11th September, 2013
This post was submitted by Georgette Mayo, an archivist at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston whose research interests incorporates the lives of African American librarians in the South.
Susan Dart Butler (1888-1959), who established the Dart Hall branch of the Charleston Free Library, is considered one of South Carolina’s pioneer librarians. Initially, Dart Butler fulfilled a need in Charleston’s African American community when she opened her father, the Reverend John L. Dart’s private library as a reading room in 1927. Her pioneering efforts eventually garnered the attention of the Rosenwald Foundation in 1929 and were instrumental in obtaining branch libraries for all Charlestonians, white and African American in 1931. As branch librarian 1932 to 1957, Dart Butler directed operations of the Dart Hall Library, known as the “central Negro branch” during the time of segregation, located on the corner of Bogard and Kracke Streets.
Dart Butler is also noted for her strong leadership status within the community as she was the highest-ranking female in the Charleston branch of the NAACP (1917) and held the directorship of the South Carolina State Library Group in 1938. During her librarianship, Dart Butler’s proudest achievements were her student’s accomplishments. Like a proud mother she tool pleasure in see her children develop into adults. Dart Butler poignantly affirmed, “They grew up in this library. They graduated from high school, finished college and returned home with B.S. and M.A. degrees. One even had a Ph.D. But when they are here they still remember and come to the Dart Hall Library.”
In 1962, the Charleston County Public Library branch began construction on a new structure to replacing the former Dart Hall Library. Named in honor of her father, the John L. Dart Library opened to the public in 1968 and remains operational in its present location of 1067 King Street.
Dart Butler’s story is detailed in the essay, “Susan Dart Butler and Ethel Martin Bolden: South Carolina’s Pioneer African American Librarians,” in the book, South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times-Volume 3, published by The University of Georgia Press, 2012. The source for the quote in the second paragraph is Butler, Susan Dart, “Making a Way to Start a Library,” Susan Dart Vertical File, John L. Dart Branch Library, Charleston, S.C.