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MBLC Celebrates 125 Years


First Report of the Free Public Library Commission

The first Free Public Library Commission1,2,3,4,5

On May 28, 1890, The Free Public Library Commission of Massachusetts was established by "An Act to Promote the Establishment and Efficiency of Free Public Libraries [Acts of 1890, chapter 347]."6

"In accordance with the provisions of this act, His Excellency the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Council, appointed the following-named persons to constitute the Free Public Library Commission:

C.B. Tillinghast, Boston, for five years.
Samuel Swett Green, Worcester, for four years.
Henry S. Nourse, Lancaster, for three years.
Miss E.P Sohier, Beverly, for two years.
Miss Anna Eliot Ticknor, Boston, for one year.

The Governor designated C.B. Tillinghast as chairman. The commissions bear date Oct. 22, 1890. The first meeting of the Commission was held at the state House, Oct. 30, 1890. Miss E.P. Sohier was chosen secretary, and it has been decided to hold regular meetings on the third Thursday of each month."7

Today's description of the Agency: The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) is the agency of state government with the statutory authority and responsibility to organize, develop, coordinate, and improve library services throughout the Commonwealth. The Board also strives to provide every resident of the Commonwealth with full and equal access to library information resources regardless of geographic location, social or economic status, age, level of physical or intellectual ability, or cultural background.

The MBLC was established in 1890 under Chapter 78 of the Massachusetts General Laws and is governed by nine commissioners appointed by the governor. The director of the Board is appointed by the commissioners and is responsible for the administration of the programs and advisory services of the Board.8

What else happened in 1890?

  • Herman Hollerith built the first punched-card tabulating and sorting machines as well as the first key punch, and he founded the company that was to become IBM.9
  • Nellie Bly completed her tour of the world, which was undertaken in an attempt to beat the fictional Phineas Fogg's "record."10 The trip took 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds, and set a real world record.11
  • Wounded Knee massacre: On December 29, the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry surrounded a band of Ghost Dancers under Big Foot, a Lakota Sioux chief, near Wounded Knee Creek. A brutal massacre followed, in which an estimated 150 Indians were killed, nearly half of them women and children. The cavalry lost 25 men.12

1. Bolton. Memoir of Caleb Benjamin Tillinghast. Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. 1909. Retrieved from, 6/5/2015.
2. [link].
3. Samuel S. Shaw. Memoir of Henry S. Nourse. Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Second Series, Vol. 18 (1904). Retrieved from, 6/5/2015.
4. Pioneering leaders in librarianship / Emily Miller Danton, ed. Boston : Gregg Press, 1972, c1953.
5. Samuel Eliot, Mrs. Louis Agassiz, et al. Society to Encourage Studies at Home. Cambridge, MA, 1897. Retrieved from, 6/5/2015.
6. Massachusetts Free Public Library Commission Report, 1891.
7. Massachusetts Free Public Library Commission Report, 1891.
8. MBLC website [link].
9. [link].
10. Jules Verne, Around the World in 80 Days, 1873.
11. [link].
12. [link].