EASTMAN, LINDA ANNE (7 July 1867-5 Apr. 1963) became in 1918 the first woman in the United States to head a metropolitan library system. She oversaw the construction of the main library on Superior Avenue in the 1920s and led the system through the darkest days of the Depression.
Eastman was born in Oberlin, Ohio, to William Harley and Sarah Ann Eastman. Her family moved to Cleveland when she was seven, and she was educated in Cleveland public schools, graduating from West High School. After graduation, she took classes at Cleveland Normal School to prepare for a teaching career.
After graduation, she taught in Cleveland elementary schools for seven years, where she established libraries in her classrooms. Persuaded that books were invaluable for a child’s education, Eastman joined the CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY staff in 1892, and in 1894, she took charge of the library’s first branch near the current site of the WEST SIDE MARKET. After a year’s absence to work in the Dayton public library system, she returned to Cleveland in 1896 when WM. HOWARD BRETT, the head librarian offered her the job of assistant librarian.
Librarianship was a new profession with few specialized requirements. Eastman’s only professional training was a correspondence course given by the New York State Library School, the first of its kind, which she took after joining the library staff. Because librarians got paid little and libraries were associated with a home-like atmosphere suitable for children, librarianship became a viable career choice for educated women. By the beginning of the twentieth century, most librarians were women although men, like Brett, led the library systems.
Although she herself had neither a college degree nor professional training, she helped found the school of Library Science at Western Reserve University (now CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY) in 1904 and joined its faculty. She published widely in library journals and was elected president of the Ohio and American Library Associations.
After his death in an automobile accident in 1918, Eastman assumed Brett’s job, inheriting the responsibility for the construction of a new main library at 325 Superior Avenue. Cleveland’s most distinguished architectural firm, WALKER AND WEEKS, created the initial plans in 1912. The library was part of the cluster of grand public buildings built around an open mall, known as the GROUP PLAN, that represented the city’s grand aspirations during these years of growth and prosperity. Completion of the new main library was delayed by WORLD WAR I. After the war, Eastman headed the campaign to get a necessary library bond issue passed. She spoke frequently at civic events. She also took charge of designing the interior of the building. When the new library opened on May 6, 1925, she greeted and shook hands with thousands of its excited patrons.
Eastman built upon Brett’s legacy of innovation, including his open shelf system. She expanded the library’s services to the blind and handicapped and to hospitals and other social service institutions and broadened its appeal by creating a Business Information Bureau and a Travel Section.
During the Depression, Eastman struggled to provide more crucial services with less money. The library system survived by cutting salaries, library hours, staff, and the acquisition of new books. The Public Works Administration and the WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION (WPA) helped by repainting and repairing the branch and the main libraries. WPA artists, ORA COLTMAN, WILLIAM SOMMER, and Donald D. Bayard, painted colorful murals of local scenes on the walls of the main library.
When Eastman retired in 1938, the Cleveland Public Library was the third largest in the country with a million books on the shelves of its main and 28 branch libraries and a circulation of eight million a year.
For her significant contributions to her profession and to the city, Eastman received honorary degrees from Oberlin College, Western Reserve University, and Mount Holyoke College, as well as the Cleveland Medal for Public Service in 1929. The Eastman Reading Garden between the main library and the Louis Stokes wing and the Eastman Branch Library are named in her honor.
Eastman never married. She is buried in RIVERSIDE CEMETERY.
Marian J. Morton
C.H. Cramer. Open Shelves and Open Minds: A History of the Cleveland Public Library (Cleveland: The Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1972).
Papers of Linda Anne Eastman, 1925-1958. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute.
Archives, Cleveland Public Library.