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Cornelia Marvin Pierce

On the occasion of the dedication of the State Library Building in 1939, 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 $1,200 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."

Cornelia Marvin Pierce served as the Oregon State Librarian from 1905 until 1929.  She was a pioneering librarian in a state still dominated by the pioneer spirit. "People wanted books. The three free Public Libraries in Portland, Salem, and Eugene became a hundred or more during my time," said Pierce. "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 moved to Oregon.

She traveled, often by team and wagon, with speakers from the office of J.H. Ackerman, Oregon State School Superintendent. She met with farm groups, teachers, clubs, and anyone else who would listen, encouraging support for the development of free public libraries. Pierce found that many smaller communities did not have the financial resources to support a public library so she developed the concept of traveling libraries. The Oregon Legislature appropriated funds for the purchase of trunks, each including 50 books, to begin the traveling library service. She pushed the Library Commission toward achievement of her goal, that is, the best books to the greatest number at the least cost. Her accomplishments included the development of the 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" made up of books suitable for school debating societies, and a vigorous campaign to improve the quality of children's literature in Oregon.

In 1925 Cornelia Marvin became Mrs. Pierce, the spouse of Governor Walter M. Pierce.  She came under heavy criticism because 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 continuing to work in state government. Although this issue is largely forgotten in today's workplace, almost fifty years after her death in 1957, it is appropriate to remember with gratitude Cornelia Marvin Pierce and her determination to make "libraries the hub of the wheel of knowledge" for everyone.

Compiled by Virginia Green

Pierce, Cornelia, Marvin, Oregon Vertical File, Oregon State Library, Salem 

Remarks by an unknown speaker at the dedication of the Easter Oregon University Library.  Oregon Vertical, File, Oregon State Library, Salem


Cornelia Pierce
Cornelia Pierce
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