At a time when we're celebrating the arrival, in Owensboro, of free books through Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, it's pretty wonderful to make a discovery like the one I've just made.


A good friend of mine sent me a link on Facebook about an extraordinary piece of Kentucky history that had never crossed my brain cells before. And, as I told her, I have an aunt and HAD a great-aunt, both of whom were teachers who love(d) Kentucky and its history, and I never heard either of them mention the Kentucky "book women."

When I first heard about librarians who would ride deep into the mountains of eastern Kentucky and Appalachia, I was thinking "Pony Express," but this came much later. We're talking about the Great Depression, a time when the already impoverished were waking every morning wondering if they were going to eat AT ALL during the day. Certainly, they weren't thinking about books.


Fortunately, there were those who were. These women were part of the Pack Horse Library Initiative. It was part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, and it assured that, thanks to these dedicated individuals, folks living in the mountains of eastern Kentucky and other regions lacking in even the most basic of necessities would have access to books.

While those in LARGE cities were experiencing the horrors of the Depression, you can imagine how that period was affecting those living in the Appalachian Mountains.

The Smithsonian tells us that in the mid-1930s, Kentucky only circulated one book per capita. At the time, the American Library Association standard was five to ten.


Librarians who delivered these books would ride anywhere from 100 to 120 miles per day to essentially deliver the reading materials to people who had no access to them. And they did this for eight years, from 1935 through 1943. Of course, by then, World War II was close to ending and the country was experiencing a major rally.


Author Kim Michele Richardson has written a fictional story about a "pack horse librarian" named Cussy Mary Carter. It's called The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.


I've never read nor heard of this book, but it sounds like it would make a good movie (and one they would NEED to film here in the Commonwealth).

Until such time, we can enjoy learning more about this amazing service provided by dedicated women who knew the importance of reading and made sure those who were less fortunate during a dark period in American history were not left on the sidelines.

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