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The History of Cossitt
You don't often hear of a library being a tourist attraction, but here in Memphis, the Cossitt Library is just that! Come hear the fascinating history of Cossitt Library Thursday, October 11 from 11 am - noon from its beginnings in 1893 through its expansion in the 1920's and the struggle to integrate libraries during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Wayne Dowdy will discuss the history.
Wayne Dowdy is the Memphis Public Library & Information Center History Department Manager. He is also the author of Mayor Crump Don't Like It: Machine Politics in Memphis; Hidden History of Memphis; Crusades for Freedom: Memphis and the Political Transformation of the American South and a Brief History of Memphis.
Cossitt is the City's oldest library and often serves as a first stop for both domestic and international tourists.
Cossitt Branch Library began its existence as the Cossitt/Goodwyn Institute.
Frederick H. Cossitt, a native of Connecticut, opened a wholesale dry goods business in Memphis.
He mentioned to Carrington Mason, a business associate, that he wanted to give a substantial gift to the City of Memphis. They both agreed that a library would be fitting.
Around that time, Mr. Cossitt went on a business trip to Europe. Unfortunately, he became ill during his visit and passed away.
Before his death, he didn't include anything in writing about his plans for the library. However, his close friends and family knew of his wish to give back to the City and decided to see it through in his honor.
His daughters wanted to honor their father's pledge and plan. Helen Cossitt Julliard, May Cossitt Dodge, and Mr. Thomas Stokes, each gave $25,000 towards the establishment of the new Public Library in Memphis.
Mr. Cossitt also left a list of Memphis businessmen of whom he wished to administer the proposed library. On March 8, 1888, the entire $75,000 was given to the businessmen and placed in a trust until plans for a public library were completed.
Under the leadership of these select businessmen, a charter was granted by the State of Tennessee on April 6, 1888, under the corporate name of Cossitt Library.
It was further decided that the entire $75,000 from the gift should be put into the library building.
The City of Memphis promised to provide working expenses for the library and provide a lot overlooking the Mississippi River.
Architects were invited to submit designs, and from these Mr. L. B. Wheeler of Atlanta was awarded the contract for the building. Four years later, on April 12, 1893, the handsome red sandstone building was dedicated.
Bring your gently used books to the nearest Memphis Public Library & Information Center location. Proceeds from Friends of the Library book sales benefit the Memphis Public Library & Information Center.