In 1890 there were only a dozen public libraries in all of Wisconsin. In 1872 a general public library law was passed by the state which made it possible for cities and villages to establish libraries and levy taxes for their support. Shortly thereafter public libraries began to appear around the state.
Following the provisions of law, the first public libraries in Wisconsin were: Sparta (1874), Madison (1875), Fond du Lac (1877), Milwaukee (1878), Janesville (1883), Beaver Dam (1884), Neenah (1884), LaCrossse (1888), Ashland (1888), Superior (1888), Green Bay (1889), and Menomonee (1890).
These early libraries were really quite restricted in what they could offer their patrons. Their book collections were small, assembled primarily by personal donations and were weighted heavily with classics. There were no trained librarians and the persons placed in charge of the book collections were poorly paid, some merely served on a volunteer basis. Only La Crosse actually had a library building. The others were operated as reading rooms in rented or donated quarters. By 1895, there were only twenty-eight public libraries in the state and only one of these had the services of a trained, professional librarian.
Meanwhile, in Fort Atkinson, two local women's clubs were endeavoring to establish a free public library for their city. One was the Tuesday Club, founded in 1881 by sixteen members. It is the second oldest women's club in Wisconsin. It was a women's study club that met weekly, at which time a member would present a topic for discussion such as a book review, or a paper on Italy, France, England or some such country.
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