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Historical Essay

Stearns, Lutie Eugenia 1866-1943

Librarian, Lecturer, Reformer and Author

Stearns, Lutie Eugenia 1866-1943 | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargePortrait photograph of Lutie Eugenia Stearns

Lutie Eugenia Stearns

View the original source document: WHI 42955

Dictionary of Wisconsin History.
b. Stoughton, Massachusetts, 1866
d. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1943

Lutie Eugenia Stearns was a librarian, lecturer, reformer and author. She moved to Milwaukee with her parents in 1871, and graduated from the Milwaukee State Normal School in 1886.

Milwaukee Public Library

After teaching for two years in Milwaukee, she joined the staff of the Milwaukee Public Library. She served as superintendent of the circulation department from 1888 to 1897. In 1894, she met Frank A. Hutchins, one of the leaders in the Wisconsin free library movement. The same year, she was elected secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin Library Association, which Hutchins had organized in 1891. Together, Hutchins and Stearns determined to establish a state free library commission. With the aid of state senator and philanthropist James H. Stout of Menomonie, Hutchins and Stearns secured the passage of a free library commission law in 1895.

Library Commission and Later Life

Stearns was elected secretary of the Free Library Commission. She resigned from the Milwaukee Public Library in 1897 to become the first paid staff member of the new Commission. She traveled throughout the state from 1897 to 1914, lecturing and enlisting support for traveling libraries and for the establishment of permanent libraries. In 1903, the department of traveling libraries was created within the Free Library Commission, and Stearns was appointed chief. She resigned the position in 1914 to devote her time to lecturing and writing. She became a leader in the women's suffrage movement and in the formation of women's clubs in Wisconsin and throughout the nation. She was one of the founders of the Wisconsin Federation of Women's Clubs, and was a regent of the state normal schools for several years. From 1932 to 1935 she wrote a weekly column for the Sunday Milwaukee Journal, and from 1935 until her death remained active in lecture and reform work.

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Who's Who in Amer., 7 (1912); Wis. Mag. Hist., 39, 42, 43; Plymouth Review, Dec. 30, 1943.