First librarian in Kansas City, KC Board of Education, Kansas City, Mo., Its History and Its People
As Mrs. Carrie Westlake Whitney wrote of herself in her three-volume set of Kansas City, Mo, It’s History and it’s People 1898 – 1908, her “biography is the history of the Kansas City Public Library.” Born in Virginia, the Westlake family pulled its roots and moved to Sedalia, Mo., at some point before the Civil War. Carrie ventured alone to Kansas City and found work as a bookkeeper, boarding with the Greenwood family, whose head-of-the-household was none other than Dr. James Greenwood, the Kansas City superintendent for nearly 30 years.
When the 1881 funding became available to hire the city’s first public librarian, Greenwood chose Carrie (in addition to the position of his assistant and Board of Education agent), touting her as “the smartest woman I have ever known.” Privately educated, Carrie became a mainstay in the community with her incredible dedication as the first librarian in the city, fostering children’s programs, and adding over 90,000 books to the library’s collection.
Starting off at a meager $30 monthly salary, by 1908 Mrs. Westlake Whitney was earning $183 per month and had become a familiar and welcome name to Kansas City’s citizens. In a patriarchal era, her level of achievement was outstanding.
It was a sad day, however, when a majority of men on the Board of Education deemed her gender unfit for the librarian position. All the hard work, devotion and positive influence that Carrie possessed seemed forgotten as she was demoted to assistant librarian in 1911, working, then, under male supervision. Just two years later, Carrie left the library for good, losing her assistant position as she was forced to “retire.”
It’s a shame that gender roles defeated the great lady, but her legacy will forever live on in her volumes – and in Kansas City’s heart.