Wisconsin Library Heritage Center

The Wisconsin Library Heritage Center is a program of the Wisconsin Library Association Foundation promoting understanding and appreciation of the history of libraries and librarianship in Wisconsin.

Origin of Wisconsin's Public Library Law

Posted by Larry Nix
Larry Nix
Larry Nix has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Friday, June 19, 2009 in Public libraries


Wisconsin's original public library law was introduced as Assembly Bill no. 87, 1872 on January 26, 1872 by Assemblyman Alexander Graham of Janesville, Wisconsin. It was approved by the Governor on March 22, 1872. The  Graham Bill was remarkably similar to a bill introduced in the Illinois Legislature on March 23, 1871 and signed into law on March 7, 1872.  So similar, in fact, that there is little doubt that Wisconsin's public library law was based on the one in Illinois.  A key provision is almost identical: "Every library and reading-room established under this act, shall be forever free to the use of the inhabitants of the city or village where located, always subject to such reasonable rules and regulations as the library board may find necessary to adopt and publish ...".

Erastus Swift Willcox (pictured above), while librarian of the Peoria Mercantile Library, a forerunner of the Peoria Public Library, conceived the public library law that was substantially enacted by both Illinois and Wisconsin in 1872 and which was a model for a number of other states. Although New Hampshire adopted a state public library law in 1849, a solid case has been made that Willcox's public library law was the first comprehensive state public library law. Willcox realized that the fees charged by mercantile libraries and other membership libraries were not only inadequate for funding library service but that they were significant barriers to library use by the general public. Little is known of Alexander Graham's motivation for introducing the Wisconsin law or the specifics of how he became aware of the Illinois bill. He was, however, a member of the Janesville Young Men's Association, a membership library which experienced some of the same challenges as those of the Peoria Mercantile Library. A major motivating factor in the passage of the Illinois law was the movement to create a public library for the City of Chicago. The City of Chicago passed an ordinance under the new act creating the Chicago Public Library on April 1, 1872. The Black River Falls Public Library was the first public library created under Wisconsin's public library law of 1872.


No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment

Leave your comment

Guest Saturday, October 20, 2018


Popular Tags

Hall of Fame 2015 Hartford Public Library hall of Delia Ovitz WAAL S. Janice Kee Hall of Fame 2015 Hall of Fame 2016 Hall of Fame 2015 Gilbert H. Doane Carl Spitzweg Uncategorized Cooperative Children's Book Center Frank Avery Hutchins trav Bob Bochfer Wisconsin Library Trustees and Friends state historical society Milwaukee Public Library Inform Wisconsin Hall of Fame 2008 Charles Bunge Matthew S. Dudgeon John J. Jax White House Conference on Library and Information Services Wilbur Lyle Eberhart Oshkosh Public Library Rusk County Community Library Wisconsin Rapids 28 Centennial Appleton Public Library Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Amer Campaign Council on Library and Network Development Louise S. Robbins Publications Clarence Brown Lester Wisconsin Library Heritage Center 10 Lutie Stearns Increase A. Lapham bookworm Buttons UW-Milwaukee Libraries WWI Library War Service Governor's Conference on Library and Information Services Superior Carnegie Libraries Irene W. Newman WHCLIS I Love Libraries bed and breakfast Campaing for Wisconsin Libraries Edward Asahel Birge Hall of Fame 2014 Wisconsin State Normal School-Milwaukee background Hall of Fame 2018 Hall of Fame 2015 Zona Gale Hall of Fame 2018 Events & Meetings Events & Meetings Pinback buttons Meter mail slogans Hall of Fame 2013 Hall fo Fame 2012 Bernard Schwab buil Library Buidlings Hall of Fame 2010 Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Tower Hill Wisconsin Historical Register Hall of Fame 2012 Larry T. Nix Kimberly-Little Chute Public Library Black River Falls Marjorie Sornson Malmberg Hall of Fame 2015 Robert Bocher School libraries Sarah Janice Kee Library Systems Parcel post Black River Falls Public Library cam Ruby Roeder 20 Eager Free Public Library Academic Libraries Library People Orrilla Blackshear Wisconsin Free Library Commission library exhibit Wisconsin Federation of Women's Clubs Hall of Fame 2011 Milwaukee Public Library Jane K. Billings Wisconsin Free Library Commission T. B. Scott Free Public Library Dianne McAfee Hopkins Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries library legislation Woman's Congress People ca Ripon Public Library Public library systems Events caly film National Library Week Library Trustees Helen Adams WLA 125 Pewaukee Public Library 27 Milwaukee Art Museum Ruth Ann Montgomery Brown County Library 21 Hall of Fame 2012 Evansville Wisconsin Library celebrations Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Hall 14 School of Library and Information Studies Wisconsin Library Bulletin Elroy Public Library Eratus Swift Wilcox Katharine MacDonald Jones WLA 125 24 American Library Association Library War Service Digital Collections Ice Storm campaign McMillan Memorial Library Wisconsin State Law Library Richard E. Krug Wayne A. Wiegand Middleton Public Library Library Artifacts Beaver Dam Public Library Association of Library Trustees Advocates and Friends Exhibits WLA 125 DeForest Area Public Library John Miller Chancellor Cornelia Marving Pierce Library Buildings Gerald A. Somers Beloit Public Library Madison Public Library 11 Nolan I. Neds Hall of Fame 2012 23 National Bookmobile Day UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies Wisconsin Library Association State Law Library Library people Postcards J. D. Witter Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians UW-Madison school of library and information studies anniversaries Carnegie libraries Postcards Lowell W. Wilson Gertrude Thurow CCBC archives Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries traveling libraries campa Portage Public Library library education James Huff Stout Campaign Marketing-Publicity James Duane Doty WLA 125 American Library Association Hall of Fame 2017 caly film Hall of Fame 2009 Soughton Public Library Klaus Linderfelt Wisconsin Historical Society Peter G. Hamon 22 Lutie Eugenia Stearns Anniversaries Postcards Anniversaries Jerome P. Daniels Postcards presentations Brown Deer Public Library library memorabilia Cam Capitol Fire 1904 Clinton Public Library Library History COLAND Public libraries Dorothea M. Krause Brown Deer Public Library campaign campaign caly film books-by-mail membership libraries Bookmobiles Public libraries Special libraries Sandra Friedman Dolnick Manitowoc Public Library Wisconsin Literary Travel Guide Campaign Academic Librarians World War I Suring Area Public Library William J. Wilson Library people Lucy E. Smith Morris Library e

Wisconsin Library Association Foundation Logo