This month marks the 140th Anniversary of the opening of the public library in Council Bluffs. On April 24, 1882, the Council Bluffs Free Public Library, located on 12 Pearl Street, opened its doors to the public.
Council Bluffs has a rich history steeped in libraries, stretching all the way back to 1866 when the Young Men’s Library Association was formed and started the first subscription library in Council Bluffs. Various efforts were made over the years to turn the subscription library into a Free Public Library. However, success wasn’t seen until 1880, when the public voted in favor of establishing a library and levying a tax for its maintenance by a 3 to 1 margin.
Interestingly, that vote almost didn’t happen, as the mayor at the time refused to include the proposal in his election proclamation, despite the fact an ordinance had been passed to submit the proposition to a public vote. The board members of the Council Bluffs Public Library Association, consisting of seven women and two men, had the ballots printed and distributed anyway. The City Council at the time had to then be compelled by the Circuit Court to enact the will of the people and establish the Council Bluffs Free Public Library.
As Mrs. Marie Davenport, the Council Bluffs Free Public Library’s first librarian, chronicles in her Historical Sketch of the Library Movement, Including the Establishment of a Free Public Library in Council Bluffs, Iowa:
While other public libraries, through donations made by individuals, may have been established in the state, Council Bluffs enjoys the honor and distinction of being the first city or town in Iowa, to establish such an institution and voluntarily to vote a tax upon its people for its maintenance.
To learn more about the Library’s history, please visit our 140th Anniversary display located on the first floor throughout the month of April.