Ladies Library Association

  • Location: 333 S. Park Street, Kalamazoo
  • Survey ID: C-4
  • Designation: Ladies Library Association
  • Date: 1879
  • Style: Venetian Gothic

The following material is from the 1973 Initial Inventory of Historic Sites and Buildings in Kalamazoo and was made available for use here by the Historic Preservation Coordinator of the City of Kalamazoo. See Introduction to an Initial Inventory for details about how the survey was conducted.

The Kalamazoo Ladies Library Association was the first woman's club organized in Michigan and the third in the nation. Members held meetings in various places around the village between 1852 and 1879, when local builder Fred Bush completed the present LLA building. Built and furnished at a cost of $14,000 (and paid in full by 1883), this was the first building erected as a woman's club in the country. It is now recorded both as a state historic site and also as a National Historic Landmark. 

Ruth Webster, twenty-four years a treasurer and fifteen a librarian for the LLA, provided the lot, and the association in turn commissioned a stained glass memorial window in her honor. Chicago architect H. W. Gay earned $75.00 for his set of plans in the then-fashionable "Venetian Gothic" style. The exterior of the building still retains something of the colorful effect of its original patterns of brick and tile and stone. 

Beyond a tiled entryway patterned after Charles Eastlake's popular Hints on Household Taste, is the library itself. Many of the original pieces of furniture remain, such as a fine bookshelf donated by Gazette editor Volney Hascall. Lucinda Hinsdale Stone, a local educator and world traveler, selected the paintings which still hang on the walls. She chose copies of European artists for the most part, whose works would have an uplifting effect on the local membership. Stained glass windows dominate the room. Upstairs is a thirty by sixty foot meeting hall and stage. Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Sill donated the cane-seated "Eastlake" auditorium chairs, still in original condition, in 1883. The Steinway grand piano came to the LLA from Mrs. E. M. Walker, of Chicago. 

This site has been a Kalamazoo landmark for many years. Many of the town's most prominent citizens are identified with its history. It deserves preservation as a notable link with the local past in addition to its importance at the state and national level.

This report was converted from a typewritten document to a digital text document in September 2004. Other than punctuation and spelling corrections, and the addition of BOLD type site address and names, no changes were made. Minor formatting changes were made for use on this website, but the text was not altered. Original survey dated 1973.

Addendum

On November 12th, 2008, KPL hosted a program highlighting the group’s history and its amazing landmark building as part of the “This Old Building” series. Dr. Sharon Carlson, director of the archives at Western Michigan University, engaged a fascinated audience with little known facts about the Ladies Library and a slide show which included many wonderful historic photos.

View Dr. Carlson's presentation.

Sources

History Room Subject File

Ladies Library Association (Kalamazoo)

Books

Kalamazoo Lost and Found

  • Houghton, Lynn Smith and Pamela Hall O'Connor
  • Kalamazoo Historic Preservation Commission, 2001, page 174
  • H 720.9774 H838

Women with a Vision, revised edition

  • Potts, Grace J. and Cheryl Lyon-Jenness
  • Kalamazoo: Ladies Library Association
  • 1997. H 367 P871 1997

Kalamazoo: Nineteenth-century Homes in a Midwestern Village  

  • Schmitt, Peter J.
  • Kalamazoo City Historical Commission, 1976, pages 168-173
  • H 720.9774 S355

Websites

Michigan Historical Markers 

National Register of Historic Places