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The Book Woman

Imagine you are driving down the freeway. While passing an open field, you notice a woman riding on a horse moving at a slow gait, packed down with several bulging saddle bags. You quickly glance at her riding pants snugged into her knee-high boots flaked with dry mud, her jacket cropped short just below her waist, and her slightly tilted baker boys’ hat. You say to yourself, How vintage.

If you witnessed this sight during the midpoint of The Great Depression (1935-1943), you would have seen one of nearly a thousand librarians who worked for the Pack Horse Library, which we know as the “bookmobile.” However, these librarians rode 100 to 120 miles weekly to lend used, donated books and magazines to the most impoverished and isolated communities, homes, and mountain children’s one-room schoolhouses throughout the Eastern Kentucky Appalachian Mountains. They earned $28 each month, equating to approximately $641 in modern dollars.

Seldomly seen on paved or dirt roads, instead, they traveled through dense forests, muddy footpaths, rocky creeks, and even steep dirt cliffs. One librarian recorded that, in extremely cold weather, her boots actually froze to her stirrups.

The Pack Horse Library is credited to Ms. May F. Stafford. It began in 1913 as a privately funded project, stretching into 1914 until funding was no longer available. However, in 1934, Elizabeth Fullerton, a woman who worked with the Women's and Professional Projects segment of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), decided to reuse Stafford's idea.

Today, we use as the internet and social media regularly to stay aware; the Pack Horse Library was the only means for these communities to learn about the world and current affairs. Scrapbooks were hand-created by the Pack Horse librarians, including newspaper clippings of major events, recipes, health tips, and several blank pages for hand-written messages, questions, and prayers, to be passed from one impoverished home to another. One destitute mother stated, “The scrapbook saved my life.”

Favorite books included children's picture books and classic literature as children read them to illiterate family members. Fortunately, our libraries and dedicated librarians continue to offer a place to share knowledge, gather for meetings, and in which children and young adults can immerse themselves through books into an imaginary world.

Friends, if, by any chance, you ever spot a woman on a horse with bulging saddle bags, you know where she is heading.

Thank you for reading. Comments are always welcomed. You are invited to find your journal on

Recommended reading: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creeks, by Kim Michele Richardson


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