End All Wars.

The Saturday the exhibit opened, the members of my family still in the area met for lunch and a catch-up before heading over to the Cary Library to view the exhibit. It is particularly fitting that the exhibit be held at the Cary Library because the library was originally designed in 1906 by Willard Dalrymple Brown (1871-1944), Ronald’s uncle.1

The exhibit came about in part because of a personality quirk: Ronald could never throw anything away. When he died in 1985, he still had his WWI uniform, his helmet, his mess kit, his canteen, his regimental photographs, and his field manuals. His second wife, Ethel Lavilla Wright Brown (1908-1997), donated the items to the Lexington Historical Society.

Ronald Dalrymple Brown’s WWI Memorabilia Displayed at the Cary Memorial Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, November 2018

Ronald Dalrymple Brown’s WWI Memorabilia Displayed at the Cary Memorial Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, November 2018

Ronald Dalrymple Brown’s WWI Memorabilia Displayed at the Cary Memorial Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, November 2018

I’d always wondered about my grandfather’s service in the Army because the dates coincided with his enrollment as an engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I figured he must have participated in some kind of an R.O.T.C. program. The information accompanying the Lexington Remembers exhibit confirmed this suspicion and gave me those all-important search terms to find out more:

In June 1918, following his graduation from Arlington High School and Phillips Exeter Academy, he joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp (R.O.T.C.) in Plattsburg, NY.

On October 1, 1918, Ronald was inducted into the United States Army. He was a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and therefore became a private in the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C). He was honorably discharged on December 9, 1918.2

My new search string, “Student Army Training Corps,” yielded over 300 hits on newpapers.com. The September 18, 1918 edition of The Boston Globe provided the conditions under which Ronald entered M.I.T. in the fall of 1918:

[Massachusetts Institute of] Technology is particularly fortunate in that its president, Dr. R. C. Maclaurin, is also chairman of the War Department’s committee on the Student Army Training Corps, the new plan which provides that a large proportion of the 18-year-old boys who come under the draft laws may get a college education before they are called into active service.

For the coming year Technology will be one great military barracks, with the students living under military discipline and studying a course constructed to meet the requirements of the War Department.

A boy of 18 who has registered will enter as usual on the first day. Then, if he can pass the army physical tests, he will be given voluntary induction into the Student Army Training Corps. Instead of paying tuition, he will be given quarters, private’s pay, uniform and subsistence by the Government. He will live in barracks, have military drill every day and live the life of a soldier, except that he will be getting what few drafted men get, a technical education.

When his turn comes to be called into active service, around next July, if he is 18 at entrance, he will be dealt with according to his military and scholastic proficiency at the Institute.

The best men will be detailed to the Institute to finish their intensive course to become engineers, chemists, health officers and the like. Men less fitted for hard technical study, but still first-class students will be sent to an officer’s training corps. Others will go to a non-commissioned officer’s school. The least promising will be sent to camps as privates.

. . . .

Every student in this Student Army Training Corps, which will exist in 400 colleges and technical schools in the United States, will have also a thorough training in the history of the causes of the war and the issues at stake for the United States. This course has been given successfully this Summer in the 150 training detachments where drafted men have been detailed for technical and mechanical instruction by the War Department.3

Fortunately for Ronald and his descendants, the War ended before he was eligible to be called for active service in July of 1919.


1“History of Cary Memorial Library,” Cary Memorial Library, accessed November 11, 2018, https://www.carylibrary.org/history-cary-memorial-library.

2“The items in these cases belonged to Ronald Dalrymple Brown of Lexington and Arlington, Massachusetts,” (Lexington, MA: Lexington Historical Society, 2018).

3“Tech as a War College,” The Boston Globe (Boston), September 15, 1918, Sunday edition, 28.

10th Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge

I came across the 10th Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge on Janice Brown’s, Cow Hampshire: New Hampshire’s History Blog. Genealogy poetry challenge? Count me in! The poetry challenge is sponsored by Bill West of the West in New England blog. You can find the particulars of the challenge here.

I have been researching my grandmother Velma Jane Moore’s early life in Economy Point, Nova Scotia for the past year, so I went to the Poetry Foundation website to see what I could find on the subject of Nova Scotia. “Two Winds on Nova Scotia” by Marshall Schacht called to me immediately as the voice of my family’s experience in the region.

The Moore family had been in Colchester County since William James Moore’s arrival in 1769. By the first quarter of the twentieth century, four Moores from my great-grandfather’s farm in Economy Point had been wooed by the wind from the south to leave Nova Scotia for Massachusetts: Jane Melissa (1870-1950), Esther Leila (1875-1962), Fred Laurence (1894-1971), and Velma Jane (1897-1975).

The Moores Together in Economy Point before They Heard the South Wind’s Lusty Song (c. 1901)


Sources

Gauffreau, Katharine Brown. The Ancestry and Life of Velma Jane Moore Brown. Unpublished manuscript, December 2013.

Schacht, Marshall. “January 1938: Two Winds on Nova Scotia.” Poetry Foundation. Accessed November 4, 2018. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=21912. Originally appeared in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, Vol LI, No. IV, January 1938.

Work Day Wednesday: Honoring the Factory Girls

“A little spinner in the Globe Cotton Mill. The overseer admitted she was regularly employed there. Augusta, Ga.”

“Rhodes Mfg. Co. Spinner. A moment’s glimpse of the outer world. Said she was 11 years old. Been working over a year. Lincolnton, N.C., 11/11/1908”



Honoring the Factory Girls (and Boys)

When this poem from the American Academy of Poets came across my e-mail the other day, I was immediately moved by it–not only by the factory girls’ stolen childhoods but also by the speaker’s acknowledgment of her own role in the plight of these girls and her kinship with them.

The poem prompted me to wonder how many of us have ancestors who had to help support the family by working in the factories, mines, and fields as young children. This is an area I haven’t thought to explore, but I think I should. I do know that during the Victorian era, my Brown ancestors had moved to Massachusetts, gone into business and done quite well for themselves. Their little girls were the recipients, not the makers, of the fripperies churned out by the factories in Waltham and Lowell. My Gauffreau ancestors, on the other hand, lived in Brooklyn during that time period, and I daresay some of their children contributed to the family income by working in the factories.

So, I leave you with this poem and two wistful photographs in the hope of honoring all of our ancestors who sacrificed their childhoods for the survival of the family. They will not be forgotten.


Images from National Archives:

“Little spinner”: National Archives Identifier: 523149 Local Identifier: 102-LH-490 Creator(s): Department of Commerce and Labor. Children’s Bureau. 1912-1913 (Most Recent) From: Series: National Child Labor Committee Photographs taken by Lewis Hine, ca. 1912 – ca. 1912 Record Group 102: Records of the Children’s Bureau, 1908 – 2003

“Rhodes Mfg. Co. Spinner”: National Archives Identifier:523106Local Identifier:102-LH-249Creator(s): Department of Commerce and Labor. Children’s Bureau. 1912-1913  (Most Recent)From:Series: National Child Labor Committee Photographs taken by Lewis Hine, ca. 1912 – ca. 1912 Record Group 102: Records of the Children’s Bureau, 1908 – 2003