By Roberta Young Jonnet
“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” — Cicero
The women of Everett decided in 1894 that this was also true of a city, and they began plans for a public reading room. This was the genesis of the Everett Public Library. The women also founded the Everett General Hospital when the city was only three years old.
The story of the Woman’s Book Club is the story of Everett and Snohomish County. Our foremothers saw a need, rolled up their sleeves and made it happen.
Women founded the Woman’s Columbian Book Club of Everett in 1894 and it still meets today. Now known as the Woman’s Book Club, with members from all over the Puget Sound area, there are more than 300 members and 21 departments that gather to discuss the books they have read.
The departments meet separately from September through May, and gather monthly at the Everett Main library to hear speakers deliver talks on books like “Trailblazers: The Women of Boeing” by Betsy Case; or to hear speakers from the Dawson Place Advocacy Center; or a synopsis of books from local independent book sellers.
The organizational meeting in 1894 was held in home of Alice Baird. Those present decided it would include married women only (this is no longer the case). Baird was elected the first president and she formed a committee to draw up a constitution. “We do not mean to let a year go by without doing at least one good thing for our city,” Baird said. “We hope to have a library before a year.’
A resolution passed Nov. 12 of that year petitioning the mayor and council reads in part:
“The Woman’s Book Club of said city, being desirous of founding a free public library in said city, respectfully petitions your honorable body to aid in this direction and to take such steps as may be necessary to carry out the purposes herein set forth ….”
Baird’s leadership was so significant that a bronze plaque still hangs in the entrance hall of the library on Hoyt Avenue. It was presented by the WBC Oct. 1, 1915, the year of her death. Mrs. J.J. Clark spoke a tribute: “Our lives are richer because of her.”
Also in November 1894, the women joined the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, made up of 450 women’s organizations. This was noteworthy because Baird then wrote to these clubs asking for donations of books. This garnered almost half of the nearly 1,000 books for the first library. An article from The Everett Herald, April 20, 1935, headlined, “Pioneer Era Recalled as Everett Public Library Prepares for 40th Anniversary,” traces the donations: “The response was generous, club women from Maine to California sending volumes … representative of the best authors of their respective districts and sets of works by standard authors.”
The article states, “At the time of its (WBC) resolution for a library in 1895, it was the only club in the general federation of women’s clubs to start a public library.”
The goal of 1,000 books was reached in the summer of 1896. The city had committed to the idea of a library but gave it no funding. The WBC announced it was ready to turn over the books, and the city accepted.
It was February 1898 that the WBC accepted the offer of three rooms in City Hall for the books. The books were carried there an armful at a time by the women. The library formally opened April 21, 1898. The first librarian was Mrs. J.T. Lentzy, who had been appointed at a July 2 meeting. By the April opening, Alice McFarland, who was the daughter of Mrs. R. McFarland, was librarian. The donated books had been kept in the McFarland home on Colby Avenue. Alice later married Leverich Duryee.
Frances Sears, a founding mother, wrote on the club’s 80th anniversary, “Before you can understand the important function of the Women’s Book Club in the lives of the [c]harter members, and in the life of the community as well, you must visualize the new and crude Everett, that was our home prior to the advent of the Book Club. We had no street cars then, no paved streets, and scarcely any boardwalks … Stumps grew like sentinels around our houses; ferns grew luxuriously around the stumps … The saloon was everywhere in evidence. It was the chief social and political centre for the masculine population … our real privations were a dearth of amusements and lack of intellectual stimulus. So, we had amateur theatricals. It was a bookless town … Then the Book Club came; it sprang, it had no infancy. Renewing our youth, we went to school again. It is impossible to estimate the influence of the Book Club.”
The Carnegie library building was opened Oct. 3, 1905, at Oakes and Wall. Andrew Carnegie, the millionaire philanthropist, donated $25,000 for the new library in 1903. The city was required to pledge $2,500 yearly. Checks of $5,000 each,were sent from the East, payable to Mrs. L.E. Thayer personally whenever the board required funds. She was the first woman member of the library board and its secretary for 12 years. The Carnegie building was the library’s home until the 1930s.
One tradition that continues today with the WBC members is the Foremothers’ Luncheon, honoring those who founded the organization and created the library. The first banquet was held Dec. 11, 1899. Members used a colonial tea party theme wearing caps and kerchiefs. They sang “Auld Lang Syne” at that meeting, a practice that is followed today.
A history of service
During 1917, the WBC spent time sewing at the Red Cross. Also, eight dictionaries were purchased for the reformatory in Monroe.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the women provided bus fare for poor children to attend kindergarten; they advocated for the wrapping of bread; and they endorsed a proposal regarding meat inspection and narcotics control. Funds were given on a regular basis to Deaconess Children’s Home, the Red Cross, General Hospital and the Washington Girls Home.
The WBC donated 405 dozen cookies to soldiers at Fort Lewis in 1941. By 1943 the club began sponsoring students in nurse’s training at both hospitals. The USO presented a “meritorious service” certificate to the Club in 1946.
In 1945, a tradition of donating a book to the library in honor of a deceased member was begun, in lieu of sending flowers.
The club donated $2,000 in 1975 to the Northwest Room at the downtown library. They also split a $3,000 donation in 1987 between the city library and the Everett Community College library, where a fire had destroyed the college library and taken the life of firefighter Gary Parks.
More recently, a $5,000 donation was given this year to the Imagine Children’s Museum to purchase books for the PJ’s Treehouse reading room. This purchase was to refresh the book collection originally donated by WBC in 2004.
This past May, the book club held a used book drive at their Spring Tea Luncheon. Hundreds of books, — adult and children’s — were collected and sorted by volunteers, and then hand delivered to local charities, including Housing Hope and the Reach Out and Read program in Monroe through the Providence Foundation. This book drive signified the ongoing commitment to encouraging literacy in the community.