The Kansas City, Kansas Public Library has its origins in the combined work of a number of forward-thinking women who were leaders in the community and supporters of literacy and education. Two early residents in particular, Elizabeth Dickinson and Sarah Richart, played crucial roles in the founding and development of the public library.
The first collection of books, that became the nucleus for the library’s circulating collection was donated by Mrs. Lida Dieterich, president of the KCK Monday Club, one of the largest literary clubs in Kansas City. The Monday Club had collected the books for group study the previous year and when they were no longer needed, their donation ensured that they would continue to be used and appreciated by the public. Before a library building existed, the books were kept on a bookshelf in the old school annex building at 7th and Ann. By 1895, the “library”, had outgrown the school annex space, moved to a larger location in a bank building at 7th and Minnesota, and a librarian was hired, Miss Elizabeth Dickinson.
Born in Heath, Massachusetts, Elizabeth Dickinson came to Kansas with her widowed mother in 1856, and they settled on a farm in Quindaro. She graduated from Mt. Holyoke seminary in 1857, and in 1895 Miss Dickinson was named Librarian for the first public library in Kansas City, Kansas. Dedicated to the mission of education, for many years she conducted a private school specializing in Kindergarten work. Miss Dickinson was the first secretary of the first organization to federate clubs of the city. She was also an early member of the Mary Tenney Gray Travelers’ club, organized in 1881. She served as secretary of the Women’s Missions society and for over 70 years was a member of the First Congregational Church. Miss Dickinson lived in Kansas City until her death in 1931.
Sarah Richart is considered the mother of the public library system in Kansas City, Kansas. She was involved in various local women’s clubs during her lifetime, as well as public service in the community. Through her memberships with the Council of Clubs and the Mary Tenney Gray Traveler’s Club, Richart helped to establish the Public Library in KCK. She was a mother of two children, a girl who died in infancy and a boy who lived to be six years old. Losing her young children moved her to do something that would benefit the children of Kansas City, Kansas.
Her interest in education turned her attention to the building of a public library. As President of the Federation of Clubs, she had the organization’s blessing. She began the process of raising the funds necessary for a library by meeting with Andrew Carnegie and the Mayor, who appointed her official dog tax enumerator. Considered the first Dog Tax Collector, she was given permission to keep half of the money she collected for the library fund. In 1902, Mr. Carnegie donated $75,000 to the city of Kansas City for the construction of a formal public library building. This was the beginning of the Main Library that we know today.
Sarah Richart died before the library was built, but she knew that the library was going to become a reality. At the time of her death, she left her entire estate to the library, netting the library 4,000 new volumes. The library was completed in March 1904, three years after her death.
To learn more about library and KCK history, visit the Kansas Room page.