Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Linda Borish

Second Advisor

Dr. Michael Chiarappa

Third Advisor

Dr. Laurel Grotzinger

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Katherine Jellison


This dissertation investigates the ladies' library associations in Southwestern Michigan from the middle nineteenth century through the early twentieth century to explore the impact of these organizations as agents of reform and in shaping public space. Ladies' library association records provide a major component of this study. Association records, consisting of constitutions, bylaws, minutes, treasurer records, book catalogs, yearbooks, and published reports yield valuable information to analyze and interpret the activities of ladies' library associations. Plat maps, panoramic maps, photographs, architectural drawings, and tax records offer evidence about the built environment and material culture of ladies' library associations. The actual buildings also provide important historical information for the purposes of this study. The ladies' library associations of Michigan provide a framework for exploring historical meanings of gender, power, and reform. Michigan's ladies' library associations existed as one variation of social libraries that provided much of the library service available in the nineteenth century. White middle class women participated in library associations as a moderate reform of the nineteenth century and exercised deliberate choices about the evolutionary path of these organizations. Through library associations, women shaped the meaning of "public" and exerted influence in the physical and cultural space to provide a much-needed service. Ladies' library associations helped define and control public space within the community and participated in the process of promoting and forming public libraries in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access