From the Archive: Louisa May Alcott and others
Finding Louisa May Alcott’s name in a Ticket Holders’ volume
The most popular question for the Archive: Was so-and-so a member? Did he or she ever visit? Read or study here? Unfortunately, the Library cannot often provide an answer because, except for a few ledgers from the 19th century, complete membership records were not retained.
One ledger, Athenaeum Share Holders and Ticket Holders, lists readers for the period 1869 to 1894. This well-worn volume lists the shareholder’s name above the names of people to whom he or she gave tickets allowing use of the Library. For the past year, I have been transcribing names and dates with the assistance of an intern who has since graduated and left for a professional job. This is a slow endeavor because some of the entries have been erased in an effort to be frugal and reuse the pages of the ledger. (Thrift is not the historian’s friend.)
Transcribing these names has taught me how varied the readers were: men, women, professionals, organizations, leaders of churches, professors, writers, doctors, etc. etc. As it turns out, women seem to be in the majority.
Among the notable ticket holders is Louisa May Alcott, listed as follows in the ledger: “Jan. 1, 1869 Alcott, Miss. L.M., one year.” Samuel May (her maternal uncle who held Share 32), arranged for Alcott to have access to the Library.
Two other women ticket holders were involved with the New England Hospital for Women and Children, located in Roxbury, MA. Dr. C. Augusta Pope (b. Boston, 1846) was given a ticket by Octavius B. Frothingham (Share 891) in 1891. Dr. Sarah Ellen Palmer (b. New Hampshire, 1856), one of the first women surgeons hired at the hospital, was given a ticket by Cyrus Woodman (Share 855) in 1892 and 1893. It is exciting to think about these two women in the Library reading medical pamphlets, relaxing with a book of verse or prose, or reading a newspaper. The Archive does not reveal what these ticket holders read or saw in the Library; however, imagining the possibilities is not only fun, but an opportunity for scholarly speculation as well.
Carolle R. MoriniCaroline D. Bain Archivist, Reference Librarian