Libraries Round the World: Atlantic City, NJ

What in the world? Visiting a library in AC? Why wasn’t I at the beach or gambling? I have more than one valid excuse. I’m not a gambler, got a dose of sun the day before, and it was a rainy morning on the way home.

In a weird way, I’m glad the weather was crummy. Although the library moved into a modern building in 1985, the history of AC’s library and some small exhibits were fascinating.

The first AC library began in 1899 by a group of women called the Women’s Research Club. They obtained a room in a local hotel, contributed a thousand books, and paid a woman ‘librarian’ to work there three days a week during the summer.

In 1901, a landslide referendum voted in favor of creating a public library with 6,000+ for and only 30 against. The original thousand starter books were moved to the new library. Some of the original contributions were on display:

In 1904, the library received a larger building through the Andrew Carnegie library development program. Carnegie made AC stay on budget though. A straightforward one paragraph letter said that if the city agreed to fund a $6,000 annual budget, Carnegie would fund the $60,000 library building.

Inside the old Carnegie library:

In 1985, the building moved to a larger modern city hall complex a few blocks north and a block further from the Boardwalk. The original Carnegie library building is now part of Stockton University and still a library. In 2006, the building won an AC Historic Preservation Award. The Carnegie library is located four blocks south and a block closer to the beach than the new one, and the building’s historical details are said to be still intact. Something to do on the next AC visit!

The Carnegie library building then & now in lower right:

A beauty pageant began in 1902, The Floral Parade of Bathing Beauties,with the floats judged, not the ladies onboard. To extend the summer season past Labor Day, in 1921 a “beauty maids” contest began, and the library had a float and participated in the first parade.

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Seven young ladies from seven Northeastern cities competed that first year. The winner, judged only in her bathing suit, was a sixteen-year-old from DC, and she received a Golden Mermaid statue. But keep in mind, a bathing suit was a dress back then! The more corporate Miss America contest started in 1940, and this year they announced the end of the swimsuit competition. Maybe they should revert back to dresses like this!

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P.S. If you feel like rolling the dice and buying a book from a relatively unknown author like me, here’s your chance.

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Or check out this one on the fascinating history of AC.

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