Carrie Westlake Whitney: Remembering a Library (and Kansas City) Cornerstone

Presented By
Jason Roe

Carrie Westlake Whitney was a remarkable exception to the patriarchal times in which she lived, a 27-year-old woman who became the first full-time director of the Kansas City Public Library in 1881. Over the next 29 years, she grew and shaped a fledgling institution into a state-of-the-art civic centerpiece. 

Amid a yearlong celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Library’s founding and this month’s nationwide observance of Women’s History Month, historian Jason Roe looks back at Whitney’s significant impact on not only the Library but also a young Kansas City in need of some cultural sheen. Roe, the Library’s digital history specialist, draws from the upcoming book Kansas City’s Public Library: Empowering the Community for 150 Years, which he led in writing. 

Whitney became a trailblazer in the library industry in emphasizing children’s services. She was part of the move into the first facility in Kansas City built expressly as a library in 1889, then a decade later oversaw KCPL’s first expansion beyond downtown. And she pushed successfully to eliminate required paid subscriptions, giving residents of the city free access to books and all other offerings. 

Alas, the times caught up with her. The Kansas City school board, which established the Library in 1873 and oversaw it for more than a century, pushed Whitney out. The board’s president was blunt: "I think a man should be selected." 

Roe has served as the Library’s digital history specialist since 2012. Holder of a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Kansas, he serves as content manager and editor for the historical websites Civil War on the Western Border and The Pendergast Years: Kansas City in the Jazz Age and Great Depression. He also is co-author of the book Wide-Open Town: Kansas City in the Pendergast Era


More in this series:
Art From the Archives
Cultivating Good Community Vibes: How Libraries an...
Plaza Branch |
An Evening With Jacqueline Woodson
Central Library |
An Evening with Ari Shapiro
Central Library |
Bookmobile at a Royals Game
Bookmobile |
July 26 |

Carrie Westlake Whitney: Remembering a Library (and Kansas City) Cornerstone

Date & Location
Reception: 5:30 p.m.
Helzberg Auditorium (5th Floor)
In Person