Magazine article American Libraries

This Month, 31 Years Ago

Magazine article American Libraries

This Month, 31 Years Ago

Article excerpt

IN DECEMBER 1971, Forest Press President Verner Clapp and School Library Journal Book Review Editor Lillian Gerhardt were trading ripostes over an editorial Gerhardt wrote for the September 1, 1971, issue of Library Journal. In "Melvil! Thou Shouldst Be Living," Gerhardt said that although Melvil Dewey "hotly defended the right of women to library education," he also "made the attracted young ladies put their bosom measurement on their applications." In a letter, Clapp asked, "What is the source of your information about bosom measurements?" Two days later, Gerhardt answered, "I have no scholarly citation to support my reference," but indicated she had heard the story at a 1955 New England Library Association meeting from an elderly Massachusetts public library trustee. The trustee said it happened to her when applying for admission to Dewey's Columbia School (1887-1889) at the suggestion of her employer, Caroline Hewins of the Hartford (Conn.) Public Library.

Dissatisfied with Gerhardt's response, Clapp decided to do his own research. He asked the director of the Massachusetts public library in question to identify the trustee who had once worked for Hewins. The director said that the trustee had died the previous year, so Clapp located her obituary, which indicated she had never attended Columbia at all, but instead was a 1910 graduate of Simmons. When Clapp confronted Gerhardt with the evidence, the SLJ editor responded: "Although your research establishes the lady's unreliability, I cling to my belief in her statement about M.D. requiring bosom measurements." She then quipped, "I hate to see a good story wrecked for want of evidence."

I am much indebted to fellow library historian Jane Aikin for bringing my attention to this correspondence (which she discovered on a research project of her own). Because Aikin knew I had written a biography of Dewey, she asked if I had seen evidence to validate Gerhardt's claim. …

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