Quickly, too, she began advocating for more books, more space for books and readers, and for a separate children's room. The books came readily enough -- the town was willing to buy those -- but she had to plead for a full two decades before she finally got the addition. "It appears incredible that Andover does not want its library to grow anymore," she wrote in 1912. "In this age of society-forming there should be a society for the prevention of cruelty to libraries." Of course, Miss Brown was unable personally to make her requests at Andover's town meeting, because women had not yet been given a voice there.
Edna Adelaide Brown, born in 1875, was a native of Providence, Rhode Island. Her mother, Adelaide Victoria Ballou Brown, was said to have been a direct descendant of Roger Williams. An unverified Internet source gives these details about her life before Andover: "Her early health was poor and she was homeschooled until she was ten. She graduated from Girls High School at Brown University and went on the New York State Library School. She reflected in her later years that her choice of a library career was due to her love of books and mused that as a child she had not been allowed in public libraries because her parents feared germs." According to the same source, her first job was at the Providence Public Library, her second at the Rosenberg Library in Galveston, Texas. She took her third and final job, here, when she was thirty-one.
Some Andoverites apparently thought the library was part museum. In 1910, Miss Brown publicly thanked Mrs. C.A. Phelps, who had donated not only a set of genealogical books but a stuffed head of a deer that she claimed had been shot in 1760 on what would later become the campus of Phillips Academy. Of the new books chosen and bought for the library, so-called ethical and religious titles -- e.g., St. Abigail of the Pines by W.A. Knight and How to Conduct a Sunday School by Marion Lawrence -- comprised the most numerous category throughout Mr. Holt's tenure and during the beginning of Miss Brown's, reflecting the fact that a public library was for a long time considered by many to be mainly a place where "good morals" were formed, encouraged, and upheld.
As a result of this and other constricting lines of thinking, early twentieth-century librarians as a class frowned upon fiction, but Miss Brown did not pass judgment on those who read it. "To read the periodicals devoted to library affairs one would think a librarian existed largely for the purpose of inducing fiction lovers to read something else," she mused in one of her annual reports. "We think that people should read whatever interests them and that tired men and women have a perfect right to rest themselves by reading stories." She did, however, have trouble with books that weren't, as she put it, "clean." "So much that is insidious, even subtly immoral, is issued even by reputable publishers, that the question of choice is difficult," she wrote in 1913. Doubtless, she would have abided neither D. H Lawrence's Sons and Lovers (1913) nor Margaret Sanger's Family Limitation (1914). She was also disdainful of moving pictures. "No library can successfully compete, even should it wish to lower its dignity by attempting to do so, with the moving picture shows....," she wrote as libraries began to report lower circulations and Charles Chaplin, whose Tramp character debuted in 1914, was blamed. But it's important to remember that she was a woman of her time and place, not ours. One has to be a genius -- Emily Dickinson, say -- to rise above one's temporal trappings. Miss Brown was merely very smart.
Speaking of Dickinson, let's look at her singleness, her unmarried state, and Miss Brown's, for a moment. As Adrienne Rich wrote of Dickinson in her brilliant 1976 essay "Vesuvius at Home," she "had more primary needs" than a husband. Rich also wrote that she was increasingly struck by Dickinson's stance "as a practical woman exercising her gift as she had to, making choices." I'd say that one of Miss Brown's chief attributes was a similar kind of practicality as evidenced by every single decision she made at the library. Rich wrote of trying to enter Dickinson's mind; a far lesser soul than Rich, I am trying to enter Miss Brown's. "I would not paint -- a picture --," Dickinson wrote metaphorically, but of course she did "paint." Miss Brown, too, was an artist of sorts, the author of about a dozen children's books. Doing an internet search for those titles, I quickly discovered that Memorial Hall has a nearly full run of them. I see a visit to my town library in my very near future.
To be continued.