Chapter 6 – A Look at the Early Librarians

While the Secretary of State has always been the official State Librarian, library employees were responsible for day-today operations of the institution. A look at the roles of some of the earliest library workers offers a glimpse into the everyday activities of the State Library. As early as 1870, workers identified as “librarians” began to appear. Rudolph Rummel, younger brother of Secretary Edward Rummel, apparently served in some function as a librarian before his death from consumption on Nov. 10, 1870. The 1871 library catalogue offers a front-page credit to “George Ruhland, Clerk.” Ruhland was also listed as “librarian” in Rummel’s Illinois Hand-Book and Legislative Manual for 1871, compiled and published by the Secretary of State himself.131

Rudolph Rummel and George Ruhland were followed in 1873 by Mrs. Emma M. Boilvin, whose job description was “clerk in charge of the State Library.” Widowed at age 21, Mrs. Boilvin also lived with Secretary of State Harlow and his family in the home of Abraham Lincoln, which Harlow rented from 1870 to 1880.132

By 1881, the position had evolved into the title of “Assistant State Librarian,” with the first to earn that designation being 27-year-old Miss Edith Wallbridge. The State Library was an early stop in her long career in librarianship. She remained at the State Library until 1886, when she married Henry Carr, who served as librarian of the city library of Scranton, Pennsylvania, from 1890 until his death in 1929. Mrs. Carr, who attended her 60th class reunion at Hillsdale College in Michigan in 1937, died on Dec. 9, 1940, at age 86. At the time, she was the oldest member of the American Library Association and affectionately called “the great grandmother of the ALA.”133

Emily H. Selby replaced Wallbridge in 1886. Selby boarded at the northwest corner of Second and Adams, only a block from her office. As with Wallbridge, the position of assistant librarian was an early stop in a distinguished career, as Selby eventually earned a medical degree and became a respected Chicago physician, working for many years in that city’s state charitable eye and ear infirmary before her death on Sept. 9, 1941. She was the daughter of Paul Selby, an editor of the Illinois State Journal and an acclaimed state historian.134

In 1892, Selby was joined by two additional employees, Grace H. Pearson and Priscilla Jones. Pearson was likely a relative of Secretary Isaac Newton Pearson, another of several instances of nepotism that helped some of the early librarians land their jobs. Jones’ job title was confusingly listed as State Librarian in the Springfield City Directory. The term “State Librarian” was often used to refer to a librarian at the Illinois State Library. The Secretary of State himself was the official State Librarian, and the title of “State Librarian” never officially existed for others.135

Both women lived nearby. Pearson resided at 407 South Sixth and Jones at 616 West Monroe, each just blocks from the Capitol. In those years, library workers lived in close proximity to the library, no doubt for convenience in the days before the prevalence of motor cars. Most of the library staff were single women, some marrying late or never. A State Library job was very desirable in an era that afforded few employment opportunities for women, even to those with education.136

By 1894, William Hinrichsen had become Secretary of State, and with him came his sister, Miss Savilla T. Hinrichsen, who was appointed Assistant State Librarian. By then, the position paid $1,000 per year – a good sum for that period. Unlike many women of the day, Savilla Hinrichsen was never afraid to express her political views, even if they clashed with those of her brother. Savilla Hinrichsen was assisted by Alice Corneau, who earned $60 per month for her services to the library in 1894. Librarianship was not the only talent Corneau possessed; she was also described as “one of Springfield’s most gifted artists.” Corneau was joined in the library by Nellie Nichols. By late 1898, Maude Thayer, as well as sitting Secretary of State James Rose’s daughters, Helen and Jessie, was employed in the library. Jessie Rose was followed by Kate K. Reeves.137

Maude Thayer, an assistant librarian at the turn of the 20th century.

Maude Thayer, an assistant librarian at the turn of the 20th century.

As the century turned, Thayer rose to assistant librarian, a position she held from 1900 until her resignation on Oct. 31, 1914. She and Reeves were joined by male librarian Thomas Utterback, who spent 16 years at the State Library before also leaving in 1914 to enter the grocery business. One of the few surviving photographs of the library in its west wing location includes a rare shot of Utterback at work. The library’s 1904 catalog listed Thayer as “first assistant,” Reeves as “second assistant,” and Utterback as “third assistant.” Similar rankings were used for several years for the increasing staff. The Illinois State Library catalogue of 1912 listed seven employees, including Reeves as “reference librarian,” Utterback as “legislative reference librarian,” two catalogers, a clerical assistant, and a janitor. One of those catalogers was Estelle Baird, whose career at the library began in 1911 and ended with her retirement in June 1945 due to “frail health.” She also expressed her desire “to do the many things I’ve never had the time to do.”138

Legislative Reference Librarian Thomas Utterback worked at the State Library from 1898 to 1914. Photo courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Legislative Reference Librarian Thomas Utterback worked at the State Library from 1898 to 1914.
Photo courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

While suffering from a shortage in staff, employees of the State Library could nonetheless enjoy salaries that were among the highest for librarians in the state. In 1909 and 1910, Thayer earned an annual compensation of $1,200. Only five public library jobs in the state paid as much or more. Reeves worked for a salary of $1,100, while Utterback earned $1,000 annually.139

Maude Thayer ranks in some importance in Illinois state librarianship. An active member of genteel Springfield society, she was born in Chatham in 1868. Her family had established the southern Sangamon County town of Thayer. In addition to her library work, she was well known in the capital city for her devotion to music and gardening, as well as her interest in Abraham Lincoln lore. A woman of some means, she was also a member of Springfield’s Illini Country Club. Thayer eventually left Springfield for southern California, where she continued her musical interests and served as a housemother for the Delta Gamma sorority at the University of Southern California for three years. She also spent one day a week reading to the blind. Her devotion to reading never wavered, and she spent many years reviewing books for libraries. She also continued her professional library memberships, including the National Association of State Libraries, and attended conferences into her later years. A woman of great energy and engaging personality, Thayer eventually returned to Springfield to live. She traveled the globe and visited countries across Europe and the Mediterranean. At age 81, during a 40-day sea voyage of South America, she was crowned “Queen of the Cruise.” Maude Thayer died at age 86 on June 17, 1955.140

During Thayer’s tenure at the library, the periodicals collection greatly increased and the card catalog was expanded to become a significant feature of the room. Thayer also spent much time and the “greatest care” compiling the library’s printed catalog. The 1904 version was two inches thick and 712 pages in length, a strong indicator of the growth of the library, especially in comparison to the 52-page catalog of 1871. The catalog was distributed to all public libraries in Illinois, other state libraries, and university libraries across the nation.141

In addition to its growth, the focus of the collection was also changing with the times. As in the past, federal and state documents still comprised much of the collection, but their emphasis was decreasing. Such holdings now comprised only one-third of the 43,000 volumes in the collection. Periodicals were now second only to public documents in number, a reflection of their increasing demand by patrons. History, which remained a substantial portion of the collection despite the separation of the Illinois State Historical Library, came next in size, followed by biography, long
a staple of the collection.142

A turn-of-the-century State Library employee. Photo courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

A turn-of-the-century State Library employee.
Photo courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

General reference works, such as encyclopedias, and collected works of various authors ranked fifth and sixth in number, with political and social science works seventh. Philosophy and religion, natural and applied science, and fiction rounded out the collection. This is the most significant indication of the library’s change in mission. In previous decades political works were among the most common in the collection, which was in line with the purpose of serving legislative needs. Now the public was fast becoming the most important constituency. The 1905-06 Illinois Blue Book proudly proclaimed that, “the character and selection of the books has been such that there is very little useless material in the library.”143

The ever-growing number of patrons flowing through the library no doubt agreed with that assessment. The Illinois State Library was now a library for the people, and was beginning to reach patrons far beyond Springfield, whose own public library had been established in 1886, with its own building opening in 1904. This period marked an explosion in the extension of services offered by the State Library.144