Advocates for the first “Public” Building in Chevy Chase
In the late nineteenth century, a movement to build free lending libraries became popular in cities and towns across the nation. While some libraries were funded by donations from wealthy benefactors such as Andrew Carnegie, many were the result of the efforts of local citizens. The Chevy Chase Free Library Association, formed in 1896, benefited from Francis G. Newlands’ gift of a sizeable lot on Connecticut Avenue as well as the energetic fundraising activities of Chevy Chase residents. In 1901, the Chevy Chase Land Company transferred the land to the Free Library Association and construction of the Library was completed that same year.
First Steps: Securing the Land and Raising Funds for Construction
Among those associated in the early efforts of the Free Library Association were Newlands’ two daughters, Edith and Janet. They were joined by their friend Alonsita White, the oldest daughter of Mrs. Alice McLellan Birney. The Birney family lived at 9 West Kirke Street. In 1897, Mrs. Birney along with philanthropist Phoebe Hearst, founded the National Mother’s Congress, which later became the Parent Teachers Association. Perhaps Mrs. Birney’s model of civic engagement inspired the three young women. In the 1890s, many middle and upper class women, both single and married, were active participants in women’s clubs, and almost 75 percent of libraries in the US were built through their efforts.
In the late 1890s, Edith, Janet and Alonsita were active in organizing fundraising events for the Free Library at various homes in Chevy Chase. They may have attended the June 1897 “lawn fete” at the home of Mr. Morris Hacker on Connecticut Avenue, between Kirke and Lenox Streets. Refreshments were served – strawberries, ices, popcorn and lemonade, and an orchestra played for the entire evening.
"The fete will be given under the auspices of the Chevy Chase Free Library Association, of which Miss Janet Richards is President, Mr. John L. Weaver, Vice President and Mr. D. G. Porter, Chairman of the executive committee.
… There will be no admission fee, but every one, it is hoped, will make a donation of a book to the Free Library. Old books, in good condition, and even magazines and paper back books will be gladly received." - The Washington Post, June 6, 1897, p.17.
Miss Janet Richards, who lived with her parents at 15 West Kirke Street, was a well-known lecturer in the Washington area. She continued to be involved with the Free Library Association for a number of years.
Edith and Janet Newlands did attend the “annual” summer benefit for the Free Library the following year. In 1898, the event was held at the Richards’ home on Kirke Street, referred to in the local newspaper as "The Pines."
In addition to Edith and Janet, their father and step-mother also attended, according to this item in the Society column of The Times:
"The Chevy Chase lawn fete given at “The Pines,” the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Richards, last Thursday for the benefit of the Chevy Chase Free Library was largely attended and greatly enjoyed. The evening was perfect for an outdoor entertainment, and the grounds were rendered most attractive by strings of beautiful Chinese lanterns and numerous electric lights, not to mention the clear and brilliant moonlight. Refreshments were served on the lawn and a fine musical program, which could be heard and enjoyed throughout the grounds, was given on the front veranda." - The Times, July 3, 1898, p. 5.
The Washington Post reported on the same event, with similar comments about the “open-air fete.” The Post article included a longer guest list, listing attendees from outside Chevy Chase as well as many local residents:
"Among those present were Baron von Hermann and a party from the German Embassy; Mr. Wu, the Chinese Minister, and Mr. Chow, Mr. and Mrs. Francis G. Newlands, the Misses Newlands and party, including members of the French and German Legations; Miss McAllister, Frau Bachrach, Senator Burrows, Mrs. Andrews, Mr. and Mrs. Spear, Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Weaver, Mr. and Mrs. Morris Hacker, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Verrill, Mrs. A. H. Wilson, Mrs. Davis, Mr. Lewis Earle, Mr., Mrs., and Miss Robertson, Mr. Leon Robertson, Miss Lewis, Mr. and Mrs. Darrell Porter, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Mix, Mr. and Mrs. William Richards, Mr. and Mrs. Dubant, Mrs. Terrill, Mrs. Stevens, Mrs. Sands, Miss Little, Col. Miersh, Mrs. and Miss Dingman, Miss Baldwin, Miss Hayden, Miss Rhodes, the Misses Proudin, Mrs. and the Misses Barbarin, Mrs. Herbert Claude, Mrs. George Dunlop, the Misses Dunlop, Mrs. Dunlop, Miss Marshall, Mrs. Masi and many others. A large number of books was donated." -The Washington Post, July 3, 1898, p7.
The Chevy Chase Land Company donates Lot 37
Whether it was due to the influence of his daughters and their friends in Washington society or the residents of Chevy Chase Village – or a combination of both, in February 1901, Francis G. Newlands, as the President of the Chevy Chase Land Company, gave the Free Library Association a deed to the undeveloped land on the west side of Connecticut, between Lenox and Kirke Streets. Also known as Lot 37, it is shown below on this detail from a larger promotional map produced for the Chevy Chase Land Company by Thos. J. Fisher & Co. in 1892. The Chevy Chase Circle is at the bottom of the detail, and Lot 37 is two blocks above (or north).
Learn about the design of the new library building on the next page.