Julia Ideson, Houston’s first librarian, is well regarded and remembered for her service to Houston and commitment to literacy. She had an innate curiosity for the world around her that was no doubt influenced by a childhood spent with her sister in her father’s bookstore in her birthplace of Hastings, Nebraska. The family moved to Houston in 1892, when Julia was 12, and this would only be the beginning of her travels both near and far.
Next she went to Austin to attend the University of Texas’ inaugural library science program. She settled back in Houston for several years after completing her studies and was hired as Houston’s first librarian in 1903. Throughout the following 20 plus years Ms. Ideson succeeded in increasing the number of books on the library shelves, opening a branch for Houston’s African American citizens, and securing funds for a larger building that opened in 1926 (now the Julia Ideson Building, home of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center).
During World War I in 1919 she took a leave of absence from her duties in Houston and traveled to Brest, France to work with the American Library Association in the operation of a library for American troops who were stationed there. She returned again to Houston, traveling on one of the first passenger airplanes from Paris to London during her journey home.
During the 1920s she “spent two interesting summers touring New England and the Old South,” and in 1937 Julia Ideson and Ima Hogg travelled to Europe together and visited Florence, Italy. Less is known about this trip although both women are listed as passengers on the ship’s brochure.
Ms. Ideson once said that “an association with books has a tremendous influence on a person’s life and character,” and she was no doubt inspired by all that she read and by her work as a librarian to venture out into other parts of the world throughout her life.
Special thanks to Barbara Humphreys for her assistance with information for this post. For more information about the life of Julia Ideson, please click on the following links: Julia Ideson: Honoring Houston’s First Librarian, Julia Ideson and 110 years of the Houston Public Library, and digitized archival material from the Houston Area Digital Archives.
Chapman, B. (2011). Julia Bedford Ideson: A woman for all seasons. Preservation, 2-6.
--Jeanette Sewell, Central Library