Carnegie library historians agree that the seeds of the free public library movement were sewn by women’s associations and that “Carnegie, even with his astounding and far-flung financial contributions to public library development, functioned as a stimulus rather than as an initiator” (Watson, 1994). “Women’s Voluntary Associations” sprang up in the years following the Civil War. The women’s associations were the result of the developing middle class in the late 19th century America. The women came together to form study and reading groups for self-improvement. The “proliferation” of women’s groups in the last quarter of the 19th century has been described “as if some very contagious virus was loose in the female population” (id.). San Diego was not immune from that “contagious virus.” In 1885, “The Wednesday Club” was formed by a group of prominent San Diego women. The club’s purpose was to study “artistic and literary culture.” Upon the club’s formation, Lydia Horton the wife of city founder Alonzo Horton, was elected as The Wednesday Club’s first president (McGrew).
Originally from Massachusetts, Lydia “received a good education for the time, with emphasis on art, music and “culture.” In 1869, Lydia arrived in San Diego with her first husband, William Knapp. Knapp was a seaman, and when he and his family moved to San Diego, Lydia was the first American woman to live in the Point Loma area of San Diego. When they moved from San Francisco to San Diego, they arrived by ship and disembarked at “Horton’s Wharf.” Lydia and her husband attended the same church as Horton and his wife, and the two couples socialized. After a few years in San Diego, the Knapp family moved back to San Francisco where William Knapp died in 1885. In his estate, Knapp had left his family land in San Diego. After Knapp’s death, Lydia and her two sons returned to San Diego and back reacquainted with their San Diego friends. In 1890, Horton and Lydia married. Lydia was 47 and Horton was 77 (San Diego Historical Society, San Diego Biographies, Lydia Knapp Horton).
Lydia was a strong supporter of women’s clubs, noting in 1898 that when “the history of the last quarter of the 19th century shall be written . . . there will come the history of women’s clubs” (id.). Within a short period of time, the agendas of women’s associations evolved from self-improvement to civic improvement. Civic improvement projects “were justified as ‘municipal Housekeeping’— merely an extension of the woman’s role in the home” (Scheer, 2002).
Naturally, the promotion of libraries was a key focus of several women’s associations (Watson). The ALA and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs “estimate that between 75 and 80 percent of public libraries in the United States were started by local women’s clubs” (id.).
In 1896, Lydia Horton conducted research and wrote a paper entitled “Public Libraries.” The paper was read to The Wednesday Club. “After the discussion of the paper, a vote was taken, that whatever was done outside the literary work of the club should be for the benefit of the library fund.” Thereafter, The Wednesday Club held “entertainments” to raise money for a public library (McGrew). Based upon her work for the benefit of the library and her standing in the community, Lydia Horton was elected to the Board of Trustees of the San Diego Public Library in 1897. “The energy and leadership that were lost to the Library when Lou Younkin resigned were restored in 1896 when Lydia M. Horton, the third wife of San Diego’s founder, became interested in the Library” (Evans).
In 1898 the library moved to the fifth floor of the Keating Building (id). That same year, Lydia Horton began communicating with Carnegie to create an exhibition of photographs of Carnegie libraries in San Diego. The exhibition of the Carnegie Library Photographs served three purposes: “it strengthened the interest in trying to build a public library, provided a source of revenue, and was the beginning of Mrs. Horton’s correspondence with Mr. Carnegie (Koch, 1917).
After establishing a relationship with Carnegie, Lydia Horton did not fill out the standard application form for Carnegie library funding. Instead, she wrote directly to Carnegie laying out the needs of San Diego for a library building:
The library needs of this place are very apparent. We have a good library of about 14,000 books, which we have in rented rooms, for which we pay $85 a month. Every few years we are obliged to move, owing to a demand for more room, or other causes. Our last moving expenses were about $800.
Our income from city taxes amounts to five or six thousand dollars a year. After the salaries, rent, moving, and other expenses were taken out last year we had very little left to expend for books. Our circulation was reduced to 14, 000 books on account of closing for moving and our inability to supply new books.
We felt more than ever the need of permanent quarters, and think San Diego is an important point for the establishment of a fine library. I know of no place where one would be more appreciated. We have fine schools, and the cooperation between the library and the schools is most gratifying, but here we are hampered by the lack of funds for necessary books. A state normal school has been opened in San Diego within the past year, and while they will some time have a library of their own, the funds are not sufficient now to establish it. Our library supplies their needs so far as able.
We have lately established a children’s library league, and our circulation among the children has increased very perceptibly, so much so that we have been troubled to provide all the books they need.
We have a large floating population who are given all the privileges of the library. Invalids who come for a few weeks or months will find our library a great source of pleasure. We have soldiers stationed here who find our books a refuge from the monotony of their life. Our harbor has been a winter rendezvous for naval vessels on this coast for some years, making calls for additional books.
Lydia Horton’s communication with Carnegie was not unusual. At the time, many women in voluntary associations wrote to Carnegie seeking funding. Some “thought it beyond their place to contact Andrew Carnegie, and asked male friends or husbands to do it.” Others, like Lydia Horton, “wrote directly or sought appointments” (Watson).
Carnegie responded to Lydia Horton’s request from his castle in Scotland:
Skibo Castle, Ardgay, N. B., 7th July, 1899
Mrs. A.E. Horton,
Free Public Library, San Diego, Cal.
If the city were to pledge itself to maintain a free public library from the taxes, say to the extent of the amount you name, of between five and six thousand dollars a year, and provide a site, I shall be glad to give you $50,000, to erect a suitable library building.
Very truly yours,
(McGrew). Carnegie later added $10,000 to bring the total given to construct the San Diego Public Library building to $60,000.
Carnegie received the request for San Diego library funding from Lydia Horton, a trustee, and not an official city governmental official. Accordingly, before any Carnegie funding was committed, it “was indispensable to have the Mayor and Council committed to any application before it received recognition” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace). As was required of all recipients of Carnegie funds, the city leaders had to pass a resolution to accept the Carnegie funds, with the following conditions: 1) that city provide a suitable site for the building, with room to expand; 2) that the City will levy a tax in a sufficient amount (10% of the Carnegie gift amount) for the annual maintenance of the library.
When Carnegie’s offer of a library for San Diego, the public relations campaign begun by Lydia Horton to organize the exhibit of Carnegie Library photographs continued. George Marston,
an early San Diego civic and community leader, who had been a member of the library’s original board of trustees, weighed in on the debate through an open letter to the Trustees of the Public Library, published in the local newspaper, the San Diego Union:
If San Diego hasn’t the public spirit to do this for its own sake, for the beauty and honor of it, I appeal to its commercial spirit. As a business man, I cannot think of anything that this city could do that would bring better returns to it than the use of forty or fifty thousand dollars to place the Carnegie library building where it ought to be and with adequate grounds about. . . . . I do not advocate the city purchase in order to get rid of paying my own subscription and bet to say that if it will help the trustees, providing they decide upon the D and E street block, I will double my former offer and use my best efforts to get other private subscriptions. (Marston, G. 1899, October 4).
A month after Marston’s passionate plea, on November 6, 1899, Joint Resolution No. 1205 was passed. The Joint Resolution accepted the Carnegie Library gift:
WHEREAS, Mr. Andrew Carnegie has offered to give the City of San Diego, California, the sum of Fifty Thousand ($50,000) Dollars to erect a building for a free public library and reading room, upon the condition that the said City of San Diego obligates itself to maintain a free public library therein, from the taxes, furnish a sum of from five thousand to six thousand dollars per year for its maintenance, and provide a site for such building.
AND WHEREAS, It is desired of this Common Council for and on behalf of said City to accept said gift upon said terms and conditions.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, By the Common Council of the City of San Diego, as follows:
That this Common Council, for and on behalf of the said City of San Diego, extend to Mr. Andrew Carnegie the heart-felt thanks of the citizens of San Diego as an expression of their appreciation of the munificent gift tendered by Mr. Carnegie to this City.
An that the said Common Council, for and on behalf of the said City, accepts such gift and hereby agrees to procure a site for such library building, pledges the good faith of the said City, and to furnish from five thousand to six thousand dollars per year from the taxes for the care and maintenance of such library and building, when erected. (Joint Resolution No. 1205, 1889, November 6).