Galena Public Library

Early History of the Galena Public Library & Reading Room: 1894-1920

Library_thBy Tom Brusch

It was in 1892 when Benjamin Franklin Felt, a prominent banker and landowner who had removed to Galena in 1842, presented to the City Council a petition of “leading taxpayers” to fund a free public library. The council said no, claiming that State law wouldn’t allow enough money possible to establish a library.

Typical for B.F. Felt, he took the initiative and offered to pay from his own pocket the total costs for two years, donate 1200 books to start the library as well as find and pay for a location and room. B.F. stipulated that the city of Galena would then take over and run the library with a tax of 40 cents per household per year.

The offer met with tremendous public support. When the Council voted 7-3 to accept the offer, talk of a petition was suggested by some citizens to remove the three objectors. In their defense, they claimed to be protecting the citizens from exorbitantly high taxes.

library interiorBesides the munificence of B.F. Felt, we today owe his daughter, Anna, our respect and thanks. B.F. said of Anna, “my daughter has done everything about the library but pay the bills. That is my part.” Anna was 35 in 1894, an independent young woman who had graduated from Wells College in Aurora, NY where she was a classmate and friend of the future First Lady, Mrs. Grover Cleveland.

The proposal accepted by the Council was unique in one important respect. B.F. made clear that four of the nine Library Board Trustees must be female. The Chicago Evening Post responded “We cannot find one woman on a public school or private library board in Chicago. Even private libraries like the Newberry lack woman among their directors. Galena truly has put Chicago to the blush.”

The Women’s Journal said, “This was the first time women had been made directors in any public library in Illinois.” Among those nine, of course, were four women, of which one was Anna Felt, who became financial secretary and remained on the board until her death in 1953! more…