Theresa Elmendorf

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Theresa West Elmendorf
Elmendorf in 1920.jpg
circa 1920
Born Theresa Hubbel West
November 1, 1855
Pardeeville, Wisconsin
Died September 4, 1932
Nationality American
Occupation librarian
Known for First woman President of ALA
Spouse(s) Henry Livingston Elmendorf

Theresa West Elmendorf was a prominent American librarian of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.[1]

Early life[edit]

Elmendorf was born in 1855 in Pardeeville, Wisconsin, and raised in Milwaukee after the family moved there in 1861. She had three siblings. After attending Milwaukee public schools, she went to a higher education school for girls (Miss Wheelock's Seminary), graduating in 1874.[1][2]


Elmendorf began her library career in 1877 working for the Young Men's Association of Milwaukee. To develop a basic knowledge of library theory and practice, she read the 1876 report of the U.S. Bureau of Education, Public Libraries in the United States of America. About 1878 she started working at the Milwaukee Public Library, working her way up to deputy librarian in 1880 and finally head librarian in 1892.[3]

In 1896, at age 41, Elmendorf resigned her position to marry Henry Livingston Elmendorf.[4] He was librarian of the public library in St. Joseph, Missouri, and vice-president of the American Library Association. Henry Elmendorf soon took a position in Buffalo, New York, as the librarian of the Buffalo Public Library, where he worked until his death nine years later.[5]

During these nine years Theresa Elmendorf acted as his silent partner and was an administrative advisor. She worked on many library programs, including the Buffalo Plan, a program to help the city schools with library services, and the Descriptive Catalogue of the Gluck Collection of Manuscripts and Autographs in the Buffalo Public Library. Most notable in this collection was Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn manuscript. She was also editor in 1904 for the American Library Association's Catalogue of Books for Small Libraries and an author of Classroom Libraries for Public Schools.[1]

Elmendorf became president of the New York Library Association in 1903 and 1904. When her husband died in 1906, the board of trustees of the Buffalo Public Library made Elmendorf vice-librarian, a position she held for the next 20 years. In 1911 she was elected president of the American Library Association, the first woman ever to be nominated for this position.[6] She was in this position from May 24, 1911, to July 2, 1912.[7]

Later life and death[edit]

Elmendorf retired in 1926. After this she wrote, edited and published many bibliographies and reading lists, including some specifically on poets and poetry. She worked on these until her death in 1932. In 1951 Library Journal selected Elmendorf for its Library Hall of Fame.[1]

Mary E. Hazeltine of the University of Wisconsin Library System wrote of Elmendorf, "Many librarians in important positions today have carried on because she awakened their appreciation of books and opened up for them insight into new realms. She was a stimulating guide and a vitalizing teacher, as well as a great librarian."[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Thomison in Wedgeworth.
  2. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Elmendorf, Theresa Hubbell West". Encyclopedia Americana. 
  3. ^ Garrison, p. 243
  4. ^ Garrison, p. 188
  5. ^ Rooney, pp. 65–66
  6. ^ Thomison, p. 280 The death of her husband had forced Theresa Elmendorf to end her unpaid status, and for the next 20 years she held the position of vice-librarian at the Buffalo Public Library. Her new role also meant an increased participation in the American Library Association; in 1911–12 she served as its President, the first woman to hold that position.
  7. ^ Bulletin of the American Library Association, vol. 6, no. 4.


  • Garrison, Dee (2003). Apostles of Culture: The Public Librarian and American Society, 1876–1920. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-18114-6. 
  • Rooney, Paul M. (1978). "Elmendorf, Theresa Hubbell West". In George Sylvan Bobinski, Jesse Hauk Shera, Bohdan S. Wynar. Dictionary of American Library Biography. Littleton, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited. pp. 159–160. ISBN 0-87287-180-0. 
  • Thomison, Dennis (1993). "Elmendorf, Theresa West". In Robert Wedgeworth. World Encyclopedia of Library and Information Services (3rd ed. ed.). Chicago: ALA Editions. pp. 279–280. ISBN 0-8389-0609-5.