The Julia Ideson Building is Named for Julia Ideson, Houston's First Librarian
Julia Bedford Ideson was born in 1880 in Hastings, Nebraska. Her father owned a bookstore and had a large personal library. The family moved to Houston in 1892 when Julia was 12 years old. She attended public schools and graduated from Houston High School in 1899. In the fall of 1899, Ideson enrolled at The University of Texas intending to be a teacher, but discovered a new course of study in library science. In 1902, she completed the required studies for a Bachelor of Arts degree. Applying for the position of librarian of Houston Public Library, then under construction, she noted, "I may add that I use the typewriter, as you probably know, a requisite of the modern librarian." She was hired by the Houston Lyceum and Carnegie Library Association in October 1903 as librarian of the soon to be completed library.
Originally, Ideson had one assistant, an errand boy, and a janitor as her staff. By the time the Carnegie Library opened on March 2, 1904 at the corner of Travis and McKinney, she had 10,000 volumes cataloged and on the shelves. She also participated in the establishment of the Carnegie Colored Library which opened in 1913 in the 4th Ward with funds raised by Colored Carnegie Library Association and a grant from Andrew Carnegie of $15,000; the branch became a branch of the Houston Public Library in 1921. She also set up book deposit stations and by 1916 had placed them in 14 schools, 1 Boy Scout camp, 6 summer schools, 2 factories and 1 church. The book stations at Heights High School and North Side Jr. High evolved into the Heights Branch and Carnegie Branch libraries respectively. In October, 1926, the new Central Library building opened after 17 months of construction and a cost of $500,000. Ideson's priorities for the Building, natural light, cross ventilation, and flexible space, had been successfully realized. In 1938, Ideson purchased the Library's first bookmobile (capacity of 2000 volumes).
From February to November of 1919, Ideson served in the overseas library service of the American Library Association during World War I at Camp Pontanezen near Brest, France. After her return to Houston, she set up the library at Camp Logan (in what is now Memorial Park) for the soldiers stationed there.
Throughout her career Ideson was involved in state and national library associations and local voting rights associations. "She spoke at the first open-air woman suffrage rally in Texas in 1915. Ideson stressed that "women will never obtain necessary reforms unless they have the right to vote." In 1918 Julia was part of a speaking tour on a Liberty Bond Campaign. She and three other ladies set out from Houston in a touring car, visiting Wharton, Cuero, Victoria, and Seguin and raised thousands of dollars in Liberty Bonds.1 She was the first woman of Houston listed in Who's Who. "She was especially involved in the Houston Open Forum, which brought distinguished speakers to the city from 1926 to 1938. Committed to preserving First Amendment rights, the Open Forum organizers chose to present platform speakers who could provoke thought and discussion among the audiences." Apparently the library's auditorium was the first meeting place of the Open Forum, but they had to move it to the City Auditorium because of the huge turnouts for the lectures.2
She died on her birthday, July 15, in 1945, while visiting a friend in New Hope, Pennsylvania having served as HPL's first librarian and Library Director since 1903.
1. Betty Chapman. Houston History Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 2, Spring 2009.
2. "2- Minute Histories of Houston" by Garvin Berry and Betty Chapman
- Access our online JIB tour
- Join us for a guided tour of the Julia Ideson Building on the first Saturday of every month
The Julia Ideson Building, a City of Houston Protected Landmark, a Recorded Texas Historical Landmark, a Texas State Archaeological Landmark and a landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places, was designed by the esteemed firm of Cram & Ferguson and dedicated in 1926. The building served the City of Houston as its central library until the opening of the adjacent Jesse Jones building in 1976.
The Julia Ideson building contains the City’s largest installation of public murals completed under the post-Depression-era Works Progress Administration. At that time, the Houston Metropolitan Research Center was established under the leadership of Harold M. Hyman, today the William P. Hobby Professor of History, Emeritus, at Rice University. The Julia Ideson library was altered to include six floors of storage through the center of the structure for archived materials. Since its inception in 1979, the HMRC's archival collections have outgrown the space available and require more sophisticated climate and humidity control, and appropriate storage facilities.
In October 2007, an independent 501c3 organization, the Julia Ideson Library Preservation Partners (JILPP) launched a major capital campaign. The Board of Directors raised more than $22 million of the $32 million goal, including $10 million from the City of Houston through the Downtown Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ #3.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the new archival wing took place on January 12, 2009 and the restoration of the 1926 building's public spaces began in early 2010. The grand reopening took place on December 5, 2011.
**We recommend that you call 832-393-1662 in advance to confirm the availability of the 2nd floor Reading Room and other public areas in the building.