Monday, January 3, 2011

Building a Library: The Ladies Literary League and their Involvement in Building the Abilene, Kansas Library

Dickinson County has had a long history of women's organizations.  The earliest women's club in the county is the Ladies Literary League.  In fact, this group was the second women's club to be organized in Kansas.  Founded in 1885, the Ladies Literary League of Abilene predates the Kansas Federation of Women's Clubs (a group formed ten years later in 1895).

The Ladies Literary League was organized for the purpose of study and camaraderie among local women.  The group studied many different topics including literature and history of America and foreign nations.  The League was highly involved in forming the Abilene Library Organization in 1900 for the purpose of establishing a public library in Abilene.  Two other women's groups were also involved in the ALO, those groups being the Columbian Club and the Twentieth Century Club.  Members of these groups were very active in raising funds for a library building.

The first library in Abilene opened on January 1, 1903 in a second floor room on the northwest corner of Broadway and Northwest Third Street in downtown Abilene.  Lida Romig, a graduate of the University of Kansas was hired during the prior year to begin work as Abilene's first librarian.  She was hired at a salary of three dollars a week.  Romig wrote, "The immediate purpose of the library is to give to young people close contact with books; to place in the hands of the tired mother an enchanter to lure her from her cares, and to transport the brain-fagged business man to many lands and interests while resting in his easy chair."

Funds continued to be raised for the construction of a library building.  After much work and a building grant from Andrew Carnegie for $12,500, the building was finished in 1908.
The Ladies Literary League, c. 1930.  Courtesy of the Dickinson County Historical Society.
The Ladies Literary League continued to be involved in community improvement projects.  In 1912, the group urged the establishment of domestic science and manual training courses to be taught in the Abilene High School.  In 1913, the League worked to add a Kindergarten to the library basement.  In 1922, the League did a drive for funding and equipment for the Dickinson County Memorial Hospital.  Additionally, the club has collected money for the Veterans' Fund and prepared Christmas boxes for Veterans' Hospitals throughout much of their history.

While this is simply a look at some of the past deeds of the Ladies Literary League in Abilene (most notably the work performed to create a public library), the club is still very active at the time of this writing, and continues to make an impact on the community.

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