'Literary Lifelines' Celebrates Women's History

Two women with the North Arkansas Regional Library Bookmobile, 1956. (Woman’s Book Club of Harrison (MC 843), University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville.)
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Two women with the North Arkansas Regional Library Bookmobile, 1956. (Woman’s Book Club of Harrison (MC 843), University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville.)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The University Libraries’ special collections department commemorates Women’s History Month with the exhibit, “Literary Lifelines” on level 1 of Mullins Library through June 15. The exhibit showcases photos, maps and documents that demonstrate the major role women played in the creation and development of public libraries in the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Women’s clubs across Arkansas established 25 libraries between 1888 and 1935 alone. In Fort Smith and Morrilton, club women were awarded grants made available by industrialist Andrew Carnegie to support the construction of their public libraries.

As educational and social opportunities for women began to expand across the country, white middle- and upper-class Arkansas women were able to use literary clubs to organize around social issues in a way that fit the parameters of female social responsibility in the South. While early public libraries opened avenues for working-class white citizens, black Arkansans faced restrictions to access and funding for African American branch libraries. African American women’s clubs and educators advocated for public library access for black citizens.

Prior to Carnegie grants and government tax funds, the majority of Arkansas libraries were operated through private homes and often required a subscription fee to borrow books. School libraries left much to be desired for Arkansas children. The establishment of fully funded libraries created access to information and educational tools for many Arkansans. By investing their time, energy and resources into developing libraries, Arkansas women contributed to a more literate population and expanded their own influence.


Timothy G. Nutt, head of special collections
University of Arkansas Libraries
479-575-8443, timn@uark.edu

Jennifer Rae Hartman, public relations coordinator
University Libraries
479-575-7311, jrh022@uark.edu

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