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Mary Wright Plummer Papers

Identifier: MC-006

Scope and Contents

The materials in the Mary Wright Plummer Papers consist primarily of personal and business correspondence while Plummer was employed by Pratt Institute, copies of some of her publications, notes for articles and classes, manuscripts of poems and stories, an inventory of some of her published articles, and biographical articles about her. The personal correspondence was written to family and friends, much of it while she was abroad in Europe during the final decade of the nineteenth century.


  • undated, 1889-2006
  • Majority of material found within 1890 - 1911


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open to the public.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, contact the Institute Archivist, Pratt Institute Library at

Biographical / Historical

Mary Wright Plummer was born in 1856 to a prominent Quaker family in Indiana; her father, Jonathan Wright Plummer, was a key figure in the nineteenth-century revitalization of the Society of Friends and the renaissance of Quaker philanthropy, while her grandfather, John T. Plummer, was a physician. Both placed great value on education, a trait passed inherited by their descendant Mary. After a year at Wellesley College she entered the library school at Columbia College in 1887, studying under Melvil Dewey and showing such ability that she taught the incoming class during her final semester. In 1888-1890 she was a cataloger at the Saint Louis Public Library.

In 1890, after a trip to Europe, she became a librarian at the Pratt Institute Free Library and also taught at the library school. Once again she impressed her superiors with her initiative and energy. She made another trip to Europe in 1894-1895, during which she visited libraries in Germany, France, Italy, and England, and published her impressions in articles in the Nation. Upon her return to Pratt, she was made director of both the library and the library school. During her tenure she oversaw the construction of a new library building in 1896 that included, at her suggestion, the innovation of a separate children’s library. Under her guidance the library school became so successful that, in 1904, she resigned as head of the library to devote her full attention to her educational responsibilities as director of the school. From that point on, the library and the library school at the Institute were considered separate entities. She turned the library training program at Pratt into a professional school by establishing rigorous entrance standards, revising the curriculum to adapt to changing needs, and establishing a balance between theoretical and practical experience. She also introduced a second year of training for those wishing to specialize in children’s librarianship or rare books, thus establishing these subjects as valid disciplines.

Despite her prominent position at Pratt and the support she enjoyed from its administration, she decided in 1911 to resign and accept an offer from the New York Public Library to organize its new library school. As at Pratt, she enabled the school to develop a strong reputation that lasted until her death from cancer in 1916.

Plummer was also active in professional circles and as a writer and poet. She was president of the New York Library Club (1896-1897 and 1913-1914) and the New York State Library Association (1906); she was also the second woman president of the American Library Association (1915-1916). She served as the US. Delegate to the International Library Congress in Paris (1900), curated the American Library Association exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition, and chaired the ALA’s Committee on Library Training (1903-1910). In addition she lectured and wrote extensively, including articles on library issues and poems and books for children. She contributed to the ALA’s 1913 Manual of Library Economy, and her Seven Joys of Reading (1910) was reprinted numerous times.

Plummer stands as an important figure in early American librarianship, both because of the way she helped shape the profession and because she held positions of leadership and authority at a time when it was unusual for women to do so. Her work at the Institute became an example for the profession in general, and her influence spread to other libraries and library schools throughout the country, especially as her students found professional positions and carried her precepts to their own institutions.

Source: Robert A. Karlowich, “Plummer, Mary Wright,” in American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).


0.9 Linear Feet (4 boxes)

Language of Materials



Mary Wright Plummer (1856-1916) stands as an important figure in early American librarianship, both because of the way she helped shape the profession and because she held positions of leadership and authority at a time when it was unusual for women to do so. A graduate of Columbia’s library school, she headed Pratt Institute’s library and became director of the library school. She was also a writer and a poet, and was active in a number of professional organizations such as the American Library Association and the New York Library Club. Her papers consist of professional and personal correspondence, biographical writings about her and tributes in her memory, notes, memoranda, and ephemera dating from 1890 to 1911.


The records are arranged in three series, two of which have been further arranged in subseries. The series and subseries arrangement of the records is as follows:

Series 1: Biographical Information, 1911-2000

Series 2: Correspondence, 1889-1916

2.1: European trip, 1890 2.2: European trip, 1894-1895 2.3: Canadian/European trip, 1900 2.4: To and from Frederic Bayley Pratt, 1889-1909 2.5: To Pratt Institute trustees and staff, 1904-1911 2.6: Miscellaneous, 1891-1916

Series 3: Writings

3.1: Publications 3.2: Lecture notes, manuscripts, memoranda, and ephemera

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Many of the documents have deteriorated and must be handled with extreme care.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Materials

Anne Carroll Moore Papers (Coll. No. 010)

Julia Pettee Papers (Coll. No. 009)

Records of the School of Information and Library Science (PI-001)

Records of the Library (PI-002)

Harmful Language Statement

If you encounter any pejorative language (i.e. racist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic) or content in the finding aids or within the content of the collection, please send an email to with the relevant details. For more information about how the Pratt Institute Libraries are addressing offensive language and content across its catalogs and databases, please see the Libraries' Harmful Language Statement:

Processing Information

This collection was processed and finding aid written by Paul Schlotthaueron in November, 2006 and revised by Miranda Siler and Cristina Fontánez Rodríguez in March, 2020. Descriptive Rules Used: Finding aid adheres to that prescribed by Describing Archives: A Content Standard. Finding aid written in English.

Guide to the Mary Wright Plummer Papers
Paul Schlotthauer
November 2006
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Pratt Institute Archives Repository

200 Willoughby Avenue
Brooklyn NY 11205 United States