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"A Group of Librarians in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (including Tessa Kelso)," 1897. Courtesy of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign via Illinois Digital Heritage Hub.

Among the countless professional women who have worked in America’s libraries to serve their patrons, a number of women librarians were also pioneers who made major contributions to librarianship and stood up for women’s rights within the profession. Here are just a few of their stories.

Adelaide Hasse (1868-1953) was the originator of the system for classifying government documents, and a tireless advocate for higher wages for women and women’s suffrage. Her conflicts with male supervisors and New York Public Library’s male board of trustees would eventually cost her her job.

Tessa Kelso was the controversial Los Angeles City Librarian, who, from 1889 to 1895,  transformed Los Angeles Public Library using methods considered radical in their moment. She abolished membership fees, agitated for open stacks, and established the first systematic training of any type for library employees.

In 1948, African American activist and librarian Jean Blackwell Hutson was appointed acting curator of the Division of Negro Literature, History, and Prints at the 135th Street/Countee Cullen branch of NYPL. Over the next thirty-two years, Hutson would lead the growth of the collection and the development of the Schomburg Collection for Research in Black Culture—now an international research institution and a leader in its field.

Mary Wright Plummer helped found and then directed the Pratt Institute Library School, a progressive alternative to elitism in turn-of-the-century library education. Along with her colleague Josephine Rathbone, she pioneered education for children’s librarians. Elected in 1915, Plummer also served as the second female president of the American Library Association.