Letter to the Editor from Margaret Bush, January/February 2012

September/October 2011 Horn Book

Barbara Bader’s series of articles on the “second generation” of prominent librarians in the children’s services field (“Virginia Haviland,” January/February 2011; “Augusta Baker,” May/June 2011; “Mildred Batchelder,” September/October 2011) has been enjoyable to read. For the small number of us who worked with these librarians or knew them, Bader stirs up some especially fine memories. Her account of Mildred Batchelder’s antipathy to the legendary Anne Carroll Moore was personally entertaining since Mildred once gave me a similar earful about Moore. At the time she was recently retired but still always interested in those of us coming along in the field.

Bader notes Batchelder’s reference to Moore as a “small figure” and goes on to note that the two women were similar in many ways. She doesn’t note the matter of similarity in size, though she quotes Dorothy Broderick’s first meeting with a “pert little lady” named Mildred Batchelder. Ah, yes! These two were both diminutive in physical stature and very large in influence. Furthermore, these attributes were shared by several notable women in the first and second generation of leaders in children’s librarianship, including Virginia Haviland.

It occurred to me long ago that there was a whole pantheon of tiny, prominent women among these early leaders. Charlemae Rollins of Chicago, honored annually at the ALSC president’s program, was a widely known contemporary of Augusta Baker’s, sharing both her early championship of books reflecting African American experience and her passion for storytelling. Tiny Charlemae was a magnificent figure as a storyteller! Zena Sutherland, also of Chicago and long known as a teacher and critic, gave us the review journal The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books and then revised several editions of that hefty textbook, Children and Books, first created by May Hill Arbuthnot. Small Zena was firm, thoughtful, and articulate in her children’s book views. (Take it from a much larger librarian who once had to argue with her as a paired speaker at an ALA conference program on nonfiction.) Another notable and small librarian/teacher/critic was Ethel Heins, once editor of The Horn Book. Also strong and passionate in her views, Ethel brought a deep, wide book knowledge and a welcome sense of humor in urging us to high standards in the creation and selection of books for children.

Two other diminutive women played significant roles in my own career. Mae Durham joined the faculty of the graduate library school at UC–Berkeley, teaching the one all-purpose course in children’s literature and library services the year I was a student there. Steeped in the New York Public Library tradition of Anne Carroll Moore, Mae sent a significant number of her students across the country to start their careers, actively engaging herself in regional and national arenas of children’s services. Another tiny librarian of long commitment in these areas was the children’s librarian of my own early days as a library user, Winifred Ragsdale. I didn’t know her well then, but always loved it that she never interfered with a child’s desire to just be allowed solitary personal time in her library. Many years into my professional career, I appointed her to a committee when I served as president of ALSC. Subsequently, she chaired a program committee that invited me to be a keynote speaker at the Pacific Rim Conference on Children’s Literature, held in Los Angeles in 1986. What fun I had telling her I had been a first-grade child she had served in her first job as a children’s librarian!

I suspect other readers have tales of small but mighty leaders in children’s librarianship. At just five feet—a bit less or a bit more—they really were profound in their influence. I suppose one might explore the sociological or psychological ramifications of all this, though I haven’t been tempted to try. Their size may have been immaterial, but it has always intrigued me that there were quite a few of them awhile back, whereas we hardly ever see that particular feature in the subsequent generations of leaders of children’s librarianship.

Margaret Bush
Boston, Massachusetts

Horn Book
Horn Book

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