This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
Several of the more prominent churches in Rock Island were worried about the opening of the town's new public library, scheduled for November of 1872. There were rumors that the library was to be open on Sundays.There was reason to be worried. The public library was supported by Mayor Bailey Davenport, a People's Party mayor who took the word "public" seriously. He saw the library's book collection as a means of educating the young working men and women flooding into town, too poor to buy their own books. And he saw the library's reading rooms as place for the working class to socialize—an alternative to the tavern.
The Rock Island Argus supported the mayor, calling for Sunday hours even before the library was established. In an era when the work week was six days, often twelve hours a day, Sunday was the only time for a working person to read and socialize.
The churches, however, had other ideas for those Sunday hours. Sunday ought to be a day of rest for the workingman. If the library opened its doors on Sunday, the churches cried, who knows what might follow. Businesses night follow suit, and there would go the day of rest.
The Rock Island Public Library opened late in 1872, with no Sunday hours. The library was located in small, rented quarters, and was busy enough without Sundays. In 1903, however, the library moved into its own spacious quarters with a grand reading room. On January the 1st, 1906, the Rock Island Labor Congress appeared before the library board and asked that the library be opened on Sundays so that laborers might use it as they followed the American dream. The Board agreed, and the following Sunday, the reading room and the reference collection were open to the public from two to five in the afternoon, on a trial basis.
The churches expected fire and brimstone at any moment. The champions of labor expected a new world of self-help entrepreneurs. What neither side anticipated was that the laborer turned out to have a mind of his own about Sundays. After a year in which the average Sunday library attendance was eight, the Sunday hours were withdrawn.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.