Emily Harshe, Columbia Public Library Board President (1925-1930)
Our research has revealed many women were committed to getting a public-funded library established in Columbia, but Mrs. Emily Harshe stands out as a founding mother.
In an address to the Missouri Library Association conference and the Kiwanis Club in 1927, E.A. Logan was quoted as saying, “Thirteen years ago, [the Columbia Public Library] was located in a ratty, obscure room of the courthouse and Miss Lelia Willis was the only one in town who gave any time toward its maintenance. Mrs. Emily Harshe, the ‘mother’ of the library of Columbia, is responsible for putting it on its feet. She searched the town for several years for a suitable building and in 1920 it was moved into its present location,” the Guitar Building at 28 N. 8th St.
Harshe was very active in the Tuesday Club, the women’s group responsible for forming the Columbia Free Library and renting space to house it. Through that organization, she helped procure books, assisted in operating the library, almost single-handedly found a better location for it and campaigned to pass a tax levy to fund it. In an address made to the Missouri Library Association in 1916 she said, “All the women’s clubs of Columbia favor a library and I do not think any woman will allow her husband to join a country club until we have a city library, or vote for a new city hall until we have playgrounds and a swimming pool.”
When the first board of directors was appointed in 1922, she served as the vice president. Eight years later she was named the board president. Her obituary in the Columbia Daily Tribune read, “Mrs. Harshe, at the time of her death, and for several years, had been president of the Columbia Public Library board, and as such she had done much to stimulate interest among young people to patronize the library and much to develop the institution.”
In addition to being a strong advocate for the library, she was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, PEO and the Women’s Democratic Club. She sold war bonds during World War I, organized and was president of the Civic Club, chaired the Columbia Charity Organization Society’s tuberculosis committee, taught Sunday school, supported the Big Sister Movement, ran her husband’s bookstore after his retirement and more.
One hundred years later, we thank Emily Harshe for laying the foundation for a strong institution that continues to serve the community she loved.