A Tribute to Edith Ward and the Birmingham Public Library

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Reading Room
Image via Flickr/Creative Commons



A copy of To Kill a Mockingbird signed by Harper Lee. Dr. Martin Luther King's signature on the warden's docket from his 1963 arrest in Birmingham. A scrapbook compiled by Edith Ward, a Birmingham woman born in 1883.

These are the things I had the pleasure and honor of seeing yesterday afternoon thanks to the Birmingham Public Library.

I am a member of the new Young Professionals Board of the Birmingham Public Library and yesterday during our first meeting we were given a tour of the Central Downtown Library's Southern History Collection, which includes rare books to which only 10 people in the library have access, and the Archives Department, which preserves documents, photographs and manuscripts on Birmingham and Jefferson County history.

I was so excited I left the library shaking.

Yes, I'm a nerd.

But I have a confession. Even though I was about to faint when I saw Lee's and King's signatures I was most amazed by those scrapbooks of Edith Ward. The paper dolls she collected as a child, the letters from boyfriends she received as a teen, and other items like a dance card, clippings of her favorite poems, and playbills from theater performances she attended all offered this slice of life not found in most high school history books. And even though I know that as a black person my life would have been nothing like hers had I been alive in the late 1800s, as a woman it was still fascinating to see how other women of that time lived.

For example, we had the chance to see a restored photo of Edith with her bike. She loved this bike, or her "wheel" as she called it, and wrote about it often in her diaries. For Edith and other young women of that time period their bikes represented freedom. A girl might hop on her bike and ride from the Southside all the way to Bessemer. These bikes were such a big deal that local ministers began preaching against the evils of the bicycle, claiming they had girls going wild.

I could have stayed in the basement of the library all day learning about Edith's life.

But I left there realizing two things: the importance of city libraries and the importance of documenting your life.

These pieces of history I had the opportunity to see yesterday would be gone, lost forever, if not for the restoration and preservation efforts of libraries. And there would be no pieces of history to preserve if not for the people who took the time to document their lives.

One might think something as simple as keeping a scrapbook is inconsequential and unimportant, but those who think that are wrong. Sharing your life isn't just about you; it's about representing your generation for the generations to come. So whether it's through a scrapbook, a journal, a book, or  a blog -- tell your story.

Crossposted at See Jane Write.

4 comments:

  1. I loved this Javacia. And the timing is perfect. We recently cleaned out our storage area and I have been going through my high school scrapbooks and postcards from a summer spent backpacking across Europe. What a wonderful trip down memory lane it's been. I've actually learned things about myself and it's been fun showing my kids my life (well some of it) before I was a mom.

    That trip to the library sounds fantastic. I think I would have left shaking too!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading today's post, Charlene. After yesterday's experience, I'm seriously thinking about starting a scrapbook!

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  2. I too loved learning about Edith, and I'm excited about serving on this board with you!

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