10 books from Seattle’s first reading list

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Seattle is a city where one of our librarians, Nancy Pearl, has become a national celebrity, worthy of an action figure and a best-selling book series documenting her “book lust.” Pearl is influential in guiding us toward what to read, but she was not the first Seattle librarian to compile a book list.

That credit goes to Sarah Yesler, wife of city founder Henry Yesler who launched Seattle’s first industry (a sawmill), served as mayor and became our first locally made millionaire. Sarah was influential in her own right: a civic activist who pushed for women’s rights, who practiced spiritualism, and who founded the city’s first library. She is often called Seattle’s first librarian.

On July 30, 1868, a year before the city saw its first plumbed bathtub, a small group called the Seattle Literary Association gathered at Yesler Hall to organize the first library. This was not a public library like the ones we know today. It was private. Annual dues were $1.50; 50 cents for “Ladies.” In a city with about 1,000 inhabitants, the association had a starting membership of 50 individuals.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.