Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Evanston Public Library #1: The Storyteller Who Started a Library

January 21, 2016

I don’t know if you noticed this past October but Evanston Public Library hosted its first annual Storytelling Festival.  There were tents, international storytellers, events for people of every age, the works.  It was also a massive success, selling out in almost every area.

It seems fitting that EPL should salute storytelling since you could say that it was a storyteller who started the library in the first place.

Meet Edward Eggleston (1837-1902).


I guess you could call him one of our hometown celebrities.  A novelist, editor, historian, and storyteller, Eggleston called Evanston home from around 1866-1870.

I don’t think he started out thinking he was going to found a library, of course.  Initially he began a class for boys called the Little Club.  In the evenings boys ages six to sixteen would meet in Eggleston’s home.  He’d start them off with a religious talk and a Bible reading, followed by stories.  At the end of these meetings he’d let the boys dive into his personal library and borrow his books.  Good stuff too.  Not didactic texts but stuff like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Eggleston soon became a victim of his own success, though.  So many boys started attending his home that the meetings moved out of his house into the kindergarten building next door.  As for his library, he couldn’t meet their demands.  Desperate to appease these book-hungry boys he turned to the leading citizens and asked for a village library.  As a result of his actions, the Evanston Library Association was founded in 1871.  Not long thereafter it turned into the Free Library of the Village of Evanston.

Years later, one of those grown up boys (Henry B. Hemenway) called Eggleston the “father of the public library”.  And all it took was some good old-fashioned storytelling.

For more information on Eggleston and a host of other interesting Evanston-related facts, please be sure to check out The ABCs of Evanston by Janet G. Messenger.



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