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 T. Nix
Larry T. Nix
Larry T. 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, December 07, 2019


Popular Tags

Capitol Fire 1904 Special libraries Appleton Public Library Pinback buttons Nancy Marshall Library Buidlings Events & Meetings T. B. Scott Free Public Library Superior Carnegie Libraries Library people Postcards Hall of Fame 2019 Delia Ovitz WLA 125 Hall of Fame 2017 Milwaukee Art Museum Marketing-Publicity 24 library exhibit Wisconsin Literary Travel Guide Rusk County Community Library Exhibits caly film Helen Adams Clinton Public Library Campaign Increase A. Lapham Cam Cooperative Children's Book Center Charles Bunge hall of Frank Avery Hutchins WHCLIS Events & Meetings DeForest Area Public Library Hartford Public Library caly film McMillan Memorial Library Woman's Congress Buttons Publications Middleton Public Library Campaing for Wisconsin Libraries Bookmobiles Nolan I. Neds Pewaukee Public Library Parcel post William J. Wilson 27 Ruth Ann Montgomery Library e State Law Library Wisconsin Free Library Commission Hall of Fame 2009 library education Matthew S. Dudgeon Wisconsin Free Library Commission Peter G. Hamon Council on Library and Network Development Historical Register Cornelia Marving Pierce School of Library and Information Studies Manitowoc Public Library COLAND Public libraries campaign buil Hall Zona Gale Black River Falls Public Library Milwaukee Public Library Academic Libraries 14 Klaus Linderfelt Brown County Library Uncategorized Events Centennial Hall of Fame 2008 Beloit Public Library Richard J. Sorensen Hall of Fame 2012 Richard E. Krug Hall of Fame 2015 membership libraries Gilbert H. Doane Ripon Public Library Orrilla Blackshear Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Wisconsin Historical Society Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries S. Janice Kee Eager Free Public Library National Library Week Clarence Brown Lester Soughton Public Library James Huff Stout Jerome P. Daniels Hall fo Fame 2012 Wisconsin State Normal School-Milwaukee Library people Edward Asahel Birge Dianne McAfee Hopkins UW-Madison school of library and information studies Wisconsin Library Trustees and Friends Association of Library Trustees Advocates and Friends Hall of Fame 2016 archives Hall of Fame 2012 Anniversaries Eratus Swift Wilcox Library Artifacts WLA 125 Anniversaries Dick Sorensen bookworm Hall of Fame 2015 Wisconsin Library Association Sandra Friedman Dolnick Digital Collections Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries White House Conference on Library and Information Services John Miller Chancellor Academic Librarians Marjorie Sornson Malmberg UW-Milwaukee Libraries books-by-mail Postcards Larry T. Nix Hall of Fame 2015 Library History Lutie Eugenia Stearns Library celebrations ca 23 Dick Sorensen Public library systems campaign Postcards library legislation 28 Wisconsin Library Bulletin 11 Ice Storm Katharine MacDonald Jones Library Systems Evansville Wisconsin Hall of Fame 2011 Bob Bochfer Hall of Fame 2015 Wisconsin Library Heritage Center Dorothea M. Krause Portage Public Library Amer John J. Jax American Library Association American Library Association Library War Service Governor's Conference on Library and Information Services School libraries Gerald A. Somers Hall of Fame 2018 state historical society library memorabilia Hall of Fame 2010 anniversaries Louise S. Robbins Wisconsin Federation of Women's Clubs Sarah Janice Kee bed and breakfast caly film presentations Madison Public Library Robert Bocher J. D. Witter Wayne A. Wiegand People campaign Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians WAAL trav Bernard Schwab 10 Postcards Black River Falls CCBC Lowell W. Wilson Meter mail slogans Brown Deer Public Library 22 Campaign Campaign Carnegie libraries National Bookmobile Day 20 Oshkosh Public Library cam Elroy Public Library James Duane Doty I Love Libraries World War I Lucy E. Smith Morris Jane K. Billings WLA 125 UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies 21 Irene W. Newman Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Library Trustees Library Buildings Inform Wisconsin traveling libraries background Hall of Fame 2014 Public libraries Tower Hill Wisconsin Hall of Fame 2015 Wisconsin State Law Library Gertrude Thurow Carl Spitzweg Wisconsin Rapids Hall of Fame 2013 Lutie Stearns WLA 125 campa Wilbur Lyle Eberhart Hall of Fame 2012 Suring Area Public Library Kimberly-Little Chute Public Library WWI Library War Service Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Ruby Roeder Milwaukee Public Library Hall of Fame 2018 Brown Deer Public Library Beaver Dam Public Library Library People

Wisconsin Library Association Foundation Logo