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Profiles of Washington Territorial Librarians – Eliza Des Saure Newell, 1882-1887

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Eliza Des Saure Newell

Eliza Des Saure Newell, 1882-1887

The longest serving Territorial Librarian was born in 1853 in New Jersey. In 1882 her father, the eccentric William Augustus Newell, was the Governor. Gov. Newell had appointed his daughter Eleanor as his personal secretary. His other daughter, Eliza, he appointed to the post of Territorial Librarian. The Governor’s nepotism forced the Legislature to change the Territorial laws regarding women in office. Maryan Reynolds picks up the story:

In 1881, Governor William A. Newell submitted his daughter’s name for Territorial Librarian. The legislature responded by passing a bill establishing that ‘Any person male or female over the age of twenty-one years shall be eligible to the office of Territorial Librarian and the word ‘he’ whenever contained in this act shall be construed to mean ‘he’ and ‘she.’

Eliza Newell, Washington’s first female Territorial Librarian, began her tenure on the first Monday in January 1882. Governor Watson C. Squire, Governor Newell’s successor, reappointed her to the post in 1884. Eliza Newell had a wonderful way of wording when it came to official business. In her 1887 report to the Legislature she stated her need for a larger budget with this:

The appropriation for incidentals, is too small for the necessary expenses of the Library, which requires postoffice box, stationary, stamps, wrapping paper, twine, light, fuel, and expressage and porterage to be paid frequently for books to be sent to the Library. The shelves of the main Library are filled to dense packing, also those of the annex. The necessity for additional room is manifest to any observer, and I trust that suitable provision will be made to overcome the inconvenience to which the Library is now subjected, and to make provision for the large increase which may properly be expected. The Library now contains ten thousand volumes.

It seems Gov. Newell, famous for being eternally financially hard pressed, used the Library as his residence. According to historian Gordon Newell (apparently no relation):

Previous governors had been accustomed to rent office space for themselves in downtown Olympia, but the always financially embarrassed Newell took over the territorial library rooms in the capitol building to save that expense. When his daughter was out he frequently ambled from his inner sanctum to check out books for clients of the library, a charming example of territorial informality …

At the end of her term, Eliza married Judge Mason Irwin. She died an untimely death on Dec. 16, 1891.



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