Image courtesy of the National Archives and New Deal Network
I came across an interesting article recently about Eastern Kentucky’s Pack Horse Librarians. After the depression President Roosevelt enacted the New Deal to help put people back to work. One of those projects was the Pack Horse Librarians. It started in 1936 and continued through 1943. With many women on relief it was a way to put them to work along with the men.
Eastern Kentucky had been hit especially hard by the depression. Very rural and dependent on the now closed coal mines they were isolated from the rest of the world. Librarians from around the state were brought in to establish this unique service. Women were recruited to take books and magazines via horseback and mules into rural Kentucky. The terrain was rough, rocky and steep, through dangerous creeks and rivers, in all kinds of weather. They worked summer and winter, traveling as much as 500+ miles in a month! They were paid $28 a month. People were skeptical at first, but this project was a great success. The librarians took great pride in taking books to people who never had access before. They also became a lifeline of sorts, bringing news and comfort to these isolated people. They could carry messages between the isolated families, send for doctors, midwives and carry medicines. They looked in on shut-ins and read aloud to those who couldn’t read.
There was such a demand for books they asked organizations to help and a penny-fund was started to purchase new books. Some credit this program with raising the level of interest in education in Eastern Kentucky. By 1943 the WPA had been de-funded and the program came to an end. The program established 30 libraries in Eastern Kentucky serving over 100,000 people! I admire these women’s dedication!
There’s a book about these courageous women: Down Cut Shin Creek, The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky by Kathy Appealt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer
Had you ever heard of this before?