Why Librarianship is a “Women’s Profession”


Kristen Baldwin
School of Information Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
August 10, 2007
L&I SCI 891
Final Paper



            Librarianship is a women’s profession.  Anyone who has attended a library all staff meeting, a library conference, or even just visited their local library can clearly see women working in library professions.  At conferences and staff days, we all joke about turning the men’s restrooms into women’s, and making the 5 guys walk across the street.            

There is empirical data to back up the widely held notion that librarianship is a female intensive profession; as of 1980, there were 136,000 librarians in the United States, and 84.6 % of them were women.  Membership in the American Library Association was over 40,000 that year, with 78.3 % of them women. (Phenix, 1987) Although the numbers may have gone up since the 1980’s, the percentages probably remain close to the same. 

We know that librarianship is women’s profession, we’ve seen it, and we have the numbers to back it up.  But how often do we stop and wonder why?  Why is librarianship a female profession?  How did it get this way?  Why does it remain so?

Library history has stayed somewhat isolated from other work on U.S. social history.  Library history is not very present in our own professional literature, and when it is, it is usually read in graduate schools and by those engaged in writing it. (Pritchard, 2004)  Except for biographies, women are generally neglected in library history, mainly due to male dominance in director and upper management positions.  Yet, women are here, working and shaping this profession, and I again beg the question, how did we get here?

Literature Review

Early American Libraries
American librarianship began as a male profession due to the fact that scholarly learning was considered strictly the domain of men, and so was off-limits to women.  But America was changing in the mid to late 1800’s and librarianship began to evolve.  American society was changing from rural farming to an urban industrialized economy.  With this transformation came a change in the working lives of men and women.  Women began working in textile mills producing similar domestic products they had traditionally done in the home. Once a woman was married, however, she was not expected to work outside the home, as she would be needed to care for her family. (Williams, 1995)

As women came out of their fields, and off of their farms, their primary focus became housework and childcare, changing the perception of them to genteel domestic, maternal beings. (Williams, 1995) “According to this view, the world was naturally divided into public and private spheres, with men ruling the former and women the latter.  In ruling her home sphere, the ideal middle class woman embodied the qualities of piety, purity, submissiveness, domesticity, and nurturance.” (Jenkins, 1996)  These qualities would stay with women for a good, long time. 

In the late 1800’s, public libraries were emerging all over the United States.  Initially, when these libraries needed assistants, they looked to young men and boys to fill the positions.  As these young men grew older, they realized that they were qualified for other, better paying positions, without the long hours a library position demanded.  Many young men simply felt that library work was a stepping stone in which to gain experience and then move on to other work.  This occurred often enough that many small library district committees began to get distraught over the frequent vacancies in employment, and began to consider hiring young women on temporary, trial bases as assistants.  It did not occur to these committees that the situation they had to offer would be so much sought after.  An example of an ad comes from the Manchester Public Free Libraries as inserted into the Manchester Guardian of September 5, 1871:  “Manchester Public Free Libraries – Wanted, a respectable, intelligent young woman as assistant in the Free Libraries.  Apply to the Chief Librarian, Campfield.”  (Weibel, 1979)  This advertisement brought in many more candidates than they had vacancies, and initially three women were hired at six shillings per week.  The experiment answered itself in every way, the young ladies had very good attendance, worked hard in their duties, were polite and courteous to borrowers, and seemed contented with their employment and position.  Very few left their position, except for poor health or to get married (Weibel, 1979 )  The libraries liked to keep one male youth around, for “there are qualities in which the female assistants are scarcely equal to male ones…he is better for any rough work there may be, such as opening and shutting windows, going errands, also in reaching books from the higher shelves…but for attendance on readers and applicants for books, they prefer the girls.”  (Weibel, 1979) 

American society was becoming more focused on production and consumption, and more and more women had to look for waged work.  White, educated, middle-class women were expected to take work that still allowed her to use her natural abilities and qualities of purity, submissiveness, domesticity, and nurturance.  Librarianship began to be promoted as a perfect career for a woman.  Periodicals such as The Dial, Ladies Home Journal, and World’s Work promoted librarianship as an ideal occupation for the educated woman who wished to make a positive contribution to society.  In the February 1900 issue of Ladies Home Journal, an article titled, “What It Means to be a Librarian” prompted many women throughout the country to request application materials from the nation’s library schools. (Passet, 1994)  This and other articles promoted library work as a form of educational service analogous with teaching.  Between 1888 and 1921, approximately 94 % of the forty-five hundred library school graduates were female. (Passet, 1994) 

In the late nineteenth century, new European immigrants began to replace women in textile factories, and there began a shortage of men to fill jobs requiring education due to the Civil War.  Young women, whose families could afford it, went to newly established women’s colleges and training programs. (Williams, 1995) But where did these colleges and training programs for libraries originate?  And why were women considered in the first place?

Melvil Dewey
“Any consideration of women in U.S. Libraries today must begin with Melvil Dewey.”  (Lemke, 1976)    

“Why there are so many women librarians today is usually attributed to Dewey’s influence and due, in large part, to his opening of the first professional library school in the world.” (Prescott, 2001)    Melvil Dewey, the creator of the Dewey Decimal Classification, is an icon in U.S. library history.  Library work was but one of his many endeavors, but he threw himself into it whole heartedly.  As he worked to promote his decimal classification system, he realized that to become universally accepted, it must be taught.  In 1883, Columbia College asked him to be their head librarian, he soon thereafter persuaded the trustees to let him open a library school as well.  What he neglected to tell the trustees, however, was that he intended to admit women, which was a problem due to the fact that at that time Columbia only allowed women to attend a special women’s college. (Prescott, 2001) 

There are many conflicting ideas surrounding Dewey’s reasoning for opening up the occupation to women, and some say it was exploitative, while others feel it was enabling.  One scholar says, “In fairness to Dewey, we must credit him with opening up the profession to women, not because they would provide cheap clerks, but because he was a practical person who looked at the market objectively.  He hoped college educated women would help to upgrade professional performance and with it, the image of librarianship. (Lemke, 1976) Yet, others feel Dewey had ulterior motives; “Dewey has been honored as a man who respected women’s abilities, brought them into library work as professionals, and lost his job at Columbia in doing so.  At the same time, there has been the undercurrent of snickering uneasiness about Dewey’s real motives for surrounding himself with women students and coworkers.” (Beck, 1996) 

Melvil Dewey was an eccentric.  One of the most energetic and messianic figures in American library history.  He is described as being emotionally dependent on women, though he shared his life with his wife Annie, who was often away, he always had a group of women “disciples,” some of whom even lived in his home (Beck, 1996).  Dewey had been, more than once, accused of “obscene and criminal attacks on women librarians.” (Beck, 1996) Adelaide Hasse, a New York Public Library Librarian, and her mentor, Tessa Kelso, were two of whom Dewey was professionally involved with, and both of whom were also targets of Dewey’s “affections.”  However, Hasse, realizing that Dewey’s obnoxious behavior could affect her career, wanted to handle the matter of her harassment privately.  She also recognized that “public association with scandal could damage her career and opportunities for women librarians generally. (Beck, 1996)  Dewey himself said, “I was so different from other men and had so much more trust in women.  Pure women will understand my ways.” (Beck, 1996) 

Dewey’s encouragement of women entering into the field of librarianship certainly did change it.  His ideas, whatever the basis for them, spread, for the feminization of American Libraries proceeded rapidly.  In 1852, the first woman clerk was hired at the Boston Public Library, but by 1878, two thirds of the library workers were female.  In 1910, 78 ½ percent of library workers in the United States were women.  The only profession that surpassed librarianship as the most feminized profession was teaching. (Garrison, 1972) 

Educated women met resistance when attempting to enter into more established professions, and so flooded into library work during the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  The profession of librarianship was new and fast-growing.  It was in need of educated recruits that would accept low pay.  Male librarians offered little or no opposition to the proliferation of women library workers, as there was no shortage of jobs. (Garrison, 1972)  Librarianship was the perfect occupation for women of that era, people liked the nurturing, genteel woman welcoming patrons, and women were willing to work for a much lower salary.  In Justin Windsor’s famous words, “In American libraries we set a high value on women’s work.  They soften our atmosphere, they lighten our labour, they are equal to our work, and for the money they cost – if we must gauge such labour by such rules – they are infinitely better than equivalent salaries will produce of the other sex.”  (Weibel, 1979)  Even Dewey, the supposed champion of women in librarianship, had a list of reasons why women should get paid less for equivalent work.  The first of these reasons is that “women have usually poorer health and as a result lose more time from illness and are more crippled by physical weakness when on duty.”  (Weibel, 1979)  The second of his reasons is that women lack business and executive training; and third that women lack any permanence in her plans, that she will work only temporarily, then leave it for “home life.”  (Weibel, 1979)  But even if the woman is healthy and strong, has had business training, and shows a desire for permanence in the workplace, she still should not receive equal pay, according to Dewey, because “if a man can do all the other work as well as the woman and in addition can, in an emergency, lift a heavy case, or climb a ladder to the roof…or in case of emergency can act as fireman or do police duty, he adds something to his direct value” of which the woman cannot. (Weibel, 1979) 

Female Intensive Professions, now
Dee Garrison (1972), a very well-known historian, has suggested that librarianship became a female intensive profession, that it was feminized, to carry out the late-nineteenth century ideas of gentility, purity, passivity, and nurturance, and that the profession, and institution, has suffered ever since.  Garrison believes that the “foremost barrier to the evolution of libraries, and librarians as scholarly professionals, was not so much Dewey’s bent for the utilitarian side of things, but the feminization of the profession, which he also encouraged (Pritchard, 2004).  In opposition to previous historians of the field, Garrison feels that the entry of women into the field was not so much a benefit to individual women and the profession, but that “library work itself perpetuated the low status of women and that feminization, in turn, affected the low status of the profession.” (Pritchard, 1979)  Garrison blames women themselves, for many of this time advised other women not to go outside proper female behaviors when entering into the public sphere, and that working was not a form of revolution in their roles, but rather an extension of their traditional roles and values. (Pritchard, 2004) 

When women began waged work in great numbers in the late nineteenth century, a new definition of femininity was required, which, Garrison argues, means a new ideology was developed.  This ideology was that the “feminine mind and nature were innately suited” for particular kinds of work. (Harris, 1992)  Garrison says, “Thus it was decided that teaching was just like mothering…women doctors and nurses were intuitively kind, sympathetic, and delicate of touch.  Women social workers expressed inborn feminine qualities of love, charity, and idealism.  Factory, business, and clerical work fit the feminine nature, for women were naturally industrious, sober, and nimble-fingered, as well as better able than men to endure the boredom of detailed or repetitive tasks.” (Garrison as quoted by Harris, 1992) 

It is a common perception today that female-intensive professions are of less value and status, and that anyone could do them.  People are still surprised when they learn that it requires a master’s degree to be a librarian.  Insiders to the profession see a shift.  “It seems that the kind of people the profession attracts hasn’t changed that much.  Perceptions, world views, and attitudes toward women have changed a great deal so that the librarian is now viewed in a new light.” (Detlefsen, et. al., 1991)  Yet, to outsiders, librarians are seen just as a clerk, a public servant.  The dominant image of “genteel traditionalism” still lingers.  (Harris, 1992) 

Today, recruitment is a big issue.  Harris (1992) says, “Recruitment involves not just attracting greater numbers of people to the female-intensive fields, but bringing in ‘better’ people, thereby enhancing the status of [this] profession.”  Also, Lemke (1976) points out that the reason librarianship is still a women’s profession today is due to the fact that there are still some of the same prejudices alive today which Dewey analyzed as typical of his time.  Social and cultural views and changes have very deep roots and can be very slow to change. (Lemke, 1976)    


            I did a textual study into the effects Melvil Dewey, popular publications and writing, and the society of the time influenced women to enter into librarianship, thus turning it into a women’s profession.

I interpreted past events in light of current issues.  The idea being that by examining the past, we can create a better understanding of present conditions.  In this instance, I have tried to understand why librarianship is a women’s profession. 

I examined historical writings and documents, primary sources, and current thought.  I sought texts from this time period when librarianship became female intensive, and well as later texts that examined similar themes.  I looked for themes concerning women being encouraged into the field and reasons why. 

In my investigations into why librarianship is a women’s profession, I found four main themes that directly lead to the answer to my question.  The first of these concerns the urbanization of America, and the ‘woman question’ that urbanization posed.  The second theme is the dramatic increase in the number of public libraries across the country.  The third theme relates to Melvil Dewey and his first library school, which admitted women.  And though all the themes are interrelated, the last theme concerns image, and the common thought that women are well-suited for library work.

Urbanization of America
The American labor market changed in the decades following the Civil War; America became industrialized.  There was a significant decline in the number of workers employed in agriculture, and a growth of a wage-earning labor force in manufacturing.  There was also a rise in “new” white-collar occupations that reflected this transition from agricultural to an industrial economy.  (Archer, 1991) 

Women had come out of the fields, and into the home.  Now, as an industrialized American society focused on production and consumption, women were needed less in the home, and more in the labor market.  That is, until the woman married.  After marriage, the woman was expected to quit paid employment, and work in the home, caring for her home, husband, and family. 

During this time period, many women were also engaged in the suffrage movement, and were becoming better educated.  Social roles for women were changing.  The ‘woman question’ was gaining urgency among urbanized areas as the growing numbers of well-educated middle-class women grew.  What were we to do with them?  Many more women were not marrying, but instead seeking paid employment in order to support themselves.  (Dombkowski, 2002)  There were a limited number of jobs available to women, however.  A perusal of The New York Times classified advertisement page from December 20, 1851 gives only one position open to a female, that of a private nurse.  (Classified Ad, 1851) By the 1920’s, there are pages of positions open to women, but they are limited in type, mainly stenographers, clerks, milliners, and salesladies.  These ads are also very specific in the age and marital status of the applicants.  The age varies by position, but all require that the women applying be single. 

In 1855, any librarian position advertised in The New York Times sought a male applicant, (New York City: Librarian Wanted, 1855) but by 1914, females were sought.  (Classified Ad, 1914)  During this time, men sought better-paying white-collar employment, leaving library work for women.

Public Library growth in the United States
In the early nineteenth century, public libraries were not in abundance.  There were a few proprietary and subscription libraries; voluntary associations of people with similar backgrounds, income, and social levels.  These institutions began to give way to stronger institutions supported by taxation and free to all.  (Bobinski, 1969)     

The urbanization of America led to many societal changes.  There was a general rising prosperity.  There was a forward march in science and technology, and greater specialization in occupations which placed an emphasis on reading as self-improvement.  American literature and book publishing were growing, as there was a ‘cultural and intellectual awakening’ in the nation.  Democracy’s growth demanded an enlightened citizenship; an informed electorate was a better electorate.  Publicly supported libraries were heralded as agencies for the improvement and benefit of all.  Public libraries were seen as a way to not only morally elevate, but to prevent or reduce the problems that urbanization brings, i.e. crime, alcoholism, gambling, prostitution, and juvenile delinquency.  People were working shorter hours, due to the growing prosperity and the rise of labor unions, and had more leisure time, more financial ability, and a personal desire to support libraries.  (Bobinski, 1969) 

Libraries still remained an urban phenomenon, but by 1896, all major cities of the twenty states that enacted enabling laws for public libraries had public libraries, totaling 971 libraries with one thousand or more volumes.  (Bobinski, 1969)
Philanthropy was the major reason why public libraries exploded in the United States.  During the twenty-five to thirty years after the Civil War, there was an era of philanthropy in the United States.  There was a concentration of immense wealth in the hands of a relatively few who had no income or corporate taxes to pay, and brought about huge surpluses which were expended in large part for charitable, religious, and educational purposes.  (Bobinski, 1969)

Although many people donated generously to the libraries, none did so as Andrew Carnegie.  Carnegie public library philanthropy in the United States began in 1886.  Carnegie used 90% of his fortune - $333,000,000 - for “the improvement of mankind,” $56,162,622 for the construction of 2509 library buildings throughout the English speaking world.  More than $40,000,000 of this was for 1679 public library buildings in 1412 communities in the United States.  (Bobinski, 1969)

Mr. William F. Poole said in 1876 (Green, 1913) that “the rapid increase in the number and importance of public libraries…is perhaps the most marked feature of educational development during the past twenty-five years; for within this brief period the first of them was opened to the public.”   In 1884-85 there were in the United States, 5338 public libraries of three hundred volumes or more.  In 1875 there were 3682 such libraries, including 2958 of five hundred volumes, and 724 of three hundred to five hundred.  These figures show an annual increase of one hundred and fifty or so libraries of this size during the eleven years between 1875 and 1886.  (Green, 1913)

As public libraries grew across the nation, the need for staff in these libraries also increased.  Initially, public libraries sought young men to fill positions.  However, with the growth and prosperity of the country, more and more jobs were becoming available to young, educated, middle-class men.  They began to view the library as a stepping stone to higher paying employment.  Library trustees began to get distraught over frequent vacancies. In 1852, the first woman clerk was hired at the Boston Public Library, and by 1878, two-thirds of the library workers there were female.  (Garrison, 1979)
The rapid growth of libraries in size and number was an important cause of the feminization of librarianship.  This heavy demand for trained librarians corresponded with an advance of women’s education, and growth of the middle-class.  Male librarians whole-heartily welcomed women into the profession, but more importantly, male library leaders welcomed women due to the low cost of hiring them.  (Garrison, 1979)   

The first library school
“An event of great importance in the library movement marked the beginning of the year 1887.  The first library school was successfully opened, January 5, at Columbia College.”  (Green, 1913)  Melvil Dewey was, in 1883, asked to be the head librarian at Columbia College.  Soon thereafter, he persuaded them to let him open a library school as well.  Dewey also decided that women should be allowed to attend this course.  To what degree the college knew and approved of this decision is under much speculation.  Some say the school was outraged at allowing women to attend, forcing Dewey to use old storage space as a classroom.  Others say that the school paid this decision very little mind.  In any case, Dewey had opened a new door.  The New York Times on November 1, 1885 stated that at a meeting concerning the higher education of women, “Mr. Melville Dewey, a librarian at Columbia College, spoke about the adaptability of college women to library work.”  (The Higher Education of Women, 1885)  “A lively interest had been awakened by Mr. Dewey among prospective pupils by addresses in Brooklyn and Boston in 1886 to graduates of women’s colleges on “Women in Libraries,” and “Librarianship as a Profession for College-bred Women.”  (Green, 1913)

Melvil Dewey was a known eccentric.  His reasons for wanting women students and colleagues is unclear.  Some champion him for opening the profession to women, while others criticize him for his sexist comments and unprofessional behavior towards women.  “Tall, powerfully built, handsome, personally magnetic, he was beloved by many and drew to him a group of unusually talented and otherwise self-sufficient women whose loyalty to him was supreme and who followed him, harem-like, for decades, from one of his homes to another.”  (Garrison, 1979)

Some modern feminist librarians view Dewey as an object of ridicule due to his rakish reputation, “Like what did you really have in mind, Mel baby, when you hotly defended the right of women to library education and then made the attracted young ladies put their bosom measurements on their application?”  (Garrison, 1979)  Although it has been proven that bust measurements were not actually requested on the application, height, weight, and hair and eye color were.  The bosom rumor does disclose popular sentiment, however.

Dewey’s sexism was apparent immediately as the School of Library Economy at Columbia College was being planned.  As Dewey began to select his staff, he openly recruited educated women; spinsters were highly welcomed, as he stressed that only those whose desired permanent, lifelong work need apply.  “Above all Dewey played upon women’s proclivity to fulfill the traditional feminine role – as sacrificial servants, as ministers of morality, as cultural guides.”  (Garrison, 1979)  Dewey wanted women in subordinate positions, allowing men to take administrative posts, unless the women were unusually ambitious, of the middle-class, and, of course, unmarried.  (Forrest, 2005)

The first class in the new library school consisted of twenty pupils, seventeen of which were women.  The next year there were twenty-two pupils, sixteen of which were women.  “Women have always largely predominated in the composition of the classes.”  (Green 1913) 

Dewey seemed a benevolent, yet intensely domineering lord who reigned over his staff and students.  “He received them in his home several times a week, regaled them with entertainment, enthralled them with his visions, and took a close interest in their professional and personal lives.”  (Garrison, 1979)    Three spinsters became his most loyal companions.  Florence Woodworth shared his home for seventeen years, and acted as mother to his son Godfrey when Annie Dewey, Melvil’s wife, was away.  May Seymour, who was brilliant but comely, and unmarried, was Dewey’s closest confidante.  She retired with him to Lake Placid after thirty-four years as his private secretary.  Mary Salome Cutler was the real director of the library school, continuing to work even after she married.  (Garrison, 1979)

In 1888, Dewey left Columbia College for Albany, where he would work in the New York State Library.  The trustees where as happy to see Dewey go as Dewey was himself.  His imperious ways, his misuse of moneys, and his treatment of women were beginning to give him a bad reputation. 

Melvil Dewey was tricky with numbers, always keeping indecipherable books, and this later got him into trouble.  Not only was he accused of profiteering from the Library Bureau, but also of paying factory wages to women with college degrees.  Dewey acknowledged paying low salaries, boasting about time clocks and would dock half a days pay if a woman was even five minutes late.  (Garrison, 1979)

Dewey spent a lot of time, circa 1905, in his home at Lake Placid.  He was very involved in the American Library Association, but his resignation was soon to be called for.  Though no one knows the exact details, four prominent women in ALA were ready to testify to improprieties and two of which would resign, if Dewey did not, for occurrences during an Alaskan ALA trip.  They charged Dewey with forcing unwelcome attention upon some unidentified woman, who Mary Ahern, one of Dewey’s most loyal defenders, said that she “was made the recipient of several tearful confidings from the girls that Dewey had disturbed.”  (Garrison, 1979)  Even Annie, Dewey’s wife, said that Dewey “had been most unwise in his unconventional manner with women” in a way that she did not “in the least excuse.”  (Garrison, 1979)

Many feel that Melvil Dewey is one of the main reasons why the librarian profession did not evolve into a scholar-librarian in charge of distribution of books to the public.  The main reason was the overwhelming presence women into the profession.  “Women librarians could not be accorded intellectual leadership, because they were women, and the standards of ‘femininity’ prevented them from seeking such a role themselves.”  (Garrison, 1979)  Many also feel that the presence of women also lessened the attraction of educated men to the field, which kept wages low, and ensured that it would remain a female profession.

Library Work is Well-Suited to Women
Although Justin Winsor, the first president of the ALA, is famously quoted for his opinion of women in librarianship, many of his contemporaries felt as he did.  A report from the federal government published in 1876 summed up women in librarianship in this way:  “Women should be employed as librarians and assistants as far as possible, as the nature of the duties is, to a great extent, and in many cases, suited to them.  Where the work is too heavy, men must be employed instead.  Precautions will sometimes be needed against curious troubles arising from the fact that women in such places often do not get along with other women as well as men do.”  (Forrest, 2005)

The Ladies Home Journal in February of 1900 printed an article by Herbert Putnam entitled, “What it Means to be a Librarian.”  In this article he enlightens the reader as to why library work is so well adapted to women. First he states that it has many analogies with teaching, in that it has similar qualifications and demands, and both deal with material that is agreeable.  He also states that a village library is much like a social center, its constituency is mostly women and children, and a woman in charge may have better understanding of their needs, women will meet them more sympathetically, and women can “endure with better patience the constant repetition of questions which women and children ask.”  (Putnam, 1900)  Putnam goes on to say that in the purely executive positions, men are still preferred.  On the subject on compensation, he feels that women do not receive equal pay to men because they “do not as a class bring equivalent bibliographic knowledge, or because a woman’s work averages less than that of a man, or because the services of any one woman cannot be made available in directions so various.”  (Putnam, 1900)  These sentiments are clearly reminiscent of Dewey. 

Comments about women in librarianship from the beginning have dominantly focused on explaining differences in achievement in terms of differences in personal characteristics between the sexes and in their differing social and occupational expectations.  A statement from 1880 by Alderman Thomas Baker describes female library workers as “regular in their attendance, attentive in their duties…and contented with their employment and position.”  (quoted by Burrington, 1987)  Marion Wilden-Hart (1956) feels that women improve the appearance of libraries, and their instincts are to serve others.  Wilden-Hart also feels that women need constant praise, and to reach higher positions they would need more encouragement and help.  They should be given opportunities in lower status positions, but few women would be able to cope with the problems associated with higher status without damaging their health.  (Wilden-Hart, 1956)
From the time that women entered into library work, they were welcomed because it was thought that they could provide a useful contribution by extending their traditional role as caregiver, and because they ‘decorated’ – by their physical presence – and improved – by their domestic talents – their surroundings in the library.  (Burrington, 1987)  Little has been said about women of this time coming into librarianship because it would “challenge their capabilities” or to “satisfy their personal goals and life style.”  (Baum, 1992)  Historical precedent coupled with society’s acceptance of certain work roles as acceptable for one sex or the other has promoted an environment of limitations on women’s occupational options.

            Librarianship is a female intensive profession.  It emerged as such in the middle to late nineteenth century when the country was in the midst of change.  America was emerging as an industrialized, urban society requiring women to join the waged labor force.  Urbanized communities were full of people wanting better education, having more recreational time, and looking to better themselves.  Thus, public libraries across the country sprang up.  Generous philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie helped the public library phenomenon reach many communities.  Melvil Dewey began the first library school, and not only allowed women to enter, but encouraged them. 

As the United States urbanized, women did not have to work the land, and so entered the home as the primary caregiver to the family.  Women thus began to be seen as maternal, and the ideas of purity, gentility, passivity, and nurturance were at once hers.  These ideas in the late nineteenth century feminized any field in which women worked.  Thus, as women were ushered into librarianship, the profession was quickly feminized.  Working in librarianship was less of a revolutionary move, but more of an extension of traditional roles and values, brought to the public sphere. 

Men still held upper management and director positions, and were happy to have women fill lower positions due to the fact that they could pay them so much less, and because their maternal qualities made them so well suited to the profession.  It was thought that women would not remain in library work for a sufficient amount of time to be competing with men for senior salary posts.  The public library was supported by taxes and voluntary donations, so they were, by necessity, forced to be ‘thifty’ and pay as low of salaries as possible.  The continuing low pay assured the field would remain in the realm of women.

Today, many of the same rationales are used to explain why librarianship still remains a female intensive profession.  It is commonly thought that women miss work more often, due to illness or family obligations, though this has been disproved.  Also, women’s professions are commonly undervalued by society, therefore wages remain low.  Some argue that women today choose their professions more so based on balance and freedom, without the hindrance of trying to acquire power.  While there are others whi still maintain that women are better suited for ‘care’ professions.  There is an image of the librarian that will live on in our society for quite some time.

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