Books, Bluster, and Bounty: Local Politics in the Intermountain West and Carnegie Library Building Grants, 1898-1920

Books, Bluster, and Bounty: Local Politics in the Intermountain West and Carnegie Library Building Grants, 1898-1920

Books, Bluster, and Bounty: Local Politics in the Intermountain West and Carnegie Library Building Grants, 1898-1920

Books, Bluster, and Bounty: Local Politics in the Intermountain West and Carnegie Library Building Grants, 1898-1920

Excerpt

On the afternoon of July 28, 1910, citizens of Prosser, a small young town in eastern Washington, gathered for the dedication of a new public building. This was “an event of great importance in the history of the city,” a speaker remarked, “marking the upward trend of the educational and social life in the history of Prosser.” Much of the town’s population was able to attend, since stores and offices had been closed by municipal order and the local court had been adjourned. Attorneys and clergymen spoke; a quartet and a soloist sang; entertainers performed dramatic readings, recitations, and sleight of hand stunts. Enthusiastic speakers proclaimed Prosser a place “distinguished for the high character, moral worth, and continued enterprise of its citizens.” This new construction signaled the dawn of a new era for Prosser, they asserted, an era of regional prominence.

What were they celebrating? Not the dedication of a grand cathedral, not a magnificent theater, an institution of higher learning, or a giant sports arena. Instead, the structure being dedicated was one that nearly every town holds today: a public library. Prosser had just joined the approximately 1, 400 cities and towns in the United States that successfully constructed public library buildings between 1898 and 1919 with funds granted by Andrew Carnegie.

Communities across the United States celebrated at Carnegie public library dedications, but Intermountain West communities like Prosser had particularly justifiable cause for pride, for they were not the sort of places one might have expected to find people enthusiastically pursuing cultural amenities. As the next chapter will discuss in detail, the turn-of-thetwentieth-century Intermountain West—a high, dry region between the

1 An account of this ceremony appears in the Prosser (WA) Record, July 29, 1910.

2 Carnegie library statistics can be found in Bobinski’s foundational study in the field of Carnegie library history, Carnegie Libraries: Their History and Impact on American Public Library Development, and in Jones’s more recent Carnegie Libraries Across America, both of which tabulate numbers of successful and unsuccessful applications, distribution by states, grant sizes, grant dates, etc.

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