The Women’s Library Association (WLA) is an organization that was founded in 1956 to raise funds and acquire book as well as archival collections for the University of Denver Library in order to support University teaching and research.
The Women’s Library Association was established in 1956 as the Women’s Committee of the University of Denver “dedicated to the premise that a great university must have as its heart a great library.” At the request of Chancellor Chester Alter, Marion Gottesfeld (Hurwitz) and Peg Bradford, both University Trustees, formed a committee to raise funds for the University’s libraries and to acquire book donations as well as manuscript collections to support University research and teaching. This committee was composed of seven other members including Frederica Bellamy, Julia Bennett, Dorrit Chalmers, Genevieve Denious, Alberta Iliff, Mathilda Levy, and Frances Webster. The committee organized an initial fundraising campaign that resulted in significant contributions to the Mary Reed Library.
In 1958, the Women’s Committee of the University of Denver became the Women’s Committee for the Library, also known as the Women’s Library Committee. Under the leadership of Marion Gottesfeld Hurwitz, the activities of the group were expanded and the organization set out to build the library’s collections through the solicitation of donations from organized women’s groups and individuals as well as by establishing a memorial book program. The new committee’s enthusiasm and commitment were summed up in a 1959 Denver Post article, in which Marion Gottesfeld, referring to the Mary Reed Library, stated that, “a woman built this library so it’s up to the women of the community to keep it up.”
By 1965 the Women’s Library Committee had grown to over 130 members and their impact was strongly felt. They were responsible for acquiring 70 percent of the gifts made to the University of Denver libraries from 1964-1965. To reward this dedicated work a new organization was formed in December 1965 by proclamation of University Chancellor Dr. Chester M. Alter. The Women’s Library Committee was renamed the Women’s Library Association (WLA), which shortly became an independent organization with its own bylaws and Executive Board. Marion Gottesfeld (Hurwitz) was named the first Executive Chair, with Janet Pirkey appointed as the general chair of the Annual Support program. The new organization was designed to involve a greater number of women from the Denver community. They hoped to reach this goal with the Annual Support program, which recruited women to become Sustaining, Associate, and Contributing members of the WLA. Members were eligible to attend a series of educational lectures, which became the WLA Lecture Series, presented by University faculty and community leaders.
In the 1970s and 1980s the organization developed several creative fundraising events. Some of the most notable include the annual Art and Antique auction, the Bargain Bazaar garage sale, the WLA cookbook, A Stirring Experience, as well as Mansions in Miniature (a miniature collectible show and sale), the Craftskeller gift shop (a store for students in the student union), and the annual spring book sale. Along with providing funding for books and manuscript collections, the work of the Women’s Library Association also reached more widely into campus affairs. For example, the WLA had a representative on the committee to select the architect for Penrose Library, which opened in 1972. In addition they sponsored many special events on campus including a reception in 1964 for U Thant, Secretary General of the United Nations, and an exhibit in Penrose Library of the University’s collection of prints by photographer Edward S. Curtis in 1975.
The Women’s Library Association and Friends of Penrose Library is an organization whose primary goal is to generate funds for Penrose Library. Its secondary goal is to present a continuing education program, which for many years has been its well-known Lecture Series. The WLA has been successful in establishing and growing a sizeable endowment that supports Penrose Library’s collections and programs. The WLA administers a used bookstore, the Book Stack, located on the first floor of the Mary Reed Building. It is open four days a week and is staffed by volunteers. Twice a year the Book Stack volunteers organize book sales at greatly discounted prices and all the proceeds go to Penrose Library. Other fundraisers are held during the year, one in fall and one in spring.
Hurd, Gwen. The History of The Women’s Library Association & Friends of Penrose Library : The First First Fifty Years. (Denver: The Association, 2006)
Maxine Lowry, “DU Seeks Library Books. ” The Denver Post, December 30, 1959.
Women’s Library Association Collection. Finding Aid in the Archives/Special Collections of the University of Denver, Denver. Co.