“Dear Madam: You are cordially requested to attend an informal meeting to be held at Sherwood’s Book Store, No. 19 John Street, New York City, on Monday Evening, October 29th, at 8 p.m. Ways and Means will be discussed looking toward the organization of a social league or club among women in all branches of the book trade,” read an invitation in 1917 that marked the founding of the Women’s National Book Association. Not coincidentally, the request arrived in the mailboxes of thirty-five booksellers soon after the large suffrage march on Fifth Avenue of October 27, 1917. Contemporary reports noted that twenty-five thousand people marched in the parade, some carrying posters with the signatures of one million New York women who wanted the right to vote.
The signers of the invitation were six prominent women booksellers whose gender prohibited them from membership in the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and the Booksellers’ League. They were: L.M. Pleasanton of Brentano’s; Josephine Pfanstiehl of Hubbell, Leavens Co.; E.F. Widman of F.A.O. Schwarz Co.; Lula Jacobs of Greenhut’s; Belle Morris of Keche & Co.; and their gracious hostess, Pauline C. Sherwood of Sherwood’s Book Store. Given their exclusion from the ABA, women’s seven-decade battle to achieve the vote, and the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s alignment with the war effort, the 1917 creation of a women’s organization of booksellers with an activist agenda seemed justified. So they came—about fifteen women—to No. 19 John Street and sat around on high stools. No one seems to remember just who these women were, beyond the committee members who signed the invitation, plus Madge Jenison of The Sunwise Turn Bookshop, and Effie Hubley of Loeser’s.
Madge Jenison, one of the WNBA’s founders and its second president, wrote in later years about the idealistic fervor that informed the group: “The Women’s National Book Association was founded when great ideas were about. It was in the years of the First World War, toward the end of it. Big ideas of civilization and what we wanted of it; how we could keep all we have and get some more. It seemed to us that books are power—that if we could create a working body of all those who have to do with the circulation of ideas in books…if we could start up such an organization, we would have a mechanism, through which we could throw our weight en masse behind anything in which we believed; that we could even stop war if our organization became complete and vigorous enough. Books are a step above the newspapers, magazines and radio. They are the cream of the crop. And it seems to us logical that women should undertake such an enterprise as this.”
Excerpted from Women in the Literary Landscape: A Centennial Publication of the Women’s National Book Association, From the Archives, by Nancy Rubin Stuart
Today, the organization is nation-wide, with local chapters around the U.S. and national, networked members. Its membership is open to all women and men who support the mission of the organization to promote and connect the book community in all its aspects, from those in book-related industries to those who love and support reading and literacy.
During these 100+ years, WNBA has developed seminars on bookselling techniques, published four books, led in-service courses for teachers on children’s books, sponsored book and authors luncheons and dinners, cooperated on local book fairs, been active as a non-governmental organization member at the United Nations, entertained visiting book women from abroad, and surveyed the status of women in publishing.
The first issue of The Bookwoman, the organization’s official publication, appeared in November 1936 through the generosity of Constance Lindsay Skinner, author, lecturer, and active member of WNBA. Since 1940, the WNBA Award (formerly the Constance Lindsay Skinner Award) has been given to a book woman for “meritorious work” in her special field. During the 1960s, the Amy Loveman National Award for the best personal library collected by an undergraduate in an American college was a major project. The WNBA Pannell Award (formerly The Lucille Micheels Pannell Award), which promotes the creative use of books with children, was established in 1982 with funds bequeathed by the late Pannell, who was a founder of the Chicago chapter of WNBA. This award is given annually to bookstores who promote children’s reading.
Believing that books have power, WNBA has made it possible for people engaged in various book activities to help broaden their part in the book world, and to know one another as individuals with common problems, aspirations, and goals. We welcome you to join us as part of the book community. Please visit our membership page for information on joining the organization.
Read Chapter Histories, written in 2017 for the centennial publication.
100th Annivesary book: Women in the Literary Landscape: A centennial publication of the Women’s National Book Association (available from C&R Press)
80th Anniversary book: 80 Books for 21st Century Girls
75th Anniversary book: 75 Books by Women Whose Words Have Changed the World
70th Anniversary book: 70 Women Who Have Made A Difference
50th Anniversary book: Women in the World of Books
Constance Lindsay Skinner Biography (WNBA Award was established in her honor)
WNBA Archives are located at Columbia University.
More information at the WNBA Archives page.
WNBA National Presidents
|2018-2020||Rachelle Yousuf||Los Angeles Chapter|
|2016-2018||Jane Kinney-Denning||New York Chapter|
|2014-2016||Carin Siegfried||Nashville Chapter|
|2012-2014||Valerie Tomaselli||New York Chapter|
|2010-2012||Mary Grey James||Nashville Chapter|
|2008-2010||Joan Gelfand||San Francisco Chapter|
|2006-2008||Laurie Beckelman||Boston Chapter|
|2004-2006||Jill A. Tardiff||New York Chapter|
|2002-2004||Margaret E. Auer||Detroit Chapter|
|2000-2002||Nancy Stewart||Nashville Chapter|
|1998-2000||Diane Ullius||Washington DC Chapter|
|1996-1998||Donna Paz||Nashville Chapter|
|1994-1996||Sue MacLaurin||Los Angeles Chapter|
|1992-1994||Carolyn T. Wilson||Nashville Chapter|
|1990-1992||Patti Breitman||San Francisco Chapter|
|1988-1990||Marie Cantlon||Boston Chapter|
|1986-1988||Cathy Rentschler||New York Chapter|
|1984-1986||Sandra K. Paul||New York Chapter|
|1982-1984||Sylvia H. Cross||Los Angeles Chapter|
|1980-1982||Mary Glenn Hearne||Nashville Chapter|
|1978-1980||Ann Heidbreder Eastman||New York Chapter|
|1976-1978||Ann Heibdreder Eastman||New York Chapter|
|1974-1976||Mary V. Gaver||New York Chapter|
|1972-1974||Lillian L. Schaprio||New York Chapter|
|1970-1972||Virginia H. Masters||New York Chapter|
|1968-1970||Anne J. Richter||New York Chapter|
|1965-1967||Victoria S. Johnson||New York Chapter|
|1962-1964||Betty Russell||New York Chapter|
|1960-1962||Lilian Gurney||New York Chapter|
|1958-1960||Anne J. Richter||New York Chapter|
|Prior to 1958, national presidents were filled by the New York City Chapter president position|
|Dorothy M. McKittrick|
|Kathryn M. Nick|
|Helen Jo Jasper Turner|
|Mary J. Shipley|
|Anne J. Richter|
|Helen S. Lowitt|
|Muriel Simpson Fitzsimmons|
|Effie C. Hubley|
|Pauline Sherwood, 1917-1918|