As history has proved over and over again, every enduring institution begins with the vision and hard work of a few dedicated people. The story of Johnson City Public Library is no different. Thanks to a small group of women who wanted to expand their educational horizons, who desired a deeper understanding of art, literature and culture, who sought to become more informed citizens, a library exists today that circulates over 600,000 materials annually and serves over 37,000 users in Johnson City.
It’s safe to say that your Library owes its existence today to the Chicago World’s Fair over a century ago. In 1893, a few women from Johnson City attended the Fair and were inspired by the art and culture displays, new ideas, and unbelievable inventions they were exposed to there. The women returned home with the desire to further educate themselves about the world they had experienced at the Fair.
However, books and resources were expensive and hard to get, and educational opportunities for women were rare. So, in 1893 they created the Monday Reading Club with the purpose of studying art, history, and literature together. The group met weekly in each other’s homes to discuss literature, art, research papers, and current events. They even worked together to learn new vocabulary words!
These meetings led to the Monday Club opening Johnson City’s first library on May 1, 1895. It was originally just a small reading room funded by 45 subscribers who paid $1 a year. In 1912, when the City of Johnson City began financially contributing to the library, it was opened to the public for free. Around the same time, Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Samuel Cole Williams donated $10,000 and a parcel of land on Roan Street for the construction of a new library, which opened in 1923 and was originally named the Mayne Williams Library in memory of Williams’ young son. The library grew to become a free educational resource with thousands of books and a central community gathering place. (You can still see this original library’s facade, which is connected to Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church on Roan Street.)
125 years after the Monday Club women got together to learn and grow, your Library is still committed to values they possessed. We’re driven by the desire to provide equal access to knowledge and information that makes our users more well-rounded, informed citizens and better people. We serve our users by opening new worlds to them, whether that be through cultivating their creativity and curiosity, connecting them with essential resources, or providing space and opportunities for them to meet others.
As we celebrate our 125th anniversary throughout 2020, we’ll be both honoring our past and looking forward to what the next 125 years have in store for us and our community. We remember and echo the words of Mrs. Walter H. Harman, President of the Monday Club, in 1904: “Any story must start at the beginning, so perhaps our humble efforts…may at least serve as a small part of the beginning of a story of real accomplishment in later years, one in which we all feel a sincere and justifiable pride, humbly claiming a small part of the honor because we were a small part of the beginning.”