The Father of Modern Libraries Was a Serial Sexual HarasserBreaking News
tags: sex scandals, sexual harassment, Columbia, William V Harris
Adelaide Hasse was used to professional challenges. As a young woman, she struggled to be taken seriously by mostly male executive boards. She created a groundbreaking new way to classify government documents—and was disappointed when a male colleague claimed the credit. But armed with a new job at the New York Public Library, a better salary, and an ambitious new project, she finally felt optimistic about her career.
To pull off her newest plan, she’d need support, so she approached the leading voice in her field, Melvil Dewey, a man whose innovations made him a household name. He suggested they meet privately about her new project. Encouraged, she made her way to Albany, New York—only to find that he had arranged what amounted to a weekend-long date. It’s unclear what happened next, but Hasse departed hastily after being taken for a long drive by Dewey, and later spoke to colleagues about how offensive his behavior had been.
The story sounds like it could involve a Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer, but it didn’t. It took place in 1905, more than a century before the #metoo movement that exposed the sexual misconduct of America’s most powerful men. And the man in question was Melvil Dewey, the library pioneer whose decimal system of classification is still used in libraries today—a “protean genius” who raised himself from a poor farmer’s son to an icon during his lifetime.
Dewey is remembered today as an innovator who ushered American librarianship into the modern age. He helped invent the modern library, shaping everything from its organizational methods to its look to the roles of the librarians who were their stewards. But his pattern of sexual harassment was so egregious that women like Hasse dared to speak out against it, at a time when women were harshly judged for reporting sexual harassment. So many came forward that he was kicked out of the profession’s most prestigious association after an industry cruise in Alaska turned dangerous for women.