The Devotion of Secretaries of State Harlow and Dement

As the 1860s and 1870s progressed, it became obvious that a new home was needed for Illinois State Government, which had outgrown the Old State Capitol practically from the outset. The State Library’s growth was severely restricted by this lack of space. In February 1867, the 25th General Assembly passed a measure to build a new Capitol under the direction of a seven-man commission. The commission met for the first time on March 13, 1867, in, fittingly enough, the State Library. Architectural plans by the firm of Cochran and Piquenard were adopted, with space for the library in the west wing of the proposed Capitol’s third floor. The commission was just one body of many that held meetings in the library, which became increasingly popular for that purpose.86

George Harlow, who had served as assistant Secretary of State under Edward Rummel from 1869-1872, succeeded his former boss as Secretary, and he constantly pushed the legislature to support the State Library. By now, there were additional staffers in place. Rummel’s brother, Rudolph, worked as a clerk in the library during 1869 and 1870. An 1871 listing of workers in the Secretary of State’s office showed an individual named George Ruhland as a “librarian.” Ruhland, who resided in the nearby Western Hotel, remained in his position through 1873. Ruhland proved to be neither a career state employee nor a lifelong librarian. Soon after leaving the State Library, his occupation was listed as “cigar maker.”87

Ruhland was followed by Mrs. Emma M. Boilvin in 1873, believed by Old State Capitol historians to be the first woman to be employed in the building. The 21-year-old Mrs. Boilvin was the widowed sister-inlaw of Harlow, the first of many relatives of Secretaries of State that found work in the library during that period. She handled the day-to-day duties as “clerk in charge of the State Library.” Harlow praised the “very satisfactory manner” of Mrs. Boilvin, whom he wrote was “admirably adapted for the position she so well fills” and displayed an “earnestness and zeal in the performance of the work assigned her.” The long-awaited permanent library worker allowed Harlow to devote more time to his other responsibilities as secretary, but the library was never far from his mind.88

In his first biennial report to the Governor in 1874, Harlow noted a large book purchase in 1869, “which in a measure, but only partially so, gave the library a respectable status.” He did not stop there, but went on to declare “that the present State library of Illinois is a small and insignificant affair no one denies who has seen it; indeed, there are a score or more citizens of this State whose private libraries are larger and more valuable.” Harlow was much more enthusiastic about the proposed new quarters of the library, which he declared nothing short of magnificent.89

The plans called for the library to be housed in two areas, starting with the miscellaneous books section in the west wing. Calling this proposed library room “one of the finest, most convenient, well lighted and elegant rooms for which it was designed,” Harlow reported its dimensions to be 44 feet wide by 79 feet long, stretching 48 feet from floor to ceiling, comprised of “two tiers of alcoves for the reception of books, the second tier of which will be reached by an iron stairway and surrounded by a gallery of the same material, tastefully designed and finished.” At either end would be a reading room measuring 18 feet by 44 feet and designed for use by legislators in session. Meanwhile, laws and journals were to be housed on the second floor, within the suite of offices reserved for the Secretary of State, in what would be known as the Document Library. Harlow described this area as “large, well lighted and commodious, and arranged with alcoves two tiers high, in which will be placed the books as they are received from the…states and territories.”90

The clever Harlow also used the descriptions of the main library room to remind the legislators of the contrast of this huge and beautiful space compared to the tiny, inadequate present collection. He wrote that the alcoves “will be appropriately arranged with the miscellaneous books now composing the State Library, and which will fill two or three perhaps, of the thirty or forty alcoves set apart for this purpose.” If it was not evident to the assembly that the old library was indeed a “small and insignificant affair…it would be if the present number of books are placed in the new library rooms without extensive additions thereto.”91

Harlow also challenged the pride of the lawmakers, noting “the proud and honorable position of Illinois” and asking, “does she not stand equal to any State where the intelligence and educational interests of her people are considered?” If that was true, reasoned Harlow, “the library of the State should be as complete and valuable in every respect as that of any other State,” and it was the “duty” of the legislature “not only…to themselves, but to the reputation of the proud name of our State.” To solve the problem, Harlow called for “ the expenditure of money…[an] appropriation should be liberal” to acquire the “thousands of books” needed to fill the shelves of the large new library. Little did he know that it would be over a decade before the library would finally reside in its grand new home.92

The move to the new State Capitol began in July 1875 and, by the middle of the next year, the offices were largely occupied, despite the fact that the Capitol was nowhere near completion. The library holdings and their bookcases were relocated to the new Capitol – possibly to the basement – and by July 23, the move of the Illinois State Library was complete. The library remained in its temporary quarters until some of the materials were moved upstairs, probably to the Document Library, the following January. But the main library room remained unfinished, with no money forthcoming for new books. Later in 1876, Harlow presented his biennial report, in which he stated that, “not one cent [was] appropriated for the purchase of books or documents for the benefit of the library.” Again he noted that the holdings were far short of filling the shelves of the still-unfinished main room and, with some resignation, admitted that, “as there was no appropriation made for the purchase of additional books, the Document Library will be large enough to accommodate the [library] for the next two years at least.”93

Although the legislature was doing little for the library, the book exchange still brought thousands of new acquisitions, and donations were on the rise. Harlow reported a total of 10,452 books had been added since his last biennial report, bringing the total number to 44,805. In addition, an increasing number of newspapers were being donated to the library from around the state. As a result, lawmakers had the opportunity to catch up on the goings-on at home as the cities and towns of the state became better represented within the walls of the library. By the end of the decade, a total of 206 newspapers, including 185 weekly newspapers from within Illinois, were being sent by publishers with their complements to the library.94