March is Women’s History Month! Have you ever wondered how the librarian profession became one primarily made up of women? Women first began working in libraries in the 1880s, but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that larger numbers of women were hired as librarians. According to The Librarian Stereotype edited by Nicole Pagowsky and Miriam Rigby, the first librarians in the US were genteel white men who likely had failed at a previous career. White women began getting hired to do administrative tasks in libraries because they were better educated than many of the men who applied and were also cheaper. This coincides with Melvil Dewey (a well-documented racist and sexual harasser of women) founding the first library school in the United States: The School of Library Economy at Columbia University. The first class had 3 men and 17 women. He required the women to submit photos of themselves with their application. By 1930 librarianship was 90% female. Today female librarians represent 80% of the workforce, but only 50% of library leadership is female.
Although its origins as a female-dominated profession are less than stellar and although we still have a way to go in terms of both racial and gender equity, I can honestly say, out of the three professions I’ve had, librarianship is definitely the one I love them most!