Librarians in Uniform

Continuing our coverage of ALA during World War I, this post will highlight the now very rare uniforms of the first military librarians. The Library War Service was not unique in having a uniform, as many volunteer groups active in World War I had their own distinctive uniforms, notably the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. However, World War I was the first war when many women had the opportunity to wear a uniform while serving their country, and these particular uniforms are especially interesting: as they embody a time in which women were were first starting to get official status within the military, as well as beginning to exert more power in the leadership of librarianship in general and ALA in particular.

There were two main styles of uniform in use by the ALA volunteers, the main style for camp librarians in green wool, with versions for men and women, and the hospital style in natural-colored pongee fabric. The women’s uniforms were made by Best & Co. of New York City and men’s uniforms were made locally by a tailor, with official ALA-issued accessories of brass pins and an embroidered patch for all librarians.

Camp Librarian Uniforms

The camp librarian uniforms for women consisted of a skirt suit of “forest green” wool, with four pockets on the coat, a fabric belt, and a seam down the center of the skirt. The tie was a darker green than the suit, the shirt was any white high-necked shirt of the librarian’s choice (or a grey flannel shirt if needed), and the shoes were either black or tan. The hat was dark green with a large black ribbon band with a flat bow on the back, and adding a veil to the hat was expressly not allowed. The uniform was marked “ALA” with one large pin on the front of the hat, two small pins on the lapels, and an embroidered patch on the lower left sleeve. [1]

Lillian Baker Griggs (identified by author) shown in uniform. Note the patch on the left sleeve, and the open-book style pin is on both lapels and the center front of the hat.

Lillian Baker Griggs (identified by author) shown in uniform. Note the patch on the left sleeve, and the open-book style pin is on both lapels and the center front of the hat.

The men’s librarian uniforms were in the same style as the women’s. The wool suit had a coat with four pockets, breeches (“laced or button as desired”), flannel shirt of a “color similar to that of uniform,” a black tie, leggings and coat belt of tan leather (no shoulder strap), and “regulation service hat” with optional black cord (not shown). [2] The hat was later changed to a “barracks cap,” which the librarian below is wearing. The uniform was marked “ALA” similarly to the women’s uniform with one large pin on the left side of the cap, two small pins on the lapels, and an embroidered patch on the lower left sleeve.

Unidentified librarian in the male version of the War Service uniform.

Unidentified librarian in the male version of the War Service uniform. He is not wearing the belt.

Both the male and female uniforms allowed for a cotton version of the suit in the same color if the librarian needed it for a hot summer climate.

Hospital Librarian Uniforms

Hospital librarians had a unique uniform. The hospital uniforms were a belted dress of natural-colored pongee (a type of silk or cotton fabric), with a white collar and a brown ribbon or Windsor-style tie. This uniform also had a straw hat with a brown band. [3] The hospital librarians were also allowed to wear the wool suit uniform instead instead if they wished. There is no record of a men’s version of the hospital uniform, any men who served as hospital volunteers may have worn the main style in forest green.

A formal portrait of a hospital librarian in uniform.

A formal portrait of a hospital librarian in uniform.

Four hospital librarians in uniform.

Four hospital librarians in uniform.

In this photograph, note the placement of the navy blue patch on the left upper arm, also visible pinned to the chest on the left is the hospital library pin with ribbon, but there are no bronze ALA pins.

One librarian in this photograph is noticeably wearing white shoes, although the uniform instructions called for only black or tan. While official ALA letters sternly chastised the volunteers that the uniforms were to be “adhered to strictly, as the value of a uniform is its uniformity,” [4] the ALA librarians were voluntary, and there was no punishment for being “out of uniform,” so the librarians appear to have been a little loose with it. Other pictures from our WWI photographs series also show the librarians customizing their uniform:

Lillian Baker Griggs (in uniform under her coat): in this photograph she has abandoned the women's round brimmed hat for a garrison cap, probably inspired by her male counterparts.

Lillian Baker Griggs (in uniform under her coat): in this photograph she has abandoned the women’s round brimmed hat for a barracks cap, probably inspired by her male counterparts.

Patches and Pins

While archives primarily collect records and do not generally collect artifacts, we do have a small collection of the pins and patches from the uniforms available for research at the ALA Archives:

Final version of the official librarian pin used on uniforms.

Final version of the official librarian pin used on uniforms.

Original version of the pin, replaced by open-book style in 1918.

Original version of the pin, replaced by open-book style in 1918.

Top two would be sewn on the lower left sleeve of main uniform style, bottom blue one on the upper left sleeve for some uniforms.

Variety of patches. Top two  patches would be sewn on the lower left sleeve of main uniform style, bottom blue one on the upper left sleeve for some uniforms including the hospital librarians.

Version of the navy blue patch with "Library War Service" instead of "Camp Library."

Version of the navy blue patch with “Library War Service” instead of “Camp Library.”

Pin and brown ribbon worn by hospital librarians instead of bronze ALA pins.

Pin and brown ribbon worn by hospital librarians instead of the three bronze ALA pins. Librarian’s name would have been written on the white card behind plastic.

A physical copy of the female Forest green wool version of the librarian uniform is held at the Smithsonian, no pictures are available online. However a black and white photograph of the artifact is available in the book Dressed For Duty: America’s Women In Uniform, 1898-1973, Vol. 1 by Jill Halcomb Smith, published 2001.  Unfortunately none of the hospital uniforms or any male librarian uniforms are known by the author to have made it into museum collections.

All the pins and patches shown in this blog post are available to researchers at the ALA Archives, Record Series 89/1/75. The written information on the particulars of the uniforms is taken from Circular Letters, Record Series 89/1/55, and all the circular letters about uniforms have been digitized and are now available online. If you’d like to see even more pictures of WWI librarians in uniform, check out our digitized WWI slides and photographs collection!

Citations:

1. AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION LIBRARY WAR SERVICE circular letter, SUBJECT: Uniforms for Women, October 7, 1918. (pages 4-6 in the PDF) Found in Circular Letters, 1917-1920, RS 89/1/55.

2. AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION LIBRARY WAR SERVICE circular letter, Specifications for Uniforms for Camp Librarians, March 21,1918. (page 3 in the PDF) Found in Circular Letters, 1917-1920, RS 89/1/55.

3. AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION LIBRARY WAR SERVICE circular letter, Hospital Informational Circular: Uniforms, June 10, 1918 (pages 2 and 3 in the PDF) Found in Circular Letters, 1917-1920, RS 89/1/55.

4. AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION LIBRARY WAR SERVICE circular letter, Hospital Informational Circular: Uniforms, June 10, 1918 (page 2 in the PDF) Found in Circular Letters, 1917-1920, RS 89/1/55.

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