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Libraries in Wisconsin 1848-1905


Libraries existed in Wisconsin before it became a state. The State Historical Society was founded in 1846 (chartered in 1853) and included a library. According to The Story of Madison, "(By January of 1866) the library and museum of the State Historical Society formally occupied its quarters in the south wing of the Capitol...Wisconsin had had an historical society while it was yet in the Territorial stage. As a result of agitation begun in the columns of the Mineral Point Democrat (October 1845), a society composed of some of the principle men of the Territory was formed in Madison in October 1846. By 1866 the library contained 109,000 titles. In addition, in 1847 the Young Men's Association special library opened in Milwaukee. Not long after that, the University of Wisconsin was founded (1848) and with it came several libraries.

| UW Libraries | Madison Public Library |

University of Wisconsin (Madison) Libraries

UW Library Catalog Frontispiece

UW Library accession log

Frontispiece for library catalog

UW Library late 1800s

"During the latter part of the century the university's general library was located at the rear of Music Hall. The collection included over 51,000 bound volumes and 15,000 unbound pamphlets. Students had to pay a two-dollar deposit before they could borrow books. Other collections were housed in the law library and the Woodman Astronomical Library in Washburn Observatory. Students also had access to the collections of the State Historical Society, which contained over 104,000 volumes and 100,000 pamphlets." (Hove p. 61)

Frederick Jackson Turner, UW alumnus, faculty member of the 1800s, and author, shown meeting his American history seminar at the Historical Library in the state capitol during the 1893-1894 academic year. (Hove p. 61)

FJ Turner, Historical Librray

Madison Public Library

"The city assumed charge of the free library in May, 1875, being the first community in Wisconsin to take advantage of the State library law of 1872 allowing cities to tax themselves for the maintenance of such institutions. In common with many other towns throughout the country, Madison's first public circulating library was inaugurated by an association called the Institute. This was organized April 8, 1854. Chancellor Lathrop, of the State University, was the president, and there was a long list of subordinate officers; a reading room was at first the chief attraction, and a debate section and a lecture committee were other features. The Madison Institute was at first flourishing, but gradually--there being a lack of funds with which to purchase fresh books--the interest of the public waned, only to be revived when the city undertook to conduct a library under the general State library law, since which time it has been an unqualified success. The library now contains about 16,000 books, well selected, and accessible through an excellent card catalogue, and the reading room is well patronized. The yearly expense to the city is about $3,000. Madison is liberally supplied with libraries. That of the State Historical Society contains 220,000 titles; the State (law) Library possesses nearly 40,000, and that of the State University a like number. These great aggregations of books, open to public use, form one of the chief attractions of Madison as a scholastic center." (Thwaites The Story of Madison (1900))

Librarians of Madison Public Library from 1875 to 1900:

1875-1877 Miss Virginia C. Robbins
1877-1878 Miss Jennie M. Field
1878-1879 Mrs. Laura H. Feuling
1879-1884 Miss Ella A. Giles
1884-1889 Miss Minnie M. Oakley
1889-1893 Miss Sophie M. Lewis
1893-1900 Miss Georgiana R. Hough

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Distribution: Libraries
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Authored by: Lori Delaney, Kirstin Dougan, Megan Phillips
Last Updated: April 14, 2000 WI Mosaic Home