Cheryl A. Brown

University of New Hampshire

English and Women's Studies


Mentor: Laurel Ulrich, Professor of History and Patricia Hill-Zeigler, Ph.D. candidate in History

Illuminating the Silhouette: The women, men, and events behind the founding of the Portsmouth Public Library

The public library in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, opened January 1, 1881. The circumstances surrounding the foundation of the public library are a fine example of the benefit to communities which the merge of religious and secular make possible.

The churches in Portsmouth, comprised of active and committed members, have been instrumental in the rich fabric of life in the city for four centuries, one such church is South Parish. In 1871, with an eloquent verbal nudge by the Reverend Mr. James DeNormandie, the Unitarian South Parish in conjunction with the Universalist society opened The Young People's Union." The Union was located "..on the corner of Congress and Vaughan room was for classes, one for games, and one for a reception-room and library."

The Union survived until at least 1875. It's books and furnishings were stored until 1880 by the South Parish. In that year, a prominent member of South Parish, Miss Mary A. Foster, became the catalyst that sparked the birth of the public library. Through her instigation and former Union librarian Mr. Robert E. Rich's expertise, the books that had been stored were "..arranged and catalogued, with the object of loaning them to the people of the city That collection, of one thousand volumes, originally intended to be a social library for young people, with the work of several prominent citizens, the majority of whom were communicants of South Parish, was the nucleus around which the Portsmouth Public library grew.

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