Mary Cutler Fairchild
Mary Salome Cutler Fairchild (1855 – 1921) was a pioneering American librarian and library educator.
Life and work
Mary Cutler was born in Dalton, Massachusetts. She attended Mount Holyoke College (then Mount Holyoke Female Seminary) and graduated in 1875. She later taught at the college from 1876 to 1878. In 1884, she was hired by Melvil Dewey, the librarian of Columbia College, as a cataloguer. When Dewey opened the first library school, Fairchild taught cataloging. She moved with it when the school moved to Albany. The school was reorganized and named the New York State Library School. She served as vice-director in addition to teaching. Because of Dewey's frequent absences she conducted much of the administration of the school. She served the school for 16 years. The University of the State of New York awarded Cutler a bachelor's degree in library science in 1891. In 1897, Fairchild married Edwin M. Fairchild, a Unitarian Minister. She pioneered library services for the blind and organized the New York state library for the blind in 1899 also serving there as a librarian. For the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, she chaired a committee that established a 5,000-volume library and created a catalog for it. She was active in the American Library Association serving as the ALA Executive Director in 1891. In 1905, she became ill and had to retire from the library for the blind and the school, but she continued to contribute to the field through articles she wrote and submitted to journals. Mary Salome Cutler Fairchild died December 20, 1921 in Takoma Park, Maryland. She has been inducted as a member of the Library Hall of Fame.
Work on women in libraries
In 1904, Cutler Fairchild was asked by the President of the American Library Association to prepare a statistical statement on “Women in American Libraries” which was published in the December 1904 issue of the Library Journal. She opened the article by showing the growing prominence of women in American libraries through comparison of three conferences of the American Library Association. “At the first meeting of the Association in Philadelphia, 1876, only 12 of the 103 members present were women; at the Chicago meeting in 1893, 166 of the 305 members present were women; at Magnolia in 1902, the largest conference yet held, 736 out of 1018 members present were women”. To further illustrate her opinion that there was no discrimination in regard to sex in the American Library Association, she refers to Miss Caroline M. Hewins, librarian of the Hartford Public Library, who was the first woman to ask a question before a meeting of the American Library Association in 1877, the association’s second meeting, and Miss Mary A. Bean, the librarian of the Brookline Public Library, who was the first woman to appear on a library program, by reading a paper on “The evil of unlimited freedom in the use of juvenile fiction” in the 1879 meeting in Boston. Cutler Fairchild credits the open-minded attitude of the men in the library movement for contributing to the lack of self-consciousness displayed by women in association meetings by taking what women said or wrote at its actual value. However, she noted that participation by women in American Library Association meetings was disproportionate to their attendance. Cutler Fairchild continued her evaluation of women in libraries by surveying 100 representative libraries to access the number of professional and non-professional positions and their salaries held by women as compared to those held by men. The results of her inquiries proved that women greatly outnumbered men in the libraries selected, holding a large proportion of administrative positions but with little administrative responsibility, and outnumbered men in non-administrative responsible positions, but seldom held positions with the most responsibility. In addition, women did not hold positions offering the highest salaries, but rather appeared to perform the same level of work for less compensation. The following reasons were given for this discrepancy:
- She [that is, women in general] has not the temperamental fitness for the exercise of large authoritative control over a mixed staff.
- She is not in touch with the world of affairs.
- She is distinctly unbusinesslike.
- She shuns rather than courts responsibility.
- She is conservative and afraid of legitimate experiments.
- She lacks originality.
- She lacks a sense of proportion and the power of taking a large, imperative view of things.
Despite these criticisms of women’s ability to hold responsible library positions, women continued to push men out of the library field, just as in the teaching field, because they could be paid less than men, as was legal at the time.
Cutler Fairchild did find agreement among the criticizers that positions requiring “gracious hospitality” were held more successfully by women including the head of small or medium sized libraries and all work with children. “‘Her broad sympathies, her quick wits, her intuitions and her delight in self-sacrifice’ give her an undoubted advantage.”
- "Fairchild, Salome Cutler." The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. 10:263264. 1929.
- "Fairchild, Mary Salome Cutler." American National Biography. 7:684-685. 1999.
- "Fairchild, Mary Salome Cutler (1855-1821)." Dictionary of American Library Biography. Pages 167-170. 1978.
- "Digging up Dewey." School Library Journal. 43.
- "Mary Salome Cutler Fairchild." Britannica Biography Collection - Online School Edition.
- Fairchild, Salome Cutler “Women in American Libraries.” In Library Journal 29 (December 1904, 157-162)