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California Library Hall of Fame: Ina Coolbirth
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California Library Hall of Fame

Ina Coolbirth (1841-1928)

Ina Coolbrith was born Josephine Donna Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois, niece to Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. When she was ten years old, her family moved to California in a wagon train led by African-American scout Jim Beckwourth. She changed her name to Ina Coolbrith and became a well-known poet after moving to the Bay Area in 1862. She became Oakland city librarian (1874-1892) during the library’s important formative years, when it transitioned from a private subscription library to a civic institution. While city librarian, she mentored a group of young readers, including Jack London and Isadora Duncan. After leaving the Oakland library, she became librarian of the Bohemian Club in San Francisco, where she was active in the local literary scene. When John Muir suggested that she become San Francisco city librarian, she famously replied, “I am disqualified by sex.” Indeed, in those days, San Francisco required its librarian to be a man. Resuming her literary life full-time, she was eventually confirmed as poet laureate in 1919—California’s first poet laureate and the first person to hold such an honor in any American state. Coolbrith’s induction into the Library Hall of Fame recognizes women’s early contributions to the library profession, as well as her own particular encouragement of fledgling cultural icons.

Ina Coolbrith was inducted into the California Library Hall of Fame in 2014. Her award is housed at the Ina Coolbrith Society. For more information about her, please see:

 Photo image from Wikipedia