Monday, March 4, 2013

Bernice Appleton Wilder: First African American Director of the Gary Public Library (Gary, Indiana)

Bernice Appleton Wilder (1923-1988) was the first African American director of the Gary Public Library in Gary, Indiana. Ms. Wilder, a native of Missouri, was a graduate of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, and received her library science degree from the University of Southern California. She also was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority

Ms. Wilder began her career at the Gary Public Library in 1954 at the Roosevelt Branch as the branch’s manager (now closed, the Roosevelt Branch was located at the corner of 25th and Jackson Streets --about a block and a half from the former home of the Jackson 5). In 1956, she became an assistant in the Gary Public Library's Extension Department.

After working in the extension department, Wilder worked for the Louis J. Bailey Branch*, and in 1963, was appointed Children's Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Branch (formerly the Glenn Park Branch). Nine years later, Wilder was appointed manager of the Tolleston Branch. In 1977, she became Assistant Director of the Gary Public Library's Extension Department.

In 1978, Wilder was appointed director of the Gary Public Library. It was during Ms. Wilder's tenure that the W.E.B. DuBois Branch was built and the Gary Public Library began automating some of its services. She served as director until her retirement in 1983. On May 18, 1988, Ms.Wilder passed away at the age of 64.


The Louis J. Bailey Branch was named for the first director of the Gary Public Library.  Louis J. Bailey, a former employee of the the New York State Library and the Library of Congress, was a graduate of the New York State Library School (Edward Christopher Williams, the first African American male to receive a formal library science education, was a 1900 graduate of the New York State Library School). Mr. Bailey served as director of the Gary Public Library from 1908 until 1922.

The Gary Public Library was originally housed in a rented facility on 33rd West 7th Avenue before receiving a grant of $65,000 in 1910 from Andrew Carnegie for a new building at the corner of 5th Avenue and Adams Street (Carnegie's brother-in-law, Henry D. Whitfield, served as the library's architect). The Carnegie building opened in November 1912 (Father John Cavanaugh of the University of Notre Dame gave the dedication address). The Carnegie building served as the location of the main branch of the Gary Public Library until 1962 when it was razed to make way for a new facility. The Gary Public Library's new main branch was opened in 1964 on the same spot on which the Carnegie building was built 52 years earlier.

See related posts: Etka F. Braboy Gaskin and the Gary Public Library (Gary, Indiana) ; Helen Price Sawyer Braxton: Hampton Institute Library School Graduate and Librarian at Lincoln University (Jefferson City, Missouri) ;  Annette Hoage Phinazee: Dean, Professor, Author, and Librarian ; and Dhrathula Millender: Librarian, Author, and Historian - One of Indiana's Own.

Sources: Gary Public Library. ; “Missouri Girl Is Appointed Gary Librarian.” Indianapolis Recorder 6 Mar. 1954: 9. Print. ; “Personnel Appointments.” Gary Library Bulletin 12.3 (1954): 2. Print. ; “Personnel Changes.” Gary Library Bulletin 14.2 (1956): 4. Print. ; “Bernice Wilder, Past Director at Gary Library Dies at 64.” Gary Post-Tribune (Ind.) 20 May 1988: B9. Print. ; “Final Respect Paid 10th Library Director.” Gary Post-Tribune (Ind.) 26 May 1988. Highbeam Research, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2011. ; “Certificates Issued by the Library Certification Board – All Permanent Certificates Issued February 1 – April 30, 1961.” Library Occurrent 20.6 (1961): 176. Print. ;  “Bernice Appleton.” United States Census, 1930., n.d. Web. 7 Jan. 2011. ; “Bernice Appleton.” United States Census, 1940., n.d. Web. 4 Mar. 2013. ; “Bernice L. Wilder.” Social Security Death Index., n.d. Web. 4 Mar. 2013. ; Peters, Orpha Maud. The Gary Public Library: 1907-1944. Gary: Gary Public Library, 1945. Print. ; “Roosevelt Branch Library.” Gary Library Bulletin 22.3 (1965): 2. Print. ; “History of the Alcott Branch Library.” Gary Library Bulletin 22.5 (1965): 2. Print. ; “New Library Buildings.” Library Occurrent 3.5 (1912): 93-95. Print. ;  “Bailey Honored by Librarians.” Indianapolis Star 8 Dec. 1933: 15. Print. ;  “State Library Activities Outlined by Indianan.” Indianapolis News 15 May 1929: 14. Print. ;  McPherson, Alan. Temples of Knowledge: Andrew Carnegie's Gift to Indiana. Kewanna, IN: Hoosier's Nest Press, 2003. 215, 227, 231, 234. Print.

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