The Livingston Oral History Program

Livingston Library co-founder Edith DeCamp in 1913

You may already know that our library has a local history archive rich with books, maps, photographs, and other printed records. But did you know we also have ways you can hear our town’s history?

Nearly 50 years ago, the Livingston Library began work on a project called the Oral History Program. Librarians conducted a series of interviews with some of our town’s most noteworthy residents, who offered illuminating insights about what life was like in our town as far back as the turn of the 20th Century. Today, those interviews live on in a collection of nearly two dozen audio cassettes.

Among those interviewed was Mrs. Edith DeCamp, who was born in England in 1877, and moved to the U.S. in 1885. Then in 1913, she co-founded, with five other women, what we now call the Livingston Public Library. This group of women were originally known as the Alpha Club, whom you may recognize from a painting and commemorative plaque which hang behind our circulation desk (just a few feet away from our poster of Baby Yoda).

With more on how our library got started, here is an excerpt from an interview with Mrs. DeCamp herself, speaking on July 10, 1974, with librarians Wanda Spohn and Doris Adamus:

Wanda Spohn: I guess you always liked books and liked to read a lot.

Edith DeCamp: I’ve always been crazy for books, all my life, and always buying books. Now I’ve got so many books in the house I don’t know where to put them all. I don’t get them anymore.

Doris Adamus: When you first founded the Alpha Club did the group meet at the homes?

ED: Yes, and we used to meet once a week at first and had luncheon then too. There were only six of us then. There were Mrs. Halsey, Mrs. Vincent, the two Ashbys, Mrs. Hall, and myself. I started the club so they made me president of it. But we did have a good time for two years. I always had the thought in the back of my head because there was nothing doing here, nothing, no clubs, no nothing as far as having any entertainment. We used to pay ten cents a week and saved the money and then we would go to a theater and have dinner downtown, and just have a good time, that was all.

Members of the Alpha Club / Founders of the Livingston Public Library

So one day I was talking about it and wondering why we couldn’t have a little library of some kind. At that time this property still belonged to the old lady in California. The Wright Property, it was. All solid woods all through there. So there was no place here to have any library. But anyway, Mrs. Vincent was the only one that agreed with me. The others all said it would never go and be no good in Livingston.

So we had several meetings before I could get enough of them to agree to try it. Because, I said, we could at least try it, and if it wasn’t a success, why, we’d let it go. Well, where could we meet? At that time there was Junior Order, you know where the Elks Club is now? Well, they had in the one part of it, they had Jutley Jr. Auto and it was a house then, not a building like it is today.

So I got in touch with Mr. Hoffman, who was the president at the time, and told him of the idea we had of trying to start a library. He kind of laughed and said, “What are you going to have a library for, not enough people here.” You know there were only 1200 people here when I came here. And they were nearly all old people, elderly people. And you know, of course, women didn’t vote in those days either.

But anyhow, when I think of it, he thought it was quite a joke. Well, I asked him if there was any way that we could meet in their place there, because they had both floors and he said, “Well I’ll tell you, we have an empty closet there right by the entrance door from the hall, and if that would be enough I think we could let you have it for Monday evenings.” That was all, because they used that place like a club. Men used to go there for one thing or another and play cards and all.

Well I said that would be all right, because we couldn’t have it any more than one evening. Of course, evening was better than the daytime to start, because the older people could come, and if they wanted to, any younger people at home could come, too.

So it was the greatest surprise. Everyone thought it would be no good, to wait and see. All we had was 300 books, which I gave 150 of. I had so many books, you know, I could do it, and I also gave them a book case that I wasn’t using. So that was our library. The first night you would be surprised the people that came!

WS: Was it a success?

ED: Oh it was a success from the beginning.

WS: Carried right on through!

To hear more of Edith DeCamp’s interview– as well as an excerpt from an interview with former Livingston Police Captain Ernie Alinger– check out this episode of our podcast, L-Town Radio…

…and if you’d like to hear even more of these interviews, stop by our reference desk or email our reference department at ref@livingston.bccls.org , and one of our librarians will be happy to assist you.

Joe, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

L-Town Radio: Episode 10

Love is in the air on the latest episode of L-Town Radio, the Livingston Library podcast! Jessica, Katie, and Joe share their affection for the romantic work of Colleen Hoover, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson; Archana tells us about upcoming programs on Black artists, US Presidents, and movie stunt performers; Katie looks at some of February’s most anticipated books; Jessica chats about Bookish Vibes’ upcoming visit from author Beth Harbison; Joe discusses sci-fi titan Philip K. Dick and his novel The Man in the High Castle.

You can hear the episode below, and as always you can listen & subscribe to the podcast on SoundCloudSpotifyApple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts.