By Mindy Long

SUBMITTED PHOTO Belvidere Republican
Mary’s Crandall was involved with the Belvidere Ladies Library Society long before a public library was established in Belvidere.

History Specialist, Ida Public Library

2019 will be a year of firsts for American women. The Indiana Pacers will have the first female assistant general manager of an NBA team. Iowa will have the first female governor. A record of 126 Congresswomen and 102 female House representatives were elected for the new term.

The women of Belvidere, however, are accustomed to firsts. From our very first female settler, Hannah Towner, to our first woman sheriff, Sarah Ames, the women in our community have worked tirelessly to create an educated, safe, and happy environment for our citizens.

One of our most dedicated women was Belvidere’s first librarian, Mary Crandall. Mary was born in 1846 and raised in the Crandall family home at 521 E. Madison. Her mother, Serena, was sister to General Stephen Hurlbut’s wife, Sophronia. As an only child, Mary was studious and quiet but enjoyed camping with her parents at Geneva Lake or Belvidere Camp. She was a lifelong member of the First Baptist Church, attending Sunday school regularly as a child and teaching it as an adult.

Mary’s love of reading and books led to her involvement with the Belvidere Ladies Library Society, a group of local book lovers who collected and loaned out books from a centrally located home. Members paid a share price of $5 per year to borrow books. In 1872, Illinois passed the Free Public Library Act and in 1883, General Allen Fuller offered $5,000 to establish a free public library in honor of his daughter, Ida. The city of Belvidere agreed, believing, as John C. Foote stated, “It is impossible to estimate in dollars and cents the advantage to a community of a good, well-conducted library.” Belvidere city council passed an ordinance for the organization of the library, ordered books, set a tax levy for support of the library, and named Mary Crandall as librarian of the first Ida Public Library located in the 1884 city hall building.

Under Mary’s guidance, the library grew from a small establishment of 7,000 books to over 16,000. Mary also began placing cases of books in the public schools in 1902 and donating aged books to the county jail. She had a…

For complete article, pick up the Jan. 10 Belvidere Republican.