The Book Women.

A group of “book women” on horseback in Hindman, Kentucky, 1940. Kentucky Library and Archives.

They were known as the “book women.” They would saddle up, usually at dawn, to pick their way along snowy hillsides and through muddy creeks with a simple goal: to deliver reading material to Kentucky’s isolated mountain communities.

The Pack Horse Library initiative was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA), created to help lift America out of the Great Depression, during which, by 1933, unemployment had risen to 40 percent in Appalachia. Roving horseback libraries weren’t entirely new to Kentucky, but this initiative was an opportunity to boost both employment and literacy at the same time.

“Sometimes the short way across is the hard way for the horse and rider but schedules have to be maintained if readers are not to be disappointed. Then, too, after highways are left, there is little choice of roads,” c. 1940. Kentucky Libraries and Archives.

Another fascinating article at Atlas Obscura, with absolutely splendid photos! Click on over and see.


  1. chigau (違う) says

    That is inspiring.
    A bit more of that kind of thing could actually make america great again.

  2. says

    Not only that, they were great supporters of their library and said the librarians saved their lives. Those women were greatly beloved.

  3. kestrel says

    As a person with a donkey, let me say… that is not a donkey, it’s a mule, and a lovely one too! :-) They used a lot of mules! Also, I was surprised how many used driving bridles on their mules. (Driving… that would be, driving a cart or carriage. You can tell they are wearing them because they have blinkers, or blinders, on them. It stops the animal seeing something to the side, and thus can help to prevent spooking.) I love seeing all the mules. Also check out those houses… wow. Amazing photos.

    I have lived in regions like these women delivered books to, and I’d have supported them no question, or even joined them. If you do live in the middle of nowhere, a book is the most awesome thing ever. What a great part of history.

  4. rq says

    I would love to live as a book woman, and go places, and collect and deliver books to all kinds of people.
    I bet the job didn’t pay a lot, which is why men didn’t want to do it despite the risk and danger of living for extended periods of time on your own in remote regions. Books aren’t as important as chopping trees down for money.

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