By Sue Moore
Vicksburg maintained a book study group as a going concern as far back as 1891. It was called the Isabella Club then, and became the Ladies Library Association in 1898. It wasn’t easy trying to start as a women’s only club in those heady days of changes for the fair sex, according to their written history. The effort will be recognized by its descendant, the Ladies Library Auxiliary (LLA) from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, April 15 as part of the Library Hop during the month of April at the Vicksburg District Library.
Newspaper articles and individual written histories described the formation and growth of the group:
Lucinda Hinsdale Stone, the wife of the president of Kalamazoo College at the time, reportedly came to Vicksburg to help form the Isabella Club. The idea was for women to unite and devote a year to study Spain in preparation for the World’s Fair in 1893 in Chicago. The organizing meeting took place at Fannie Bair’s home. Members took turns presenting programs. Some wrote poetry or gave recitations. After the first year, the study turned to the history and literature of the U.S., then various countries in Europe.
At times, other subjects were offered. Some of them: The Making of Good Bread (and Pies), The Art of Dressing Well on Nothing a Year; The Scientific Spanking of Children; and How to be Happy Though Married.
In 1892 the ladies purchased a building from a Mr. Jenkinson for $100. It needed to be moved to behind the McElvain House, the present-day Community Center, where there was some vacant land.
Many local males were pessimistic and loudly expressed their opinions. According to reports, they included: “You’ll never move that building where you want it.” “It will break in two before you get it there.” “What did you buy that old building for?” “I wouldn’t give you $10 for it.”
The women triumphed. It was never considered an architectural beauty on the outside, but inside the women had plastered, painted, and papered until it was a pleasant clubhouse and a library for the 462 books they owned.
It wasn’t all study for the women. Teas and banquets were a big part of their lives as well, especially in June when there was a profusion of roses in bloom for livening up the décor. The inevitable need for money raising projects arose. The secretary reported a successful card party during which a “neat little sum of $10 was added to our treasury.”
In 1902, the Association received a marvelous gift from Fannie Bair. She built a library on Maple Street and turned it over to the members to run. The newspaper of the time described it as “practically three stories high with a 40-foot octagon tower and has electricity.” The chandeliers were brass. There were curtains at the windows and a tiled fireplace. The newspaper also said that Mrs. Bair had planned to spend between $3,500 and $4,000 on the building. It cost $5,500. The large room in the library served as the banquet room and the octagon tower was considered the music room. In 1926, an organ was donated from the Congregational Church for that area. It stayed there until 1939 when it was sold for $450 to a church in Indiana.
On the east side of the building were two rooms with books separated into two groups, those of Schoolcraft and those of Vicksburg. Residents were allowed to check out books only from their community’s shelves.
In 1922, the Association had difficulty in becoming incorporated because of its all-female membership. Local lawyers refused to believe that such a group could manage its financial responsibilities, so Kalamazoo attorneys handled the club’s legal matters.
By 1937, the members were meeting every two weeks. In 1943 they switched to monthly meetings. That continues to this day with meetings at 1 p.m. on the first Friday of each month. New members are encouraged to join and the public is often invited.
In 1944, the club offered the building, books and all equipment to the village as a gift so funding could be increased by the state and from other sources. At this point, the Ladies Library Association became the Ladies Library Auxiliary. It continues to supply books and other needed items for the library, including a $5,000 patron’s gift for the library expansion in 1986.