This post was written by Donald B. Reynolds, Jr., retired director of the Nolichucky (TN) Regional Library and founding director/past president of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries. In my Googling, I discovered that the East Tennessee Library Association has an excellent “What Would Topie Do?” button associated with their annual Rothrock lecture.
Mary Utopia Rothrock (“Topie”) was a librarian, community activist, historian, author, editor (and some would say feminist) who, as one of her colleagues wrote, “knows all the answers and is one of the smartest persons in the library profession.” She was active in her local community of Knoxville, Tennessee, throughout the state, the Southeastern states, and the nation with her substantial work with the American Library Association. Her career spanned the years from 1914 through 1955, always able to think ahead of her times.
After being invited in 1916 to become the Director of the Lawson McGhee Library of Knoxville, Tennessee, she oversaw the building of a Carnegie-funded branch library for the Negro community who were not allowed by southern custom to use the main library in Knoxville (1918).
In a 24 August 1930 newspaper-covered conversational debate with the Knoxville mayor, who wanted women to quit their jobs so unemployed men could have a job, Ms Rothrock said
You assume that your jobless men could take the place of your employed woman. But could they. Society would be injured more by the mal-adjustment set up by men in women’s jobs, than it is by unemployed men. Women get their jobs and hold their jobs because they can do the work better than men. … When you deprive women of the possibility of economic independence, you have enslaved them. …
The mayor had nothing to say, reported the paper.
In 1933 she created the idea of regional library services to help local communities establish public libraries. This idea evolved into the present-day Tennessee Regional Library System.
During this time, she accepted a position as Supervisor of Library Services with the Tennessee Valley Authority where she was responsible for building library book boxes and using bookmobiles to distribute reading materials to the workers building the TVA dams, fulfilling her slogan of “Taking the Library to the Worker.”