Wessie Connell (1915-1987)
Wessie Gertrude Connell was born in Cairo on November 21, 1915. She excelled in school. During her first year at Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee, she became ill with rheumatic fever and was prescribed bed rest, during which she read the Harvard Classics. Impressed with her self-taught education, two Cairo citizens asked her to become the city's first librarian. She started Cairo's first library in 1939 with 110 books housed in a small room above city hall.
Connell believed that all people should have access to knowledge, whatever their race or ethnicity. Despite community opposition, she provided books and library services to black children in segregated schools. She quietly took books to the schools, held story hour herself, and encouraged black families to keep books in their homes to loan to others since segregation prevented their routine use of the library.
Connell understood that to make a library vital to the community she had to be a politician as well as a librarian. She regularly attended city council meetings and developed personal friendships with city
Because of Connell's tireless determination to build a first-class library system, she received numerous awards both locally and nationally over her lifetime. Connell never officially retired but became ill with cancer and died in 1987 at the age of seventy-two. Her final honor came in 2002, when she was inducted posthumously into Georgia Women of Achievement.
Alan L. Kaye and Dorothy Newberry Gainous, eds., I Remember Wessie: Thoughts and Stories about Wessie Connell, Grady County's First Public Librarian (Cairo, Ga.: Roddenbery Memorial Library, 1995).
Cathy Carpenter, Georgia Institute of Technology
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.