Charleston County Public Library

On the night of February 18, 1929, a group of citizens, members of civic, and fraternal organizations of Charleston, met at Ashley Hall at the call of Dr. Mary Vardine McBee, then-president of the Charleston Civic Club. The purpose of the meeting was to appoint a committee to take steps toward the establishment of a free library for Charleston. The plan was enthusiastically received and work began immediately on ways and means to accomplish the desired goal.

The Julius Rosenwald Foundation made a generous offer of assistance. The fund would donate $20,000 a year for the first two years provided the city and county raised $10,000. For the next two years it would match equally every dollar raised locally and for the fifth year would donate $1.00 for every $2.00 appropriated. The County Delegation, concerned that at the end of five years the library would be entirely dependent on the county for support, voted against the proposal giving as their reason that the burden would be too heavy for the taxpayers. In spite of this action by the delegation, the enthusiasm for the plan was not dimmed. Various organizations signified their approval and a house-to-house canvass was carried out by the Civic Club. The canvass was a success, the signatures of prominent educators headed the list, and after a special committee had met with the delegation in Columbia, it was voted to include $10,000 in the supply bill, "to aid in the establishment of a free library for the use of citizens of the city and county of Charleston."

Plans went ahead rapidly. The Carnegie Corporation of New York contributed $35,000 for the purchase of books. The library's certificate of incorporation was received on May 23, 1930.

On January 1, 1931, the Charleston Free Library of the County of Charleston was formally opened in the Charleston Museum building with Dr. Charles B. Foelsch as President of the Board of Trustees and Laura N. Bragg, Director of the Charleston Museum, as Librarian.

The library services expanded rapidly. Under terms of its agreement with the Rosenwald Foundation, the library was obligated to make every effort to make its facilities available to all residents of Charleston County. In June, the McClellanville, Mount Pleasant, St. Paul's Parish and Edisto Island Branches were opened, the individual communities furnishing housing and the library supplying the books and service. In the case of McClellanville, the library, dating back to around 1886, decided to merge into the county system. In July, 1931, the Dart Hall Branch was opened at the corner of Bogard and Kracke Streets in Charleston.

In June of 1932 Parmelee Cheves, then State Library Field Director for South Carolina, was appointed head librarian. Under her administration the library continued to expand and it was felt that a separate library building was essential. Accordingly, in 1934, the Board of Trustees purchased the Ficken residence at Montague Street and Rutledge Avenue and in 1935 the library moved to its new quarters.

Upon the resignation of Miss Cheves in 1939, Emily C. Sanders was appointed Chief Librarian. Under her able direction the library system was greatly expanded, a new headquarters building and five branch library buildings planned and constructed.

In 1954, when the headquarters library housed in a handsome old mansion at 94 Rutledge Avenue became completely inadequate, a campaign for a new headquarters building was launched under the direction of Mrs. Girdler B. Fitch, (now Mrs. James Harrison), President of the Board of Trustees. After an intensive campaign with strong media support, the Charleston County Council put before the voters of the county a bond issue to cover the cost of the proposed new building. The bond issue passed with a large majority. The site selected for the building was on Marion Square where the west wing of the old Citadel was located. Construction began immediately and the new headquarters building was opened in November, 1960. The Charleston County Library is notable for the number of branch library buildings which have been planned and constructed since 1948. In that year a new branch building was completed in Mt. Pleasant and the Jaycees of North Charleston carried out a successful campaign to erect a library building in the North Charleston area as a memorial to World War II veterans. The Cooper River Memorial Library was opened in 1950. In April, 1964, the West Ashley Branch was opened and in 1968 a new branch building, replacing the old Dart Hall Branch, was completed. In 1977 the Edgar Allan Poe Library on Sullivan's Island, housed in a renovated old battery dating from the Spanish American War, was opened. The library's latest branch, located on James Island, was completed and opened for service in 1978. When Emily C. Sanders retired in 1978 she was succeeded by Margaret D. Mosimann, Deputy Director of the library since 1957.

The Charleston County Library now operates four large branches and seven community libraries. Two bookmobiles provide library service to areas of the county distant from a branch. An active children's department provides special programs for children including story hours and filmstrip programs throughout the county. Among the special collections developed by the Charleston County Library are a large foreign language collection, which provides service to the entire state on interlibrary loan, an extensive collection of art reproductions, and a browsing collection of books for the blind and physically handicapped.

The Charleston County Library owes much of its success to its board of trustees. This board, composed of leading citizens from the city and county, has provided the support required to develop a strong and progressive program of library service.

Board Chairmen
Dr. Charles B. Foelsch, 1931-35
Dr. Mary V. McBee, Charleston, 1935-53
Mrs. Girdler B. Fitch, Charleston, 1953-67
Wilmer L. Thompson, Charleston, 1967-72
Mrs. Gedney M. Howe, Jr., Charleston, 1972-74
Mrs. Joseph W. Cabaniss, Charleston, 1974-75
Zacharia Gellman, Charleston, 1975-78
Dr. S. Thomas Scarborough, Charleston, 1978-79
Mrs. J. Bradley Fowler, Sullivan's Island, 1979-

Laura N. Bragg, 1931-32
Parmelee Cheves, 1932-39
Emily C. Sanders, 1939-77
Margaret D. Mosimann, 1977-

Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia: South Carolina State Library, 1981), p. 15-16.

A note on the text

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