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MBLC Celebrates 125 Years

The Original Commissioners

Elizabeth P. Sohier of Boston was the driving force behind the Free Public Library Commission with a commitment to getting a library in every Massachusetts city and town. She helped expand library services wherever she could. During the Lawrence Textile Strike in 1912, Ms. Sohier worked with the governor to provide books for the striking workers. During World War I, Ms. Sohier worked with the American Library Association to help provide library services to soldiers in camps. She also helped with the appointment of a state agent to assist public libraries with immigrant populations and shaped numerous pieces of library legislation that were passed during her lifetime. She served as a Commissioner from the agency's inception in 1890 until her death in 1926 and was secretary for all 36 years.


Caleb Benjamin Tillinghast came to Boston in 1870 and worked as a reporter at The Boston Journal. He served as the city editor but left journalism to work in libraries in 1879. Mr. Tillinghast was the first chairman of the Commission and served in this post until his death in 1909. He was also the Massachusetts State Librarian from 1879 until 1909. He was a repository of information and guidance within the State House. Representatives, senators and governors often consulted with him on different matters. A common phrase in the building during his tenure was, "Go see Tillinghast."


Henry Stedman Nourse of Lancaster was a Civil War veteran who was part of General Sherman's March to the Sea in 1864. He was a professor of ancient languages at Phillips Exeter Academy and a state legislator for the town of Lancaster. Mr. Nourse was also a descendant of Rebecca Nourse, one of the women hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692. He was not only an avid historian of Lancaster's local history but was also a member of many of the Commonwealth's historical societies. Mr. Nourse took this passion to his work with libraries, which he saw as a "treasure house of local history."


Samuel Swett Green of Worcester served as a Commissioner from 1890 until 1909. He worked at the Worcester Free Public Library from its creation in 1867, first as director and later as a librarian from 1871 until 1909. Mr. Green was a library innovator and is referred to as the father of modern research librarians. He was a founding member of the group that became the American Library Association and served as the organization's president. While president, he gave a speech that opened with the words, "The function of the library is to serve its users." This helped direct libraries across the country for years to come.


Anna Eliot Ticknor of Boston served as a commissioner from 1890 until her death in 1896. Her father George Ticknor helped lay the groundwork for the founding of the Boston Public Library. She was an educator and founded the Society to Encourage Studies at Home, the first correspondence school in the United States. She was an advocate for education and the role libraries could play in educating the public.