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February 2011
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Women's Stories, Women's Lives

When a beloved library closed, a significant part of its collection came to St. Kate's.

Books from the Minnesota Women's Press collection Staff from the Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women selected several hundred titles from the Minnesota Women's Press library. Titles selected for the St. Catherine library collection included books on women's health and the history of the women's liberation movement.


Remember the last time a friend borrowed a favorite book and you bit your lip as you handed it over, wondering whether you'd ever see it again? Imagine having 10,000 favorite books and needing to let all of them go.

That's what happened last summer when the St. Paul–based Minnesota Women's Press downsized to smaller offices, endangering its large library of books by and about women. Women's Press co-founder Mollie Hoben contacted several potential takers for the books, including the St. Catherine University library and the Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women.

In all, St. Kate's garnered more than 1,600 volumes from the Women's Press collection, ranging from a broad swath of women's memoir and autobiography to titles on spirituality, sports, art and psychology.

It wasn't the first time the books have been displaced. In fact, the Women's Press collection was launched when the newspaper's other co-founder, Glenda Martin, returned home one night 25 years ago to discover her house had burned. The books she had collected over a lifetime were smoke-damaged but not destroyed. Martin's beloved volumes would not fit in her temporary rental house.

So, she and Hoben established a library specializing in women's issues and authors, a collection that eventually filled more than 70 six-foot bookcases in the basement of the newspaper's offices. Last summer those books left, ready to find new readers.

Home away from home

Emily Asch, director of technical services for the St. Catherine library, selected about 800 titles from the Women's Press collection — despite her original intention only to fill holes in the current holdings. That plan collapsed when Asch saw the full collection. "It was wonderful," Asch says. "I've been receiving gifts for 11 years, and I've never seen a gift quite like this."

In her role as research assistant for the Center for Women, Elissa Johnson '11 was asked to review another 800 volumes. She eventually chose 300 for the center. "We wanted to expand our collection to support the women's studies program," she notes.

Indeed, it was the women's studies program that first attracted interest. Hoben called Sharon Doherty, associate professor of women's studies and director of the Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women, and asked whether St. Kate's would be interested in housing part of the collection. Doherty jumped at the opportunity.

"There's something special about having books collected in a multi-use space like this," she says.

For Hoben, that feels appropriate: "I like to think of a student browsing,
picking a book for whatever reason, and finding that the book speaks to something in her, affirms or challenges or comforts or opens a door."

Martin agrees. "If women write their stories and other women resonate to them, it honors what it means to be female, to be a woman, and I think that's huge all over the world. I felt a passion about creating that library, and it has never left me. It seems appropriate that the books are at St. Kate's."


Stop, Look and Listen

Nestled in the west wing of Coeur de Catherine, the Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women features much more than books. Computers, bulletin boards and brochure racks keep visitors informed of resources and upcoming events. Meeting tables and easy chairs ensure there's always a place to talk — whether the topic is global justice, feminism or simply the events of one's day.

The center also hosts events, from brown-bag lunches to author talks and academic discussions; coordinates the women's studies major and minor; and facilitates or directly offers eight different scholarships and awards, including one that challenges students to become "community-service leaders."

Alumnae and others in the St. Catherine community are welcome to use the center and borrow books. To learn more:

Sign says: Check out books from the Center for Women's Library here!