The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1982, Volume 28, Number 3

by Clara E. Breed
Former City Librarian, San Diego Public Library

Between 1870 and 1880 San Diego’s population grew slowly but steadily from 2300 to 2637. Abraham Klauber had opened his country store at Seventh and I Streets in 1869. Here miners, Chinese fishermen, sheepmen and farmers traded their products for the merchandise they needed and took it away by ox team or burro train.1 Homes and businesses were clustered in the area bounded by Eighth and C Streets and the harbor, and were just beginning to straggle up the hill toward Florence Heights and Golden Hill. The railroad was still only hoped for, so travel to Los Angeles and San Francisco was either by stage or steamer, yet news of free libraries being founded in other cities — in Los Angeles in 1878 and in San Francisco in 1879 — must have been heard in San Diego.

On April 28, 1880 the State Legislature approved an “Act to establish free public libraries and reading rooms”2 which gave cities the authority to levy taxes (not to exceed one mill on the dollar) to finance such libraries, and to elect five library trustees with full authority to manage them.3 A year later on April 14, 1881, fifteen ladies and gentlemen met in the office of Judge Luce to talk about the possibility of a free public library in San Diego. Committees were formed to petition the city to levy a tax to support the library, and to raise money to open a reading room until a public tax could be raised.4 On May 8, 1882, a caucus of citizens met in the Horton Bank Building to nominate five library trustees, a city assessor, and a city collector. The election was held on May 11.5

On May 19, 1882 the five men elected met at the home of Bryant Howard, on B Street,6 and founded the San Diego Public Library.7 They were all respected public-spirited citizens who were active in lending a hand to everything the young city needed — the volunteer “fire laddies,” the Temperance Legion, the Natural History Society, the schools and churches–and they were to play leading roles in the future of San Diego:


President BRYANT HOWARD had represented San Diego interests in London for two years in 1873-1875, writing home letters on such subjects as the sugar beet industry and the value of the eucalyptus tree which were published in the local newspapers. He was president of the Consolidated National Bank, and later City Treasurer. In 1885 he presented the “fire laddies” with a fire bell which weighed 2,410 lbs., was mounted on a fifty foot tower on Fifth Street, and could be heard throughout the city.8
Secretary E.W. HENDRICK was an attorney. Elected to the legislature in 1880, he introduced a bill in 1881 to give women the vote “in matters relating to the public schools.” He became City Attorney in 1884, and later that year District Attorney and for a time during the absence of Douglas Gunn, acting editor of the San Diego Union.
Treasurer GEORGE N. HITCHCOCK was also an attorney, and an amateur scientist who owned his own telescope, which he shared with others during the eclipse of 1878. He became County Superintendent of Schools in 1883, City Superintendent of Schools in 1888.
Member DR. R. M. POWERS had been a physician, but stopped practicing in 1880 when he moved to San Diego for his health. He helped establish and was manager of the San Diego Gas Company (1885-1905) but he is chiefly remembered for being president of Southern Trust & Savings Bank 1893-1903.
Member GEORGE W. MARSTON came to San Diego at the age of twenty in 1870, clerked in the Horton House for six months and in other stores before becoming a partner in the firm of Hamilton and Marston. In 1878 he opened his own dry-goods store. He was secretary and vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce (1884-1885), City Councilman (1887-1889), and president of the Chamber of Commerce in 1889. Bryant Howard and George Marston had both served on the board of the San Diego Free Reading Room Association. Howard at forty-eight was the oldest of the trustees, the others being in their thirties with Marston the youngest at thirty-two. Both Hitchcock and Hendrick are known to have had substantial personal libraries, and perhaps the others did too.

At their first meeting the trustees voted to purchase a Minutes book, an official seal reading “San Diego Public Library”, and stationery. A committee was appointed to look for “suitable” rooms, and the secretary was instructed to correspond with Senators and Representatives in Congress “in reference to securing books issued by the government.”9 The value of a collection of government documents was clearly recognized from the beginning.

Before the end of May five suitable rent-free rooms were found on the second floor of the Commercial Bank (later to be renamed the Consolidated National Bank) on the southwest corner of Fifth and G Streets, and George Marston was appointed to find out the cost of carpeting the floor with matting.10 The official seal cost two dollars, the matting thirty-two dollars, and window shades for the front room six dollars. Later two tables covered with green baize were purchased.11 Since there is no mention in the Minutes of buying chairs, these were probably donated, as were most of the books. On June 2 Judge Alfred Cowles’ generous offer to donate the following books was gratefully accepted:12


Sparks’ Life and Public Correspondence of Washington
Works of Dr. Johnson
Russel’s Modern Europe
Ranke’s History of the Popes
Wilson’s Writings of Christopher North
Mill’s Logic
Addison’s Spectator
Macauley’s Miscellanies
Cowper’s Poems
Miss Milford’s Works
American Oratory
Mrs. Ellis’ Family Monitor
The Great Metropolis, New York by Gaslight
Family Farm and Garden
Ferguson’s Roman Republic

At the same meeting subscriptions were placed for an extensive list of “selected papers and periodicals for the Reading Room:”

Atlantic Monthly
California Catholic World
Contemporary Review
North American
Harper’s Monthly
Boston Journal of Chess
Popular Science Monthly
St. Nicholas
Century Magazine
Harper’s Weekly and Bazaar
Frank Leslie Illustrated
Youth’s Companion
Scientific American
Pacific Rural Press
Harper’s Young People
Forest and Stream
New England Journal of Education
Christian Union
Louisville Courier-Journal
Chicago Weekly Tribune
New York Sun
New York Times

The first encyclopedia, Johnson’s, was not ordered until September, Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary in November. The Library however had already opened its doors on Saturday evening, July 15, 1882.13 It was a reading room only, as the subscription libraries had been; no books could be borrowed for home reading.

In the beginning the library seems to have subsisted on donations, supplemented by such benefits as a picnic excursion to Soledad14 and an occasional lecture.15 It was not until October that the Trustees of the City of San Diego ordained that “The following taxes are hereby levied on all taxable property in the city for the fiscal year ending December 31, 1882, to wit: For general purposes, 30 cents on each $100; For Interest Fund, 50 cents on each $100; For Library Fund to maintain a free public library and reading room, 3 cents on each $100.”16

By February 6, 1883 the library trustees felt brave enough financially to approve of purchasing a long list of books, including the complete works of George Eliot, Thackeray, Dickens, Scott, Longfellow, Holmes, Bryant, Whittier and Tennyson.17 By April 5, 1883 a good many of the approved volumes had been received, but others were not delivered until January 2, 1884.18 Deliveries were slow in the days before the railroad, when all freight had to come by ship around the Horn, by mule back across the Isthmus of Panama, by stagecoach overland, or by ship from San Francisco. Early accession records show that the library usually ordered books from the Dodge and Burbeck book store on the corner of Fifth and D Streets, one of six booksellers doing business in San Diego before 1888.19

In May of 1882 the San Diego Public Library was located in five second-floor rooms of the Commercial Bank, located at Fifth and G Street. Photo courtesy of the San Diego Public Library. On June 5, 1883 the janitor was for the first time “authorized to let out books under such rules as may in the future be prescribed by the trustees” and Dr. Powers was appointed to “fit up the small room with tables and gas fixtures for the use of ladies.”20 After studying the rules and regulations of the public libraries in Los Angeles and Oakland,21 the trustees voted to adopt application forms used in Oakland, which required every borrower to have a guarantor who owned city property and was willing to be responsible for any unpaid fines and fees. After July 10, 1883, $15 a month rent was paid for the rooms on the second floor of the Consolidated National Bank.22 The lending of books actually started in September.23 Persons who could not furnish good security were required to deposit the price of the book borrowed.

Open hours at the library are not mentioned in the early Minutes, but articles in the newspaper give them as 9 a.m. to noon, 1 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m. in January 1883. Later that month they were listed as 9 a.m. to noon, 1 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m., and in February as 9 a.m. to noon, 1 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m.24 The library does not seem to have been open on Sundays until 1887, when it was open 1 to 4 p.m.25

An interesting letter to the editor in the February 4, 1883 San Diego Union was evidently written by Archie Hooker, the library’s janitor, in answer to a reader’s complaint. He protested that he “always” cut the magazine pages as soon as he received new magazines, and ended, “I have never yet failed to do what I understand to be my duty, either as janitor or librarian.”26 What happened to Archie Hooker and how much he was paid as janitor-librarian is unknown.

The first person given the title of librarian in the Minutes was Augustus Wooster, who was hired on August 6, 1884 at a salary of ten dollars a month, an amount which was increased to fifteen dollars in December, and two years later to twenty-five dollars.27 A year later he was notified that his services would no longer be required after August 15, 1887. Miss Lulu Younkin was to be employed at a salary of seventy dollars per month “to take charge of the library and to index the books.”28 Mr. Wooster was requested to give the trustees a report on the money which had been deposited with him to guarantee the safe return of books and to “turn over said amount,”29 but this may not have been the reason for his dismissal. Miss Younkin was obviously much better qualified, having graduated from the State University of Iowa and having had experience as a teacher.30 One of her first accomplishments was to classify the book collection according to the Dewey classification system and to compile the first printed catalog.

Miss Younkin’s Catalogue of the San Diego Free Public Library was published in April 1889.31 It begins with a small history of the library which states with pride that “the institution is now an honor to the public spirit, taste and culture of San Diego.” Over 7000 volumes in the collection had been read the previous year, either in the library or at home, at the astonishing rate of 4000 books per month. The Rules and Regulations stated that only one book at a time could be borrowed for two weeks. Borrowers were twelve years of age or older, city residents or residents of the county who owned City property. Fines were five cents a day, and books kept one week overdue might be “sent for” at an extra charge of twenty-five cents. Borrowers were sternly reminded that they would not be “admitted behind the railing enclosing the shelves” and that “certain books” would be issued to adults only.

Although moThe library moved to the fourth floor in 1889 when two more floors were added to the of the titles in the Catalogue were standard adult titles — including Derby’s Phoenixiana and twelve copies of Ramona — a surprising number of children’s books were included: fairy tales by Andersen and Grimm, forty-eight Abbott titles, seventeen by Louisa May Alcott, three Horatio Algers, fourteen by G. A. Henry, twenty-nine of Sophy May’s Dottie Dimple and Little Prudy stories, and many others. Sophy May was a local author whose real name was Rebecca S. Clarke.

 In April and May 1889 the Library was closed for five weeks32 so that its 7000 plus volumes could be moved from the second floor of the Consolidated Bank Building to the fourth floor, two more floors having been added to the building.33 A new four year lease called for a rental of $150 per month, but use of the elevator, janitorial service, and heating were to be free.34 The new quarters were “admirable” according to an article in the Golden Era for April 1890:35

The main room is 50 x 90 feet, with twenty-six windows, thereby insuring an abundance of light by day, while by night a multitude of electric jets illumine the room. The room is carpeted from end to end. The book shelves are separated from the two reading rooms — one for each sex — by a brass lattice, and the entire room is arranged so as to combine the utmost neatness with the greatest convenience.

San Diego’s library numbers 7,800 volumes, and in it can be found a larger number of solid reading matter than in most similar institutions in the State. This agreeable result is greatly due, so far as the young folks are concerned, in the efforts oMiss Lulu Younkin was hired as librarian in 1887 at a salary of seventy dollars a month. One of her first accomplishments was to classify the books according to the Dewey decimal system. Photo courtesy of the San Diego Public Library.f the teachers in the public schools to direct the tastes of their scholars in the best channels. The catalogue embraces all fields of literary and scientific research, and a “request” book is kept to receive suggestions of patrons for books not found in the collection.

 Miss Lulu Younkin is the present and efficient librarian and is ably assisted in her duties by Misses Mary Walker and Lucy Wheeler, and their courteous attention and painstaking efforts in behalf of visitors have done much to make the library as popular as it is.

The library is open on week days from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from 7 to 9 p.m., and on Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m.

The expansion of the library however had been poorly timed in view of the hard times facing the city after the depression of 1888. Light bills proved to be so expensive — a bill for $68.85 being received in October l889 — that a number of the fifty-nine electric burners were turned off in an effort to reduce monthly bills to $50. A committee called on bank officials in a vain effort to persuade them to reduce the rent, and Dr. Cave was appointed to ask the opinion of the City Attorney as to whether the library could charge a fee for the house use of books. Presumably his reply was negative, because the January 1890 Minutes merely state that his answer was read and filed.36

The Catalogue was revised in 1895 by publishing a Finding List of the Free Public Library of San Diego, California.37 By this time there were 12,000 volumes in the library, borrowers’ cards were good for two years instead of one, while borrowers “without credentials” had to pay one dollar per quarter. Use of ink in the library was strictly forbidden. (There were few fountain pens in those days, and using ink meant ink wells and grave danger of spills.) Miss Younkin stated with pride that methods used in preparing the finding list were “standard, being taught at the Library School of the University of New York and observed at probably one-third of the Public Libraries of the United States.”

After an introduction giving Rules and Regulations, the Finding List included an Author and Title List, a Classified List, and a Subject Index. It is interesting to note that Californiana was given its own unique classification number “001” at the beginning of all the other Dewey numbers, a peculiarity that persisted for many years afterward. A list of twenty local authors included George H. Derby (John Phoenix), Douglas Gunn, Charles Nordhoff, P. C. Remondino, Kate Sanborn, Rose Hartwick Thorpe, and others “for some time resident in San Diego.”


These were the beginnings of the San Diego Public Library, which celebrates its Centennial this year [1982]. Central Library still occupies the site which was selected in 1899 for the Carnegie library building. The preceding is one of the chapters from the author’s book Turning the Pages, San Diego Public Library History 1882-1982, which will be published this year [1983].



1. 90th Anniversary, 1869-1959. (San Diego: Klauber, Wangenheim Co., n.d.)

2. Charter of the City of San Diego, City of the Fourth Class (San Diego: Gould & Hutton,1888) The act of the state legislature was the second general library law passed in California, the first having concerned only the city of San Francisco.

3. Ray E. Held, The Rise of the Public Library in California. (Chicago: American Library Assn., 1973), pp. 58-9.

4. San Diego Union, April 15, 1881.

5. Ibid., May 7, 1882; May 9, 1882; May 12, 1882.

6. San Diego City and County Directory, 1886-1887. (Los Angeles: A. A. Bynon & Co., 1886)

7. Minutes of the Board of Trustees, San Diego Public Library, (SDPL) May 19, 1882. Vol. 1, p. 1.

8. Today the fire bell which was presented to Engine No. 1 by Bryant Howard hangs in front of the Central fire station. A plaque states that it was cast by W. T. Garrott & Co. in San Francisco in 1885, and that it hung in a 50 foot tower on Fifth between Broadway and C Streets where Jessop’s Jewelry Store now stands.

9. Minutes, SDPL, May 19, 1882. Vol. 1, p. 1.

10. Ibid., May 26, 1882. Vol. 1, p. 1.

11. Ibid., June 22, 1882. Vol. 1, p. 3

12. Ibid., June 2, 1882. Vol. 1, pp. 2-3.

13. Ibid., July 21, 1882. Vol. 1, p. 4.

14. San Diego Union, June 16, 1885; June 19, 1885; June 20, 1885.

15. Minutes, SDPL, July 21, 1882. Vol. 1, p. 4.

16. Minutes of the Common Council, Recopied, December 7, 1874 to September 11, 1883, the City of San Diego. Charter Ord. No. 86.

17. Minutes, SDPL, February 6, 1883. Vol. 1, p. 5. Other books approved for purchase on this date were Carlyle’s French Revolution, Living Pages from Many Ages, Story of Liberty, Bullinch’s Age of Fable, Little Classics, Green’s History of the English People, Cyclopedia of Science, Rawlinson’s Five Great Monarchs, Richardson’s Choice of Books, Cyclopedia of Choice Prose, Bucher’s Lectures to Young Men, Autocrat at the Breakfast Table, Lamb’s Complete Works, Aesop’s Fables, Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, and the Zoological Temperance Convention. An interesting early gift from Douglas Choate was the works of Tacitus, Homer, Sophocles, Euripides, Thucydides, Demosthenes, Horace, Cicero, Xenophon, Caesar, Virgil, and Juvenal.

18. Minutes, SDPL, January 2, 1884. Vol. 1, p. 10.

19. First Semi-Annual Pocket Directory of San Diego, California. for March 1888. (San Diego, San Diego Land & Town Co.).

20. Minutes, SDPL, June 5, 1883. Vol. 1, pp. 6-7.

21. Ibid., July 24, 1883. Vol. 1, p. 8.

22. Ibid., July 10, 1883. Vol. 1, p, 7.

23. San Diego Union, September 8, 1883.

24. Ibid., January 7, 1883; January 31, 1883; February 1, 1883; September 8, 1883.

25. Minutes, SDPL, October 11, 1887.

26. San Diego Union, February 4, 1883. J. C. Van Dyke in Books and How to Use Them, published in 1883, wrote that the popular conception of a librarian at that time was “a crusty old blockhead, whose chief function is to carry a duster in one hand, and a huge bunch of brass keys in the other: in other words a gentleman-janitor, whose knowledge of books consists in knowing only how to keep the dust off them.”

27. Minutes, SDPL, August 6, 1884, Vol. 1, p. 15; December 2, 1884, Vol. 1, p. 17; July 6, 1886, Vol. 1, p. 28.

28. Ibid., August 9, 1887, Vol. 1, pp. 39-40; September 6, 1887, Vol. 1, pl 40.

29. Ibid., October 11, 1887, Vol. 1, pp. 41-42; February 7, 1888, Vol. 1, p. 45.

30. “Lulu Younkin, Information Supplied by Her Brother Edgar, August 1921.” In SDPL “Papers Setting Forth Its History.”

31. Lulu Younkin, Catalogue of the San Diego Free Public Library, compiled by order of the Board of Trustees. (San Diego: F. M. Dalmazzo, Apr. 1889).

32. Minutes, SDPL, Annual Report for Year Ending June 30, 1889, Vol. 1, p. 79.

33. San Diego Union, April 6, 1889; April 11, 1889; May 16, 1889; May 19, 1889; May 21, 1889.

34. Minutes, SDPL, December 4, 1888, Vol. 1, p. 66.

35. The Golden Era, Vol. 39 (April 1890) pp. 188-9.

36. Minutes, SDPL, October 1, 1889-January 7, 1890, Vol. 1, pp. 87-92.

37. Finding List of the Free Public Library of San Diego, California. (San Diego: Gould, Hutton & Co., 1895).

[This article was scanned by Rick Crawford.]