Development of educational institutions in the early pioneer days coincided with the Public Library Movement. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as population and towns grew larger, middle-class institutions began to appear. Librarianship was an emerging, low-paying profession.
Credit for establishing the new frontier’s libraries generally goes to the local Women’s Clubs, whose voluntary activities included setting up local reading rooms and collecting books to furnish reading material to lend.
The Women’s Club was initially founded in 1890, initially focusing on self-improvement and culture, then moving into the realm of community service. The federation grew and the women involved firmly believed they could benefit society and make America a better place to live for all.
By 1904, the Woman’s Club had established 474 free public libraries and 4,655 traveling libraries. By the 1930’s, numerous chapters of the Women’s Club were credited with the establishment of 75% of the country’s public libraries.
Over the past 100 years, these women not only established libraries and scholarships, they established social reform with supporting the arts, preserving natural resources, promoting education, encouraging healthy lifestyles, stressed civic involvement, and worked toward world peace, believing that the female influence would yield a richer society for all.
One past librarians for the Bridgeport Library was Fern Hackler (our first librarian), Louis Estill, Viola Shepherd, Alice Estill, Florence Cramer, Sondra Foster, and Donna Nelson.
The Bridgeport Public Library first opened its doors in 1905 by members of the Bridgeport Women’s Club, donating the library’s very first books. These donated books were housed in a little white building on Bridgeport’s main street.
By 1916, the Women’s Club had 200-300 books on the shelves, relying on volunteers and local monetary donations to keep the services open and available to the public. At one time, the library was actually set up in the restroom lounge of the Morrill County court house.
In 1919, Charles Henry Morrill, for whom the county was named, presented a generous donation of $500 to the Women’s Club library project which was put to good use. However, during a temporary suspension of the Women’s Club in the 1920’s, the women were forced to store all the books in barrels in various basements through out the community.
The library books were finally brought out again in July 1922, when the City of Bridgeport acquired management of the library (and the books), governing it under the direction of five board members, Judge Hurd serving as its first chairman. At that time, the library shelved their books in a small residential building until a “reactivated” Women’s Club built a club house in December 1927, renting it to the library board for the public use of the book collection. It remained at that location until the dedication of the present-day building in 1969.