MANTI—National Library Week is April 3-9, and May is Utah’s Archaeology and Historic Preservation Month.
Manti Public Library is here today because of the foresight of 12 women, charter members of the Manti Ladies Literary Club.
They began the Literary Club because they felt that they were not studying enough literature in their daily activities. They were well enough acquainted to know that their interests were similar and thought it would be nice to get together once a week and share some of their favorite literature.
Their first meeting was held in the home at 372 South Main Street, where Freddie Keller now lives. It was a Keller home at that time, too. As was customary during that time, the women asked permission from their husbands and, in the case of a single woman, her father. Most of the men didn’t care, but a couple of them thought the ladies had too much work to do to have an afternoon off once a week to study something as frivolous as literature.
It finally reached a point where the bishop became involved. It was decided that he would attend a meeting with the ladies to see just what they were doing. He was pleasantly surprised to find not only were they indeed studying literature seriously, but they were studying serious literature.
He felt that what they were doing was beneficial to them, their families and the community. So, with the good graces of the bishop, they were able to continue their weekly studies. However, he made them promise to start each meeting with prayer. They did so willingly, and to this day each meeting begins with a prayer.
It was soon apparent to them that in this small community far removed from the crossroads of civilization, they needed more study materials. They did a poll of books that each lady possessed and came up with 39 books that were not in all their personal libraries. They set up a sharing system, with each lady taking a turn overseeing their tiny library. The system was run out of their homes.
Tragedy struck in 1906 from January 25 until March 15, when Manti was quarantined for smallpox. The books, which had circulated among many houses (including others outside of the literary club), were also quarantined and burned to help stop the spread of the disease.
Eleven days later, on March 26, the club voted to replace the books. During a club meeting on April 12, Libbie L. Hornung read a list of the destroyed books in a memorial service. The ladies mourned the loss of the books, but quickly worked to replace them, and the thought of a permanent public library in the community began to take hold.
They finally devised a plan, which included Andrew Carnegie and his famous foundation. Carnegie eventually donated more than 1,700 libraries in the United States and Canada, including three in Sanpete County: Manti, Ephraim and Mt. Pleasant, all of which are still in use.
It was only logical to ask Carnegie for a grant, as it was what he was doing at the time. The women of the Literary Club got $10,000, and the building cost $11,000, not including the land and the yearly upkeep cost, which would be another $1,000 a year.