An excerpt from a letter by Mayor William Waldo Hyde expressing support for a publicly funded library in Hartford.

An excerpt from a letter by Mayor William Waldo Hyde expressing support for a publicly funded library in Hartford.

By Jennifer Sharp, Hartford History Center archivist

In July 1892 – 130 years ago – a committee of men representing both the Wadsworth Atheneum and the Hartford Library Association presented a petition to the Mayor of Hartford, requesting that the City support a free public library.

Library service had been available in Hartford on a subscription basis since 1774. A committee of Hartford Public Library employees is preparing to celebrate the 250th anniversary of that service in 2024.

The first large public library to open was the Boston Public Library. Established in 1848, its doors opened for the first time in 1854. Other cities soon followed, and Hartford wanted to be among them.

The City of Hartford’s charter had been amended in 1883, authorizing an expenditure of up to “one-fifth (1/5) of one mill upon the grand list of said city last made and perfected, for the purpose of supporting a free public library and art gallery.” In 1892 that would have been about $9350. The petitioners estimated the operating cost for the first year could be $10,000 (Springfield, MA was spending $17,000). The Library itself would have an annual income of $2240.

Hartford Library Association shared space in the Wadsworth Atheneum with the Connecticut Historical Society, the Watkinson Reference Library, and the art gallery with which we associate the Wadsworth Atheneum name.

The public library is the especial benefactor of those who may be unable to purchase the means for mental improvement, but who are eager and earnest to learn. It is a great public educator, and as such promotes the welfare of the entire community.

$125,000 had been raised for expansion of the Atheneum’s building. According to an 1891 Hartford Courant article, the Hartford Library would occupy most of the first floor. There would also be a fund for care and maintenance of the building. “The especial object,” wrote the petition’s authors, “which the promoters and donors of the fund had at heart was to provide a free public library of circulation, which could be enjoyed by every citizen.”

Francis Goodwin, J[ames] G. Batterson, Cha[rle]s Hopkins Clark, N[athaniel] Shipman, Henry C. Robinson, and Charles E. Gross signed the petition, addressed to the Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council. Mayor William Waldo Hyde sent his recommendation to the Council. Acknowledging it is not best practice to alter the City’s budget mid-year, the Mayor believed the public library was a worthy exception. “The public library is the especial benefactor of those who may be unable to purchase the means for mental improvement, but who are eager and earnest to learn,” Hyde declared. “It is a great public educator, and as such promotes the welfare of the entire community.” He believed the building would always be occupied once it opened.

The petition was successful. On August 15 the Council allocated $1500 (less than the requested $4500 for the remainder of the fiscal year), and the free public library opened its doors on September 15, 1892. Hartford Public Library was officially incorporated in 1893.

The petition and mayor’s letter are part of the Hartford Town and City Clerk Archives (Box 285), held by HPL’s Hartford History Center. The collection is open for research.

Comments are closed.

SEARCH

Encore Search:

Archives