Library War Service uniforms

During World War I, the American Library Association launched a Library War Service program to bring books to soldiers in training camps and overseas.

The librarians wore dark green uniforms with Library War Service patches and insignia.

A group of librarians in matching uniforms, thigh-length coats over narrow pants or ankle-length skirts.
Staff of American Library in Paris, 1918

The ALA archive has a page about the Library War Service uniforms (both the camp uniform, shown above, and the hospital uniform).  They offer this description, drawn from a 1918 circular letter on women’s uniform standards:

The camp librarian uniforms for women consisted of a skirt suit of “forest green” wool, with four pockets on the coat, a fabric belt, and a seam down the center of the skirt. The tie was a darker green than the suit, the shirt was any white high-necked shirt of the librarian’s choice (or a grey flannel shirt if needed), and the shoes were either black or tan. The hat was dark green with a large black ribbon band with a flat bow on the back, and adding a veil to the hat was expressly not allowed. The uniform was marked “ALA” with one large pin on the front of the hat, two small pins on the lapels, and an embroidered patch on the lower left sleeve.

Only one of these uniforms is known to survive; it has never been photographed (or not at all thoroughly) and, moreover, doesn’t seem to be documented up to the current standard.  (Which is to say, it’s at the Smithsonian and I have tried several times to find even an item record for it in their web system with no luck.)

It seems useful to note that some of what makes that photo so striking, and the uniform so appealing, is the presence and attitude of the woman at center front.  Here she is again with an overcoat and alternate hat:

Lillian Baker Griggs (in uniform under her coat): in this photograph she has abandoned the women’s round brimmed hat for a barracks cap, probably inspired by her male counterparts.
Lillian Baker Griggs (in uniform under her coat): in this photograph she has abandoned the women’s round brimmed hat for a barracks cap, probably inspired by her male counterparts.

You can get a better look here of her shirt collar, and her laced, heeled boots.  Anyway, not everyone is as flattered by the uniform as Ms. Griggs, and if I make one for myself, I’ll have to keep an eye on how I can make sure it looks that snappy.  (Given that I think I’m a lot taller than her, this might be an interesting challenge.)  Admittedly, some of her snap is in her confidence inside the uniform.

The women’s librarian uniform is actually pretty similar to other women’s uniforms of the time.  The Smithsonian has a page about women’s uniforms during WWI, which has photos of a contract surgeon’s uniform, a Salvation Army cook rolling pie crusts while wearing a gas mask pouch, and a display case with three Red Cross driver uniforms and one Foreign Service.

The uniforms all appear to have a similar form of A-line ankle-length skirt with center front seam (sewn for librarians, buttoned for the others) and four-pocket “tunic.”  There is some variation, and it’s harder to tell on the pie chef, but there’s a definite consistency here.

Here’s a better photo of a Red Cross uniform in this style:

Outdoor Uniform worn by members of the Red Cross and U.S. Army Nurses in France during World War I. Jackson Library, UNC Greensboro.

The American Library in Paris Tumblr has a photo of a librarian in her shirtsleeves:

Black and white photograph of military personnel and a librarian in the reading room of the camp library in France.
Title: Military personnel and librarian in camp reading room Creator: ? Description: Black and white photograph of military personnel and a librarian in the reading room of the camp library in France. Notes on back of photo: none Subject: WWI, World War, 1914-1918, France. American Library Association. Library War Service. Date: 1919 Format: 9” x 11” printed image Contributors: ALA, the American Library in Paris Source: the American Library in Paris archives, file 1, no. 127 Rights: No known restrictions

The tumblr is full of period photos of the library and its users.  If you love libraries, definitely take a look.  Also if you love old documents!  They scan fronts and backs of everything they post.

I’d guess this photo is also the uniform without the tunic:

Description: Black and white photograph of a woman carting books at Newport News Dispatch office, VA. Notes on back of photo: Library war service, Newport news dispatch office
Description: Black and white photograph of a woman carting books at Newport News Dispatch office, VA. Notes on back of photo: Library war service, Newport news dispatch office

This photo is particularly noteworthy as it looks like her skirt has a slash pocket!

Anyway, I’ll be researching this more, but this is an initial survey so I can figure out things like what patterns to look for, and what kind of blouse I’ll need.

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Library War Service uniforms

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