Pack Horse Librarians, Blue People, and Moonlight Schools

“Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true.” ~ Ruth Bader Ginsburg

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I have been busy reading the books I checked out of the library this week. I am often attracted to books with the word ‘library’ or ‘bookstore’ in their titles. So, one book that caught my attention was ‘The Book Woman’s Daughter’, by Kim Michele Richardson. It is a historical novel set in Appalachia and ‘the book woman’ is what the locals called the Pack Horse Librarian. She was a young woman who rode up into the hills and hollers bringing library books to the people there. The Pack Horse Library Project was started during the Depression through the WPA (Works Progress Administration). The women were paid $28/month and had to supply their own horses or mules. Some women would rent their horses from local farmers. There were many people who couldn’t read in Eastern Kentucky so the women would read the books to them as well.

To help combat illiteracy in that area there was another program called ‘Moonlight Schools’ started by Cora Wilson Stewart. Local schoolteachers volunteered to teach adults to read and write in the evening at the one room schoolhouses where they taught children during the day. The program was successful and copied in several other counties and states.

Another interesting part of the book is that the main character and her mother have a hereditary condition, called congenital methemoglobinemia, that causes their skin to be blue. It only affected the younger woman’s hands and feet, but it caused her to feel shame and she and her family suffered terrible discrimination because of it. There was a real group of people in Kentucky who had this hereditary trait.

I really admire the Pack Horse Librarians and the great teachers who provided these wonderful services to their communities. The Pack Horse Library Project ran from 1935-1943. After that there were more accessible roads for the introduction of bookmobiles.

You can read more about the Moonlight School program of Kentucky here.

The Pack Horse librarians (via Wikimedia Commons)
Pack Horse librarian on her route (via Wikimedia Commons)
‘Works Progress Administration Pack Horse Librarians make regular calls at mountain schools where children are furnished with books for themselves and books to read to their illiterate parents and elders. The little native stone school shown here was built by the WPA in Kentucky and replaced an antiquated log school. Date 11 January 1938’ via Wikimedia
Packhorse librarian reading to man in Appalachia via Wikimedia
Cora Wilson Stewart via Wikipedia
Moonlight School in Kentucky 1 Jan 1916 via Wikipedia

Weekend Coffee Share is hosted by Natalie at Natalie the Explorer.

Stream of Consciousness Saturday, #SOCS, is hosted by Linda G Hill. The prompt for today is ‘key.’

19 thoughts on “Pack Horse Librarians, Blue People, and Moonlight Schools

  1. Natalie

    Thank you for your weekend coffee share. The Pack Horse Library Project and the Moonlight School program are impactful initiatives. Jojo Moyes wrote her book “The Giver of Stars” about a group of women known as the Horseback Librarians of Kentucky based on a true story. I’d recommend this novel. Happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Antoinette Truglio Martin

    I read the book before this one, The Bookwoman of Troublsome Creek. The charcters were vivid and still think of them. I will have to read the sequel.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dan Antion

    Reading is so important, Deborah. This sounds like a fascinating story. I remember the bookmobile that used to come to the little town where I grew up. I can’t imagine hauling the books around on horseback and then reading to people. Thanks for including the pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. JoAnna

    Fascinating history! The Pack Horse Library Project sounds like it was a good opportunity for adventurous women in need of income. I’ve always thought I would enjoy helping people learn to read.

    Liked by 1 person



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