Rare books don’t have a gender. However, bibliographers do and the overwhelming majority has been male. I’m a collector drawn to new paths and over the years I’ve gathered material related to early American women bibliographers active in the pre-WWII era before 1941. My recent research on Henrietta C. Bartlett raised a deceptively simple question. Who was the first American women bibliographer to compose a bibliography and have her name on the title-page? The following essay attempts to answer that question and shed light on other pre-WWII practitioners. I felt like an explorer in an uncharted jungle at times, machete in hand, hacking away but making progress. I have little doubt I have missed a find or two in my exploration and welcome input.
The parameters of my search are bibliographies focusing on rare books and / or first editions. These would be of book-length or substantial pamphlets (no separates or offprints) and explicitly credit the woman bibliographer as author / compiler. The definition of a bibliography demands some leeway as there are many different forms. A simple checklist for example would not qualify in my hunt but a well-researched short-title catalogue might.
There are cases of biblio-women assisting with bibliographies (including some of the women noted here) who should have garnered a varsity position on the title-page but instead were relegated to an acknowledgement. But that is another story beyond the present scope.
I contemplated saving the earliest located bibliography for last to heighten the intrigue but that just didn’t seem bibliographical. So, let’s get to it. The oldest example I’ve found is Nina E. Browne’s A Bibliography of Nathaniel Hawthorne (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1905). The book was designed by Bruce Rogers and issued in an edition of 550 copies. The publisher’s prospectus states that “It contains, along with the entry of Hawthorne’s published work, whether in book form or in old magazines or newspapers, everything that can be discovered in print about Hawthorne, in both books and periodicals. Much pains have been given to the arrangement to make it as helpful as possible, both to the literary worker, and to the collector.”
Nina Browne (1860-1954), earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Smith College (1882 /1885), and then enrolled in Melvil Dewey’s fledgling school of Library Economy at Columbia College. The biographical sketch in the finding aid to her papers at Smith College records, “The school was established in 1887 by Melvil Dewey, then the chief university librarian. Browne later noted that ‘when the trustees decided to have the library school, no one of them had a notion that women would come. Because women came, that rule forbidding a woman to enter a classroom forced Mr. Dewey to find a place for the newcomers. He found it in this old building hitherto used as a storeroom.’”
The sketch continues, “Columbia did not grant degrees to the classes prior to 1889 and the library program was moved to the University of the State of New York (now SUNY Albany). After being appointed State Librarian of New York in 1889, Dewey petitioned the university to offer a test to graduates from his early classes which required submitting to sixteen proficiency examinations, a compiled subject bibliography, and a thesis. Browne and one other student were the sole participants of this program. Browne was awarded a Bachelor of Library Science from the university in 1891.”
Browne utilized this intensive training to develop a career as a prominent librarian and archivist, working variously at Harvard University, the Boston Athenaeum, and Smith College. She was also heavily involved with the American Library Association serving in various capacities including being a member of the publishing board. To top things off, this proactive woman invented what was known as the Browne Issue System, a systematic way for loaning library books, used widely in the 1890s.
Browne writes of the genesis of her Hawthorne book in the preface, “The Bibliography represents work covering some sixteen years. It was begun in 1888 to fulfill a requirement for graduation at the Library School of Columbia College, but it was not presented for a degree until 1891. . . Thereafter the subject, which had originally been selected because there existed no published Bibliography of Hawthorne, became so fascinating in itself that work upon it has continued to occupy as much of the compiler’s time as could be spared to it. The centenary of Hawthorne so widely observed last summer has aroused such interest in all that pertains to Hawthorne that the present has been thought an auspicious time for making available to the public the mass of material so collected.”
Browne goes on to cite sources as well as her efforts to make the bibliography useful to a variety of readers. Of relevance to book hunters she writes, “Many details have also been included that will, it is hoped, make the work of particular value to collectors.” Among the acknowledgements, she thanks the Grolier Club of New York for permission to make use of their First Editions of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne , and “especially to Mr. P.K. Foley, who has read the proofs.”
Browne’s interaction with the Grolier Club and the utilization of P. K. Foley, then the leading rare book dealer in American literature, shows her immersion not only in the subject but also her active engagement with the rare book world. A Bibliography of Nathaniel Hawthorne has been superseded by later works, but it still stands as an impressive bibliographical achievement, heightened by its status as quite possibly the first significant bibliography by an American woman.
Henrietta C. Bartlett (1873-1963) followed soon after with a series of important publications. She was one of the foremost bibliographers of her time. Bartlett lived most of her life in New Haven, Connecticut and had close ties to Yale through her family. Her mother was a Terry, another prominent New England family along with the Bartlett’s, and her mother’s cousin was the famous book collector Roderick T. Terry (1849-1933). The Dictionary of American Book Collectors says of Terry, “He became a member of the Grolier Club and in that environment was able to enjoy the companionship of such avid collectors as Beverly Chew, William A. White, and John B. Thacher.”
Henrietta Bartlett would serve as private librarian and cataloguer for both Chew and White. Biographical details about Bartlett’s entry into the rare book world are scant but it is likely Terry was involved in some fashion. Bartlett also had a close friendship with Ruth Granniss, the Grolier Club librarian who knew Beverly Chew well. Whatever the point of initiation, Bartlett flourished, working closely with Chew as his private librarian, cataloging his library, and developing an expertise in Shakespeare and Elizabethan literature.
Bartlett’s papers and correspondence are at Yale where in the 1920s and 1930s she gave lectures on bibliography, collecting, and rare books. The list of correspondents in the finding aid is extensive and shows that she was in contact with an incredible range of prominent collectors, dealers, bibliographers, and librarians. She was also involved with the Hroswitha Club, an alternative to the Grolier Club for women when the Grolier Club was men only.
The earliest bibliographic work credited to her name is A Catalogue of the David N. Carvalho Collection of Incunabula Consisting of a Sequence of Dated Books 1470-1499 Together with a Number of Sixteenth Century Books Compiled and Annotated by Henrietta C. Bartlett (NY: Dodd & Livingston, 1911). Bartlett’s collations and descriptions of the 169 items are extremely detailed and reflect a very high skill level. Booksellers Robert Dodd and Luther Livingston offered Carvalho’s collection en bloc for $10,000.
More well-known is the classic bibliography co-authored with eminent British bibliographer Alfred Pollard A Census of Shakespeare’s Plays in Quarto, 1594-1709 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1916). A revised edition was published in 1939. The work provides collations for each edition / issue and gives detailed descriptions of all located copies, including completeness of text, condition, bindings, and other relevant notes. It is also a tour de force of provenance research, providing the ownership history of each copy when known, including quotes from annotations of previous owners. The index is noteworthy as it provides brief biographical sketches of many bookmen and women. Bartlett writes in the introduction to the revised edition, “[The index] includes every name of owner, bookseller, auctioneer, or binder found in the census and should be of use to many who are interested in the history of books other than Shakespeare Quartos.”
The industrious Ms. Bartlett also authored Mr. William Shakespeare: Original and Early Editions of His Quartos and Folios, His Source Books and Those Containing Contemporary Notices (1922) and Catalogue of Early English books, Chiefly of the Elizabethan Period. Collected by William Augustus White and Catalogued by Henrietta C. Bartlett (1926).
Librarian and bibliographer Ruth Granniss (1872-1954) was a close friend of Henrietta Bartlett. As an aside to their bibliographic work, the two women compiled an unusual anthology of poems on the subject of sleep by prominent authors printed in a variety of typefaces titled A Garland of Poppies (NY: De Vinne Press, 1905). Granniss began work at the Grolier Club in New York City in 1903 and in 1906 became librarian, serving in that capacity until 1944. She was heavily involved with the Club’s publications, research, and social activities. However, the only bibliographic publication that credits her on the title-page is A Descriptive Catalogue of the First Editions in Book Form of the Writings of Percy Bysshe Shelley Based on a Memorial Exhibition Held at the Grolier Club from April 20 to May 20, 1922. (NY: The Grolier Club, 1923). Granniss’ introduction explains the writing of the catalogue and traces the history of Shelley as a collected author among American bibliophiles, many of whom she knew first-hand.
Granniss also was the co-author with Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt and Lawrence Wroth of The Book in America: A History of the Making, the Selling, and the Collecting of Books in the United States. (NY: R. R. Bowker Company, 1939). She contributed the section tracing “American Book Collecting and the Growth of Libraries.”
A contemporary of Bartlett and Granniss was Flora V. Livingston (1862-1949) who rose to prominence under tragic circumstances. Her husband was highly-regarded bookman and bibliographer, Luther Livingston. The two met through family matchmaking in the 1890s after Luther was laid up for a few weeks due to a bicycle accident. They married in 1898 and shared a passion not only for books but also plants and gardening.
As Luther gained prominence in the book world, Flora assisted him with his bibliographic projects. Luther was diagnosed with a rare bone disease in 1912. Treatment was sought and a cure looked promising. In 1914, at the peak of his career, an ailing but seemingly improved Luther was hired to be the first curator of the Widener Library at Harvard. The library was built by the Widener family in honor of their son Harry Widener, an avid book collector and friend of Livingston’s, who perished on the Titanic.
On Christmas Eve 1914, Luther Livingston died unexpectedly from his health issues and never assumed his dream job. George Parker Winship, a friend of the Livingston’s and a highly qualified bookman himself, was then selected to become the first curator. In a move both sentimental and brilliant, Flora Livingston was hired as Winship’s assistant. When Winship was promoted to library director in 1926, Flora Livingston became the curator of the Widener Library, a position she held for the next twenty-one years. Flora continued a number of joint bibliographic projects begun with her husband and developed others independently.
Her revised edition of A Bibliography of the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson (London: Frank Hollings, 1917) credits her on the title-page as Mrs. Luther S. Livingston. She writes in the editorial note, “The compiling of this new edition has been a pleasant task in memory of three good friends who spent happy hours together, and who knew Stevenson’s writings so well—Colonel Prideaux, whose work is monumental, Harry Elkins Widener, whose collection has made this task possible, and Luther S. Livingston.”
|Signed by Livingston|
She also avidly pursued the subject of Rudyard Kipling and the resulting Bibliography of the Works of Rudyard Kipling (NY: Edgar H. Wells & Company, 1927) and the supplement volume (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1938)—over 900 pages total-- show Flora in full command of her skills.
August Imholtz, Jr. writes in his essay, “Flora V. Livingston: Curator of the Harry Elkins Widener Collection” (Harvard Library Bulletin, vol. 9, no. 4, 1998): “In the course of collecting, comparing, and analyzing Kipling editions, Flora and her sister-in-law Florence Milner (who had preceded Flora at Harvard and was head of the Farnsworth Memorial Reading Room in the Widener Library) made many trips to England where they visited, for example, with Kipling and his wife at Bateman’s, the Kipling home. During one of those trips, the two Harvard librarians spent an enjoyable few days in the company of William Butler Yeats and his wife. They also met Lewis Carroll’s niece Menella Dodgson and his nephew Major Dodgson. . . .”
This interest in Lewis Carroll eventually resulted in the important bibliographic work by Livingston, The Harcourt Amory Collection of Lewis Carroll in the Harvard College Library (Cambridge: Privately Printed, 1932).
Margaret Stillwell (1887-1984), another prominent bibliographer, shared a common link with Flora Livingston via her connection with George Parker Winship. Winship was the librarian of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University before becoming curator at the Harvard’s Widener Library. Winship hired Stillwell as his “assistant in training” in 1907 during her sophomore year of college at Brown. She worked closely with him for seven years until 1914, when at Winship’s urging she took advantage of an opportunity to work at the New York Public Library with the great bibliographer, Wilberforce Eames. Under Winship’s and Eames’ tutelage she became one of the top women in the rare book field. Stillwell served most of her career as librarian /curator of the Annmary Brown Memorial Library at Brown University. The library contained the collection of Civil War hero and incunabula collector, Rush Hawkins (1831-1920). Hawkins’ early printed books were not the only thing stored at the library. After his death, his ashes were entombed within along with those of his wife.
Stillwell’s exposure to early printed books and Americana led to a number of highly-regarded publications. The first was Incunabula and Americana, 1450-1800: A Key to Bibliographical Study (NY: Columbia University Press, 1931). In the preface, Stillwell expresses her thoughts on the subject, “Bibliographical analysis . . . and the fine points in the technique of the game, should not be mistaken for bibliography itself. Behind the physical make-up and the questions involved in determining the physical origin of a book are an understanding and evaluation of its subject matter. Behind these is the personality of the author. Behind that is the relation of the book and its writer to the thought of the times. Technical analysis is but a means to an end . . . each printed work is given its rightful place among the records of the past. It is in this final aspect that bibliography appears in its true light, and it is through sources and methods such as these herein indicated that the bibliographical study of incunabula and Americana may be undertaken.”
|Copy in the dust jacket|
Stillwell’s most well-known bibliographic contribution was Incunabula in American Libraries: A Second Census of Fifteenth-Century Books Owned in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. (NY: The Bibliographical Society of America, 1940). Although published in 1940, she began work on the Census in the 1920s, building upon work begun by her mentor, Winship. The Census compilation was tedious and exacting and resulted in much contact with a wide variety of librarians and collectors.
As one bibliographer seems to beget another, a young Frederick Goff (1916-1982), a student at Brown, worked as an “assistant in training” with Stillwell on the Census project. Goff would eventually go onto a prominent career as Chief of the Rare Books Division at the Library of Congress. Goff carried on Stillwell’s work and edit the third edition of the Census published in 1964.
Stillwell in her autobiography Librarians are Human: Memories In and Out of the Rare Book World, 1907-1970 (1973) recalls the Census work. On a wider scale, her recollections provide a unique view from a woman’s perspective of a male dominated field. The book is scarce and deserves to be reprinted.
A number of other American women bibliographers received title-page credit for their work in the 1920s and 1930s. Writer and novelist Carolyn Wells (1862-1942) was an avid book collector who formed an excellent collection of Walt Whitman (now at the Library of Congress). She co-authored with New York collector and bookseller, Alfred F. Goldsmith A Concise Bibliography of the Works of Walt Whitman with a Supplement of Fifty Books about Whitman. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1922).
Lucy Eugenia Osborne (1879-1955) began her career in rare books as a cataloguer and assistant to New York bookseller Lathrop Harper, one of the most prominent dealers of his time. She would go on to become the first Custodian / Librarian of the Chapin Library at Williams College. Her work The Chapin Library at Williams College: A Short-Title List. (Portland, ME: The Southworth-Anthoensen Press, 1939) only scratched the surface of her extensive bibliographical knowledge.
My explorations turned up other works of which little biographical information about the bibliographer was readily available. One example includes Bertha Coolidge’s A Catalogue of the Altschul Collection of George Meredith in the Yale University Library (Privately Printed: 1931). Coolidge is also recorded by Alexander Wainwright as the anonymous compiler of Morris L. Parrish’s A List of the Writings Of Lewis Carroll [Charles L. Dodgson]in the Library at Dormy House, Pine Valley, New Jersey (Privately Printed: 1928).
Just last month while excavating the sale shelves at Half Price Books in Austin, I bought another example for two dollars, Ruth Elvish Mantz’s The Critical Bibliography of Katherine Mansfield (NY: Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc., 1931). Mantz was a Stanford graduate and two years after this bibliography appeared she authored a biography of Mansfield. The bibliography is impressive with full collations of the primary works and reference to the first periodical appearances of Mansfield’s stories, poems, essays, reviews, and translations. Her foreword states that “Dr. Margery Bailey of Stanford University first suggested that the collected material should take bibliographical form, and her encouragement and her annotations on the original copy were invaluable.” To ice the cake for my interests, Mantz spends a significant amount of time in the foreword discussing the collecting of Mansfield’s works, “Many of these are yet within the reach of the amateur collector, although the early volumes have become rare collectors’ items.”
I expect more such discoveries, both serendipitous and proactive, as explorations continue. A preliminary checklist of these pre-WWII bibliographies in chronological order is as follows:
Nina E. Browne. A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1905.
Henrietta C. Bartlett. A CATALOGUE OF THE DAVID N. CARVALHO COLLECTION OF INCUNABULA CONSISTING OF A SEQUENCE OF DATED BOOKS 1470-1499 TOGETHER WITH A NUMBER OF SIXTEENTH CENTURY BOOKS COMPILED AND ANNOTATED BY HENRIETTA C. BARTLETT. New York: Dodd & Livingston, 1911.
Henrietta C. Bartlett & Alfred W. Pollard. A CENSUS OF SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS IN QUARTO, 1594-1709. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1916. Revised edition by Bartlett published in 1939.
Flora V. Livingston. Colonel W. F. Prideaux and Mrs. Luther S. Livingston. A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE WORKS OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. London: Frank Hollings, 1917. Edited and Supplemented by Mrs. Luther [Flora] S. Livingston.
Henrietta C. Bartlett. MR. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: ORIGINAL AND EARLY EDITIONS OF HIS QUARTOS AND FOLIOS, HIS SOURCE BOOKS AND THOSE CONTAINING CONTEMPORARY NOTICES. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1922.
Carolyn Wells & Alfred Goldsmith. A CONCISE BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE WORKS OF WALT WHITMAN WITH A SUPPLEMENT OF FIFTY BOOKS ABOUT WHITMAN. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1922.
Ruth S. Granniss. A DESCRIPTIVE CATALOGUE OF THE FIRST EDITIONS IN BOOK FORM OF THE WRITINGS OF PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY BASED ON A MEMORIAL EXHIBITION HELD AT THE GROLIER CLUB FROM APRIL 20 TO MAY 20, 1922. New York: The Grolier Club, 1923.
Henrietta C. Bartlett. CATALOGUE OF EARLY ENGLISH BOOKS, CHIEFLY OF THE ELIZABETHAN PERIOD. COLLECTED BY WILLIAM AUGUSTUS WHITE AND CATALOGUED BY HENRIETTA C. BARTLETT. New York: Privately Printed for Mr. W. A. White, by the Pynson Printers, Inc. 1926.
Flora V. Livingston. BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE WORKS OF RUDYARD KIPLING. NY: Edgar H. Wells & Company, 1927. (Supplement published in 1938.)
Bertha Coolidge. A CATALOGUE OF THE ALTSCHUL COLLECTION OF GEORGE MEREDITH IN THE YALE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY. Privately Printed: 1931.
Ruth Elvish Mantz. THE CRITICAL BIBLIOGRAPHY OF KATHERINE MANSFIELD. New York: Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc., 1931.
Margaret Stillwell. INCUNABULA AND AMERICANA, 1450-1800: A KEY TO BIBLIOGRAPHICAL STUDY. New York: Columbia University Press, 1931.
Lucy Eugenia Osborne. THE CHAPIN LIBRARY AT WILLIAMS COLLEGE: A SHORT-TITLE LIST. Portland, ME: The Southworth-Anthoensen Press, 1939.
Margaret Stillwell. INCUNABULA IN AMERICAN LIBRARIES: A SECOND CENSUS OF FIFTEENTH-CENTURY BOOKS OWNED IN THE UNITED STATES, MEXICO, AND CANADA. New York: The Bibliographical Society of America, 1940.
A few related association items in my collection:
|Granniss's Shelley Bibliography signed and then presented to Estelle Doheny by Myrtle Crummer.|
|Stillwell's Incunabula and Americana presented to her mentor, George Parker Winship|