It was the most ridiculous of ideas, it was the best of ideas, it was another exercise of male privilege, it was an innovative approach to a social problem. It was certainly a fine example of why historical context is so important for modern readers to understand.
At issue was the 1907 proposal to turn a room at the Santa Rosa public library into a “club room for men, where they can spend a quiet hour after supper when their day’s work is done, read the papers and periodicals and, if they are so inclined, enjoy a smoke.” On the face of it, the proposal sounded outrageous – there were no shortage of places around town where “sons of toil [could] go after supper, enjoy a smoke, and read the papers.” The problem was that the men also drank beer in those establishments.
This was the year that the temperance movement first began to exercise its muscle in Sonoma County (see following post) and although none of the articles or letters-to-the-editor mention drinking or gambling, the only possible reason for surrendering part of the library to a men’s lounge – with smoking allowed, no less – was to offer gents an alternative dry hangout.
Nothing came of the idea, but a correspondent to the Republican suggested library room should instead become a woman’s lounge: “Before the awful 18th there was always a waiting room in some livery stable, but now even that comfort is very limited.” The point was apt: Women were not allowed to enter saloons, and until the Overton and Occidental Hotels were opened at the end of the year, there was nothing like a “Little Tiny Petit Pheasant Feather Tea Shoppe” in Santa Rosa that was inviting to ladies to sit awhile and freshen up. And so the library basement became the “Rest Room,” which was furnished with “low rocking chairs to which women are partial,” couches, and tables “stocked with feminine literature.”
(RIGHT: A postcard showing the damage to Santa Rosa’s library after the 1906 earthquake. Library repairs were funded by Andrew Carnegie, who had paid for the construction of the building two years before. The building was at the same location as the current Sonoma County Library main building, at the corner of E and Third Streets. Image courtesy Larry Lapeere)
A READING ROOM FOR THE MEN
Place Where Sons of Toil Can Go After Supper, Enjoy a Smoke and Read the Papers
A club room for men, where they can spend a quiet hour after supper when their day’s work is done, read the papers and periodicals and, if they are so inclined, enjoy a smoke. Such is the idea the Public Library Trustees have in mind at the present time, and it will be carried out in all probability.
The matter was informally discussed at the meeting of the library board on Thursday night. It is proposed to partition off the large room in the basement of the library building, not occupied for city hall purposes, and to fit it up as a reading room for men. In this way the trustees believe the evenings can be made pleasant for the men.– Press Democrat, January 4, 1907
MAKES PROTEST AGAINST PROPOSED SMOKING ROOM
To the Editor of the Republican: We would like to express sour opinion regarding the smoking room to be opened up in the public library building. Every good citizen in Santa Rosa ought to send in a loud protest against opening up a room for any such purpose.
We would like to express our opin [sic] to make the use of tobacco popular. I have no need to state the evil resulting from its use. Every one knows, or ought to, for it is conceded by nearly every one. Its tendencies are to gradually demoralize and draw the unsuspecting young man into something worse. Who ever knew of a drinking man that did not use tobacco? I never did. I have been a soldier and sailor for nearly twenty years before the mast and as first officer, and during all these years and since never had any use for the stuff, and will say I have not stood alone on this question. I have known a great many whose principles were the same. I have found men wherever I have been that were abstainers and who were able to put such foolishness behind them.
If a man will and must smoke, there are plenty of places already without setting apart a room in the public library or any other public building. Everything objectionable should be entirely eliminated where our wives and daughters and young men go.
Libraries, as well as schools and churches, are educational and we hope the library trustees will see what a mistake they are making and reconsider their smoking room proposition by annulling it altogether. Would like to hear from others through these columns, especially the ladies, if they are for or against the smoking room.
Yours truly, GRAND ARMY MAN.– Santa Rosa Republican, February 2, 1907
PLAN ABANDONED TEMPORARILY
The plan to convert a portion of the basement of the library building into a men’s department, where they could smoke while enjoying literary pursuits, has been abandoned for the present. The basement is occupied by many hundreds of volumes of government reports, which in the near future will be classified and those of value placed on the library book racks. The remainder will be destroyed.– Santa Rosa Republican, February 7, 1907
THAT SMOKING ROOM
The Grand Army Man who raises his voice in protest against the idea of a smoking room in our public library, must have touched a sympathetic chord in the hearts of all right thinking people. He must have had (being a Grand Army Man) the best experience for an advocate of the right on this question.
Our library stands for influences the most elevating for the youth of our town. Who could want such a model set before them as a smoking room?
What parent wants his children to learn to smoke? Even if they are themselves handicapped by use of the pernicious weed.
Did Andrew Carnegie intend his noble gift to Santa Rosa to represent a smoking room?
Forbid it, all ye Christian citizens!
A MOTHER– Santa Rosa Republican, February 8, 1907
CONCERNING THE PROPOSED MEN’S SMOKING ROOM
Editor Republican: The communication in the Republican of February 2d concerning the proposed smoking room in the library by the Grand Army Man interests me.
Has the city of Santa Rosa any public waiting room for women? If it has, please let us know where it is located. If it has not, there should be such a room.
Santa Rosa is more or less indebted to the country round about for a somewhat extensive trade. When a country woman has arrived in Santa Rosa after riding for several miles over the roads of Imperial Sonoma, through the mud or dust, in the rain, wind or glaring sunshine, as the case may be, she is usually in a somewhat disheveled condition; she does not like to go about her shopping with her hair stringing about her face or neck and with mud or dust clinging to her dress, yet what is she to do? Before the awful 18th there was always a waiting room in some livery stable, but now even that comfort is very limited.
If the public library has a room to spare, let it be fitted as a woman’s waiting room. Until there is some such room to benefit the women, surely we do not need another smoking rom for the men, and certainly not in the public library.
A WOMAN– Santa Rosa Republican, February 8, 1907
ATTRACTIONS AT THE LIBRARY
The “Children’s Hour,” and the Children’s Room–Also the Rest Room For Women–The Winged Victory
When Miss Barnett, the librarian, returns from her attendance upon the summer school in Berkeley, “The Children’s Story Hour” will be made a regular event for Saturday afternoons at the public library. The boys and girls will be invited to meet there on Saturday afternoon each week to hear Miss Barnett and Miss McMeans read and explain the stories that have been written for children by the world’s best authors of juvenile literature…
Other new features have given the library an added degree of comfort for the women as well as for the children. The “Rest Room” has been furnished by the Women’s Improvement Club. There are low rocking chairs to which women are partial; there are comfortable couches; the tables are stocked with feminine literature, and there is the privacy which the general reading room does not afford. No man may invade the “Rest Room,” which is sacred to femininity.
The trustees have procured a proper pedestal for the statue of the “Winged Victory” of Samothrace, presented to the library two months ago by the Saturday Afternoon Club…those who otherwise glance unheeding at its graceful lines, and its significant attitude, and who might in ignorance look only at the stumps of its broken arms, and think of it–if they thought of it at all–as merely a pitiful ruin. Grown-up people sometimes ask the librarian if the statue was broken in the earthquake; and the little ones have often turned to her with the wondering query, “Haint the lady got no arms?”– Press Democrat, July 20, 1907