Kentucky Pack Horse Librarians

As we celebrate the arrival in Owensboro of free books thanks to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, it’s quite wonderful to make a discovery like the one I just made.


A good friend of mine sent me a link on Facebook about an amazing piece of Kentucky history that had never crossed my brain cells before. And, as I told her, I have an aunt and HAD a great aunt, who were both teachers who love Kentucky and its history, and I never heard either of them mention “women of the book” of Kentucky.

When I first heard of librarians riding deep into the mountains of eastern Kentucky and the Appalachian Mountains, I thought “Pony Express,” but that came much later. We’re talking about the Great Depression, a time when the poor woke up every morning wondering if they were going to eat AT ALL during the day. Of course, they weren’t thinking of books.


Fortunately, there were those who were. These women were part of the Pack Horse Library Initiative. This was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and ensured that, through these dedicated people, people living in the mountains of eastern Kentucky and other areas lacking even the most basic necessities would have access to books.

While those in the BIG cities lived through the horrors of the Depression, you can imagine how this period affected those who lived in Appalachia.

The Smithsonian tells us that in the mid-1930s, Kentucky circulated only one book per capita. At the time, the American Library Association standard was five to ten.


The librarians who delivered these books traveled between 100 and 120 miles a day to essentially deliver the reading material to people who did not have access to it. And they did for eight years, from 1935 to 1943. Of course, by then World War II was about to end and the country was experiencing a major rally.


Author Kim Michele Richardson wrote a fictional story about a “pack horse librarian” named Cussy Mary Carter. It’s called The Woman of Troublesome Creek Book.


I’ve never read or heard of this book, but it sounds like it would make a great movie (and they NEED to shoot here in the Commonwealth).

In the meantime, we can learn more about this incredible service provided by dedicated women who knew the importance of reading and ensured that those less fortunate during a dark time in American history were not left behind. next to.

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