By Adrianne M. Schinkai, Head of Reference and Circulation Services, Vicksburg District Library
Last year, it was discovered by Joy Reinstein that the Vicksburg Ladies’ Library Auxiliary, of which she serves as a co-Vice President, was a bit older than was originally conceived. Instead of being 125 years old, the organization was closer to 140. And those 140 years hold a lot of history. Like Fanny Bair, who financed the construction of the original Vicksburg District Library building, the Ladies’ Library Auxiliary are women of service in the local area.
“We’re hostesses,” quips Sue Opalewski, another co-Vice President. “We help out with events like the Root Beer Tasting and the party for the kids in the Historical Village,” meaning Party in the Park, held every September.
Reinstein nods. “We do whatever we can to be active within the community for the Library’s sake. Not to replace what [the Library does], but just to reach out within the community. Some people think that our job is to clean the Library and file books and to just do the secretarial stuff…people think we’re just orchestrators of the Library and it’s just not that at all.”
Organized in 1879, the Ladies’ Literary Club (as the organization was originally dubbed) appropriately grew out of a reading club. Founded by Vicksburg, Michigan resident Lucinda Hillsdale Stone, the Ladies’ Literary Club was the first women’s organization in the state of Michigan, and only the third in the United States.
The organization would go through a few name changes over the years, including The Isabella Club in 1891. This name was created due, in part, to the organization’s participation in the World’s Fair. “A gal from Kalamazoo came and indoctrinated us. And to get ready for the World’s Fair, we changed our name. For a while, in preparation for the fair, our name was ‘The Isabella Club’ in honor of the Queen [of Spain]. So they studied Spain. [The ladies] studied other countries in order to be a little more worldly,” Reinstein notes.
By the time Mrs. Fanny Wallace Bair dedicated the Vicksburg District Library building in 1902, the group was known as the Ladies’ Library Association. Like her fellow Association members of the time, Bair was a woman’s woman of the period and a force of community service in the village. Reinstein reflects, “she was very active in the study groups they had because back then most ladies weren’t very prominent. They went home and did their thing, but [Bair] encouraged discussions on cooking, on how to discipline your children, and how to make sure the men were involved.”
“How to be happy-go-married. How to dress well when you had nothing,” Opalewski adds.
While today’s Ladies’ Library Auxiliary has no official mission statement, they live through their work by Bair and Stone’s examples. They actively donate to and work with many local organizations, including South County Community Services, Generous Hands, and Talons Out Honor Flight. Their first service project for the 2019-2020 year took place in October when they donated goods and funds benefitting the YWCA for domestic assault. Both Reinstein and Opalewski agree that sometimes being a part of the Auxiliary is hard work, but that work is rewarding and they have been greatly inspired by their predecessors.