Monday, June 4, 2012

Library Politics ~ Cornelia Marvin Pierce

On the occasion of the dedication of the Oregon State Library Building, Cornelia Marvin Pierce wrote the following:
            "I do recall most vividly indeed those beginnings in August, 1905, when I arrived in Salem as Secretary of the Oregon Library Commission, which had neither books, quarters, traditions, nor financial support beyond the state appropriation of $1200 a year for all expenses.  The field was clear before me.  It was the great privilege of my life to have placed in my hand the beginning and shaping of the new library venture in Oregon. Formulating policies, securing financial support from the Legislature, planning legislation for extension of library service through public and county libraries, and finally winning the name of Oregon State Library for the institution filled over 25 busy years of my life.  
            Oregon afforded opportunity for library pioneering in a state still dominated by the pioneer spirit.  The response was stimulating.  People wanted books.  The three free Public Libraries in Portland, Salem and Eugene became a hundred or more during my time.  Excellent subscription libraries in Ashland, Astoria and elsewhere, after much persuasion, were made free libraries.  Books began to flow into the little schoolhouses too remote to be reached by public libraries.  Sets of encyclopedias and reference books were clipped for lending in sections in order that the benefits of books collected in Salem might reach beyond the walls which housed them and be put in hands stretched out from the far corners of the state."
            Cornelia Marvin was born in Monticello, Iowa in 1873 and entered the library program at Chicago's Armour Institute of Technology in 1894, one of four such programs in the United States.  Library School gave Cornelia direction in life.  A few years after completing her program at Armour and serving in various library related endeavors in Illinois and Wisconsin, she came to Oregon in 1905.  She traveled, often by team and wagon, with speakers from the office of J.H. Ackerman, Oregon State School Superintendent.  She talked with farm groups, teachers, clubs, and anyone who would listen, in order to establish support for the development of free libraries.  She soon observed that this would not be financial feasible for many smaller communities and therefore developed the concept of traveling libraries. As a result, the legislature appropriated funds for the purchase of trunks including 50 books to begin this service.  She pushed the Library Commission toward achievement of her goal:  the best books to the greatest number at the least cost.  This goal included a legislative reference service and suggested "helpful" readings related to current legislative issues, free loan of books by mail to individuals without a library, "debate libraries" for increasing reference materials for debating societies in schools, and a vigorous campaign to improve the quality of children's literature in Oregon.
            Cornelia became Mrs. Walter M. Pierce, the wife of the governor, in 1925 and came under heavy criticism in the days when women, especially wives of men in public life, were not expected to have careers of their own, much less be influencing state legislation.  Numerous newspaper articles of that time chronicle the debate about whether Mrs. Pierce was stepping out of her place by occupying a job with the state government.  Although this issue is largely forgotten in the workplace today, so many years after her death in 1957, it is appropriate to remember with gratitude Mrs. Pierce and her determination to make libraries "the hub of the wheel of knowledge" - for everyone.

Gov. Pierce served one term as governor and went on to the US House of Representatives where he served 1932-43. In 1954 they retired to this home along Rural Route #4, now Highway 22, just to the west of Eola School. On April 5 1957, the house was photographed (above) for an article in the Capital Journal as Home of the Week. An interior is included in the Oregon Historical Photograph Collection of the Salem Public Library.
The house has had alterations and additions, but retains the charm of a country home and the gardens are still evident in the landscaping.

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