The First Homes of the Library

On August 1st, 1826, Charles Kelsey, Albert Wilcox, Joel Ives, Alfred E. Ives, George S. Gunn, Eastman S. Minor, James F. Babcock, & Edward W. Andrews began the Apprentices’ Literary Association (A.L.A.) in the home of Albert Wilcox on August 1st, 1826 – the genesis of the Institute Library.

The group met about twice a week – gathering at the homes of the different members – sharing books and reading original compositions.  By mid-October, the group secured a room the Glebe Building on the corner of Chapel and Church Streets.

The library moved homes a several times within the first few years. On May 1st, 1834 the library (known as the Young Mechanics Institute as of 1827) signed a two year lease in “Mr. Marble’s Building” (Centennial Report, 5) on Church Street, which cost $50 a year payable quarterly.  After those two years, the library moved to a few more different buildings in the Church / Chapel Streets area.  The Institute’s 9th move since its birth was to a building all its own that it had built in 1856 – the Palladium Building on Orange Street.  For one reason or another – war or recklessness – the Institute was forced to sell the building in 1864 and it moved back to the Phoenix Building on Chapel Street.

The Institute’s current home at 847 Chapel Street is the library’s 13th home.  The land was purchased in 1878 and construction was completed that same year.

The City Directory from 1848 is the oldest directory the library has although the first New Haven directory was put out in 1839.  Mr. Albert Wilcox’s home address & occupation are listed in this directory – assuming he didn’t move in the 22 years between the Institute’s first meeting in his home and the publication of this directory – the Institute’s very first home was at 59 Chapel Street.




A library’s collection is a narrative.   Each book was acquired because someone, either a librarian or patron, believed it to be important and valuable in some way.  For example: the library has  about 30 books on Woodrow Wilson, only 12 books on Franklin D. Roosevelt, and 8 books about William Taft.  William Taft served only one presidential term whereas Wilson served two, but FDR served four presidential terms and spearheaded the New Deal.

Did the librarians feel that Wilson was much more important than FDR or Taft?  Did the librarians of the time dislike FDR?  WHO made these decisions and WHY?

Staying in the biography room at the Institute Library, but moving away from the U.S. presidents – I continued perusing the shelves to discover more of the library’s mysteries (I might have shown up an hour early to work so I could meander through the stacks…..)  I found two titles that I felt I NEEDED to figure out some sort of narrative as to why they are on the shelves.

1. Desperate women by James D. Horan, published 1952
2. The nympho and other maniacs : The lives, the loves and the sexual adventures of some scandalous and liberated ladies by Irving Wallace, published 1971

Why did someone feel that these two books were important enough to purchase for the Institute Library and WHO was this person?  I must also note, that the nympho book is on the shelf right next to The world’s wickedest women by Andrew Ewart, published in 1965 – which means (according to the William Borden Classification system – these two books were purchased about the same time).  There is SOME sort of narrative here – how to interpret it, I’m not entirely certain.

This is the cover of Desperate women – which raised my intrigue even more.

3rd paragraph of the forward:

“They all possessed a cold courage whether they were using their sex to steal military secrets or holding up a stage coach. Their appetite for life, action, and excitement was insatiable. They committed espionage as coolly as they sipped their tea, seduced men in high places for their country and their causes; held their liquor, rode like Comanches, dealt stud poker, packed guns, rustled cattle, and played road agent with great efficiency and picturesqueness.” (Horan vii)

The title The nympho and other maniacs at least provides the feel of a history of empowered women, unlike Desperate women. The titles of the sections are amazing: “Book I : The mistress as a scandal,” “Book II : The heroine as a scandal,” and “Book III : The rebel as a scandal.”

The actual content of these books (unlike the titles) gives me a better understand as to possible reasons why they were acquired – it was during a time when women were fighting for equal rights in the workforce.

Another one of the investigated yet unanswered mysteries of the Institute Library.

Amateur Hour

Amateur Hour is the Institute Library’s lecture/discussion series that will be monthly starting this autumn.  Curators Jack Hitt & Joshua Foer kicked off the series with a  summer preview on June 13th.

Josh and Jack discussed Jack’s new book, Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character, which chronicles his travels among the garages, dorm rooms, and kitchens of this generation’s self-motivated thinkers, and a peek inside the current doings of the American amateur.

The sold-out event was a HUGE success with many thanks to all involved, especially Jack Hitt & Josh Foer.

Local Histories

I moved to Connecticut from the Midwest about five years ago.  One of the first things that struck me as odd was that the town line signs here say the year the town was settled.  In the Midwest, the town line signs give the population.  For example, when driving into Milford, the green sign says, “Milford Settled in 1639” whereas the sign to my hometown says, “Byron Population 3,850

I feel like there is a much stronger dedication of the local history in New England, which I love, but perhaps this perceived dedication is due to simply being much older.  My home state, Illinois, hadn’t even been an official state for 10 years when the Young Men’s Institute Library was founded in 1826!  Not only are the towns of New England much older than where I grew up, I think the history is much richer.  I thank Connecticut born John W. Barber known as the first person to start collecting and recording these interesting local histories.

John Warner Barber, 1798 – 1885, is considered the first person to record local history.  In the 1820s Barber began traveling Connecticut to collect local histories and create ink sketches of town greens, hotels, schools, churches, and harbors, which he later turned into engravings.

This etching, which sits above the library’s fireplace, depicts Barber sketching the Connecticut countryside.  His book, Connecticut Historical Collections, published in 1856, sold over 7,000 copies within a year.

The library has this book – it sits on the table next to the card catalog.  The engravings are breathtakingly beautiful – my camera does not do them justice.

This engraving by John W. Barber is framed on the wall next to my desk at the library.  It is of the New Haven Post Office 1825 – 1835.

Barber holds more significance to the Institute Library besides being a great local historian.  He was head librarian of the library from 1864 – 1869.  This treasure’s report is from Barber’s second year as head librarian at the Institute Library.  His salary of $400 is equivalent of about $10,000 with inflation in 2010 – this does not count cost of living.

Airplane versus Aeroplane

I’ve spent the past 24 hours wondering when and why the British spelling of “aeroplane” changed to the  spelling “airplane” in the United States.  Will Baker suggested that I check The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, published in 1971.

Thankfully, the two volume set comes with a magnifying glass – allowing me to read such fine print and (more importantly) feel like a detective.

Unfortunately, the only spelling of the word in question in this dictionary is “aeroplane” – offering no alternative spelling.

I did a quick Google search – according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “aeroplane” was first used in 1873 and that the alternate spelling “airplane” was first used in 1907.  But this still doesn’t explain when “airplane” became the standard spelling in North-American English.

The handwriting on the subject card does not look like William Borden’s calligraphy.  If it did, the British spelling “aeroplane” would make sense why this spelling is used in our card catalog since he was the head librarian from 1887 until 1910.  Alas, this is not the case….

I decided perhaps the few books with the “aeroplane” subject card used the British spelling.  (and to correct the post from yesterday – there are THREE books with the subject card “aeroplanes” – two cards were stuck together)

The Grim Reapers by Stanley Johnston, published in 1943, dodges the bullet all together by using the shortened spelling, “planes.”

Mitchell : Pioneer of Air Power by Isaac Don Levine, published in 1943, uses the North-American spelling.

Flying Dutchman : The life of Anthony Fokker by Anthony Fokker and Bruce Gould, published in 1931, also uses the North-American spelling.

My last thought is that perhaps the librarians who were here during when these books were published (and presumably acquired) were either more accustomed to the British spelling or simply preferred the British spelling.  A bit of an anticlimactic investigation on my part…..

Elma B. Redfield
Librarian from 1896 – 1966

Abigal D. Dunn
Librarian from 1910 – 1960

Doris Hendricks
Librarian from 1927 – 1990