Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Meet the (former) staff... Mrs. John Trotwood Moore

By Darla Brock

I would like to introduce you to a former staff member and a remarkable woman—Mrs. John Trotwood Moore. Mary Daniel Moore took the helm of the Tennessee State Library and Archives following the unexpected May 1929 death of her husband, the noted poet, scholar, historian, and State Librarian and Archivist John Trotwood Moore. She used the knowledge she had garnered from 10 years working alongside her husband to pick up the mantle and guide this institution through the challenging years of the Depression and the Second World War.

Tennessee State Librarian and Archivist Mrs. John Trotwood Moore (Mary Daniel Moore) pictured in 1938.

Left alone to nurture two college-age twin daughters, manage a large household, and care for elderly and ailing family members, every working day Mrs. Moore climbed the one hundred steps to the State Library’s home in the Capitol to undertake her awesome responsibility. She served patrons, historical societies and genealogical associations, the legislature, the judiciary, the governor and state government departments alike. Regardless of the stress involved or the political maneuverings she would have to endure over the course of her career, she remained a devoted state employee.

Mary Brown Daniel in 1888 at the age of thirteen.

Mrs. Moore, with the help of a small and dedicated staff, accomplished mammoth tasks. She utilized TERA (Tennessee Emergency Relief Administration) and WPA (Works Progress Administration) funds to index state records. She held a leadership position in the WPA's Historical Records Survey that preserved county records and so much more. She continued Dr. R.L.C. White's transcription of the Senate and House Journals of Tennessee for the years 1797 and 1798; she indexed them and had them published. This project and the transcribing of Tennessee militia commissions were done on her own time and did irreparable damage to her eyesight. She published scholarly articles about the history of the Tennessee State Library, the Tennessee Historical Society, and the history of libraries in Tennessee. She parlayed her social and professional connections into donations of numerous premier manuscript collections for the state. She served as the custodian of the state's Law Library in the Capitol, and in 1936 oversaw the transfer of 19,000 volumes to the Law Library in the new Supreme Court Building. She procured the first microfilm reader for the State Library and Archives through an exchange with the Genealogical Society of Utah. The Genealogy Department created by John Trotwood Moore flourished under his wife's hand. Authors and researchers from across the country were served on a previously unknown scale, and State Librarian and Archivist Mrs. John Trotwood Moore regularly welcomed busloads of school children to the Capitol and to their State Library.

Mrs. Moore working in her home away from home at the State Library in the Capitol.

But perhaps Mrs. Moore's greatest accomplishment was securing the funding in 1947 for our present State Library and Archives building. Governor Jim McCord proclaimed she “almost dreamed this building into existence.” In reality, Mrs. John Trotwood Moore had carried on the fight for new quarters for the State Library and Archives outside the Capitol Building for many years, as had her husband before her. In late 1946, Mrs. Moore galvanized Tennessee’s women’s organizations, which had long supported her and our institution, to take on this battle. These women had recently labored in support of the war effort, and they now stood shoulder-to-shoulder to fight for us. In December 1946, presidents of women’s statewide organizations came together to campaign for a new State Library and Archives building, as the State Library Building Society. When Governor McCord signed the appropriation bill March 12, 1947, the press gave these ladies credit for obtaining the initial legislative funding.

Mrs. John Trotwood Moore’s true home had been the State Library in the Capitol, a setting she likened to a Victorian parlor. She faced mandatory retirement in 1949. She maintained an emeritus status thereafter and remained a presence in the Capitol’s State Library to assist her successor, historian and Vanderbilt professor Dr. Dan Robison, as he took the reins of the institution. Mrs. Moore watched as Dr. Dan and architect H. Clinton Parrent designed our present facility, state-of-the-art for its time.

She submitted her official letter of resignation June 4, 1953. She wrote Dr. Dan, “The last load of books will be sent to the new State Library and Archives building today or tomorrow. I feel that my services should end with the closing of these doors.” A lovely little office was created for her in this building, but ill-health meant she seldom used it. Around this time, she wrote to a researcher, “I think it is time for the old lady of 79 to fade out of the picture.” But her heart remained with us until her death in August 1957. After that, not only the official papers of State Librarians and Archivists Mr. and Mrs. Moore took up residence here, but the family’s personal papers, as well.

It is hard to believe that one woman, one family, could have given so much, but their belief in the importance of the Tennessee State Library and Archives never wavered. For almost 18 years, I have searched her portrait for strength, inspiration and direction; I have researched her collections for wisdom and marveled at her legacy. Having been made an honorary member of the Moore family by her gracious descendants, I feel I can hazard a guess at her message for us today. To the staff, Mrs. John Trotwood Moore would say, “Serve this great state with all your abilities, and love your institution with all your heart.” To our patrons, she would repeat one of her favorite sayings, “The State Library is a library by the people, for the people.”

Portrait of Mrs. John Trotwood Moore painted by R. Gregory Gifford in 1946.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett

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