Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Development of Public Libraries in Progressive-Era North Carolina, 1896–1929
by Manzo, Robert Michael, M.A., Western Carolina University, 2020, 155; 27743721
Abstract (Summary)

My research traces the history of one type of educational institution in North Carolina from the beginning to the end of the Southern progressive movement. Progressivism was a national movement that re-interpreted the role of the state in the nation’s economic and social life. Reformers as different as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson espoused a theory of positive government, meaning that government had a responsibility to meet more than just the basic needs of citizens. As a result, the administrative bureaucracy of government at all levels—federal, state, county, and city—grew to unprecedented size during the first quarter of the twentieth century. New agencies, commissions, and boards exercised new or expanded control over such matters as public health, education, interstate trade, and road construction. Although the liberal social-justice ideals of progressivism were somewhat restrained in the traditionally conservative Southern states, they still had a transformative impact. With efficiency and expertise as the guiding keywords of the era, a proliferation of government and voluntary organizations developed detailed strategic plans to address a range of social and economic problems. Public libraries were one such organization. They were supported by civic clubs, operated under the auspices of government, dedicated to serving citizens’ educational needs, and managed by experts in the novel discipline of library science. Using the interpretive framework of progressivism, I show how public libraries fit into the broad context of educational reform, civic activism, and government expansion that characterized progressivism from the 1890s to the Great Depression. The force of new progressive theories about society and government, and the reality of economic hardship that invited the intervention of such theories, finally tipped the South away from unyielding suspicion of big government and allowed new institutions, like the public library, to emerge. To be sure, conservatism tempered reform in North Carolina and the South. For example, public libraries mostly remained off limits to African-Americans until after World War II, although some independent libraries were started by middle-class black citizens who advocated the principle of self-help. Only three scholars have addressed the emergence of public libraries in North Carolina, and only two have addressed the context of progressive-era reform. State archivist Thornton W. Mitchell prepared a brief 1983 report summarizing library history over two centuries, including early church, college, and state libraries. More recently, Dr. James V. Carmichael, Jr. has assessed the unique opportunities for women in the library profession in North Carolina, as well as the mixed record of Southern librarians in challenging the region’s conservatism and racism in the early twentieth century. Lastly, Dr. Patrick M. Valentine has treated the role of both homegrown and Northern philanthropy in financing North Carolina public libraries from 1900 up to World War II. My own approach is to use trade publications, newspapers, and secondary works to bring out the deeper connections between the broad context of progressivism and the emergence of the specific institution of the public library in North Carolina.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Macaulay, Alexander
Commitee: Engel, Mary Ella, Graham, Gael
School: Western Carolina University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- North Carolina
Source: MAI 82/1(E), Masters Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: American history, Education history, American studies
Keywords: Library history, North Carolina history, Progressivism, Public libraries, Southern history, Women's history
Publication Number: 27743721
ISBN: 9798662485884
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