The Female Librarians Who Delivered Books On Horseback

There was a little known program between the years 1935 and 1943 under FDR’s New Deal. It was The Pack Horse Library. One thousand women were hired to ride horses and carry saddlebags full of books to deliver to people. This was a way to get books into the hands of people who were poor and had no way to get to a library. It sounds like a cross between the Pony Express and the Bookmobile. Thank you Nicholas Rossis for this excellent post, which includes outstanding and rare photographs.

I first heard of The Pack Horse Library through a wonderful children’s picture book, “That Book Woman”, by Heather Henson. It tells the story of one family’s many visits by the Pack Horse Library woman.

Nicholas C. Rossis

Dusty Old Thing recently published an article by Rose Heichelbech about The Fierce Female Librarians Who Delivered Books On Horseback During The Great Depression. While everyone’s heard of the Pony Express, this is a rarely-told story. If like me, you’d never heard it, here you are!

The New Deal’s Book Women

In the middle of the Great Depression, not only was America grappling with the tightening of just about every single household budget, but the nation was also poorly connected. At the time most rural areas were without basic services like electricity and running water. As such, these remote areas were often devoid of public institutions like libraries.

Some of the most isolated areas were nestled in the Appalachian area of Kentucky, among other locations. One of the many public programs initiated by FDR’s New Deal was the Works Progress Administration, which funded the Pack Horse Library Initiative. The…

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About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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51 Responses to The Female Librarians Who Delivered Books On Horseback

  1. Ritu says:

    I recently read a novel about the Oack Hirse Librarians!

  2. Shivangi says:

    So interesting! I never had any idea… what a wonderful way of delivering books

  3. Darlene says:

    I love learning about this project. There have recently been a couple of books written about these women and of course that delightful children’s book you mentioned.

    • Jennie says:

      I feel the same way. I wonder if Canada had a similar program, with the vast prairies and few opportunities for many to get to a library.

      • Darlene says:

        I’m not sure. I believe there were some travelling libraries but they would have been in a bus not on a horse. MIght have to do some research. xo

      • Jennie says:

        So, perhaps a bookmobile traveled across the prairie. Interesting stuff. Ooo… Amanda might like this. 🙂 Best to you, Darlene.

  4. A part of the history behind the evolution of the ‘bookmobile’ that goes largely unknown…This was news to me and yet, it makes complete sense. A ‘woman’s work’ (sexist phrase used intentionally) is partly to open up the cultural vistas to her ‘brood’.
    I wonder if they took volunteers? Me-Me!

  5. It is lovely part of history.

  6. This is a fascinating part of our history I wasn’t aware of, Jennie. I just added the book to my library holds list!

    • Jennie says:

      I had no idea either until I read that children’s book. I discovered another wonderful new book based on the same era, “Home in the Woods” by Eliza Wheeler. Both are wonderful historical fiction as told through the eyes of a child. Best to you, Susan.

  7. I ran across something about that in my research several years ago. I thought it was the coolest thing. Great choice to share, Jennie! Happy weekend hugs.

  8. beetleypete says:

    Good reblog, Jennie.
    I left a comment on Nicholas’s original post.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    JoJo Moyes latest novel, “The Giver of Stars” centers around these women. I learned a great deal from reading it.

  10. Wonderful share… heading over to read more! 🙂

  11. I learn more coming here than almost anywhere else, dear Jennie. I loved reading this story and popped over to N, Rossis site to read more. This stirs something in me very deep. There are so many children still with little access to books and adults who can’t or don’t read. But to want to read and not have the books available is almost criminal. Thank you for sharing this wonderful piece of history.

    • Jennie says:

      I loved this story the first time I read it in the children’s book. Then, to read it with actual photos, the history came alive. I read another article recently about the New York Public Library’s history in the children’s room. Well, there was no real children’s room till the 30’s, with child size chairs, front facing books, etc. Libraries across America didn’t allow children at all till a certain age. On and on. Like you, I feel no access to books for children is a tragedy.

  12. Thanks for sharing, Jennie. What a cool program. Some innovative thinkers back then. And thanks for sharing the book!

  13. I love when I find new information about the impact of women in history. I will have to learn more about this piece too

    • Jennie says:

      I love learning it, too. Seems like much of this happened in the hills of Kentucky. That was indicated in the archival photos and also in the children’s picture book. Let me know if you learn more. 🙂

  14. CarolCooks2 says:

    I haven’t read the novels, Jennie but have read a few articles on these ladies over the last few years and always intended to do some research and never have its one of those back burner ideas. A fascinating read 😊xx

  15. As i read this on Nicholas blog, it was the first time i read about it. What faszinating idea, of these fearless women. Michael

    • Jennie says:

      Isn’t it amazing? I had never heard of this until I discovered the children’s book. And then, to see real photos on Nicholas’ blog was a big bonus.

  16. dgkaye says:

    This was fantastic Jennie. ❤ Warrior Women! 🙂

  17. Norah says:

    What a fabulous program.

  18. Several months ago a friend introduced me to an excellent book, The Book-woman of Troublesome Creek – what a fascinating piece of history this was! I’m so delighted to hear that there is a children’s book about these women.

    • Jennie says:

      It’s interesting that I had the reverse, first learning about this wonderful piece of history through a children’s book, and then seeing the real history and photos. Thank you for the book recommendation. It is a fascinating piece of history!

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