GPO's Living History: Adelaide R. Hasse

ahasseWomen have always worked for the Government Printing Office, but until the 20th century few left an individual mark upon its history. One exception to this rule was Adelaide R. Hasse, the first Superintendent of Documents librarian. In her brief 2-year career at GPO, she almost singlehandedly set up the documents library and devised the classification system that, in an expanded form, is still in use today. Her years here show what an intelligent and strong-minded young woman could achieve in the "man's world" of GPO in the 1890's.

 Adelaide Rosalie Hasse was born September 13, 1868 in Milwaukee, Wis., the eldest of five children. Her father, a noted physician, moved his practice and family several times during Hasse's childhood, finally settling in Los Angeles, Calif. Due to these moves, Hasse never gained a degree, but studied in public schools and with private tutors.

Hasse began her 60-year career in librarianship at the age of 21, when she was employed as an assistant to Tessa L. Kelso at the Los Angeles Public Library. Kelso soon steered Hasse toward what would become a lifelong interest in Government documents. Hasse organized the library's document collection, devised a classification system for them, and began compiling a checklist which became the first of her almost 3 dozen publications in the field.

During her 6 years at the Los Angeles Public Library, Hasse aided in reorganizing the Santa Barbara and Pasadena Public Libraries. She was also an early champion of Kelso's development of a public library training class, writing a series of articles outlining this work in volume 20 (1895) of the Library Journal.

In that same year, Congress passed the act establishing the office of Superintendent of Documents within the Government Printing Office. As head of the Public Documents Division, the Superintendent was made responsible for the sale and depository library distribution of Government publications. Francis A. Crandall of Buffalo, N.Y. was appointed to this new position by Public Printer Thomas Benedict.

When Crandall assumed his post he confronted a colossal task of sorting and organization. Thousands of documents dating back many years had accumulated helter-skelter in various areas of the Office. Additional publications clogged the storerooms of the House and Senate. None of these miscellaneous collections were arranged in a systematic way. From this chaos, Crandall was expected to organize a sales stock, a depository library stock, and answer the many reference questions directed to his office by the general public.

As a later Superintendent of Documents observed, "The act that created the office did not authorize in terms or by implication the establishment of a document library. Indeed the author of the bill himself informed me that it was never contemplated." But Crandall realized that a library could serve as a "stock key" to the mass of documents in his charge, as well as furnishing the reference tools needed to field inquiries.

In deciding to organize such a library, Crandall realized the difficulties he would face. In his first annual report, he noted that "This seems a simple and easy solution of the document problem. That it is, however, not quite so simple as it seems, may perhaps be inferred from the fact that it has not sooner been adopted. As a matter of fact, it involves an enormous amount of labor and it needs to be skilled labor."

With these problems in mind, Crandall turned to Adelaide Hasse. In May 1895, she left Los Angeles for Washington, D.C. to become the Office's first librarian. At that time, the Public Documents Division occupied leased quarters in the Union Building on G St. N.W. Installed in a corner office on the sixth floor and commanding a staff of three catalogers, Hasse set to work. Her duties included caring for the documents as well as pulling together many scattered collections stored around the Capitol. Within 6 weeks of her arrival, nearly 300,000 documents, including duplicates, had been organized and classified!

It was at this time that Hasse developed the classification scheme that forms the basis of the one still in use at GPO today. Her typescript, with handwritten additions and corrections by Hasse and others, is still held in GPO's archives. The successive drafts show the care with which Hasse pursued her vocation.

Her thoroughness extended to all parts of the Office's operations. In order to get a clearer picture of the way in which the Congressional Record was produced. Hasse asked Foreman of Printing Henry T. Brian if she could be permitted to come in "to see that much of the process as take place in the GPO. I know some of it would be night work, perhaps all night . . . I want to see it all from the time the ms. is received". At a time when "proper" women did not frequent printing production areas in the middle of the night, Hasse's request showed her determination to increase her familiarity with Government documents despite the conventions of the day.

By 1897, the documents library had grown from nothing to a well-organized selected collection of 16,841 printed documents and 2,597 maps. Superintendent of Documents Crandall noted with pride that "In its completeness in preserving every kind of public document, and every edition of the same, it is, I believe, not rivaled by any other collection . . ." It was an accomplishment that added luster to Hasse's growing reputation in the library world.

It was at this time that Hasse received a fateful visit from Dr. John Shaw Billings, Director of the New York Public Library. As she later described it, "Dr. Billings examined the library, but especially the classification, which he went over quite carefully. This is the same classification . . . now in use, in an expanded form, by the Superintendent of Documents." Shortly thereafter, Hasse received and accepted an offer from Billings to join the staff of his library and build up its documents collection.

Hasse's move to New York apparently irritated Francis Crandall. In his 1897 annual report, he observed coldly that "The resignation in May of the librarian of this office, whose reputation, gained chiefly by her work here, secured for her a flattering engagement in the New York Public Library, checked for a time the work in the document library." It was a poor reward for Hasse's endeavors at GPO. It was left to Crandall's successor, Louis C. Ferrell, to do her justice. In describing the origins of the library in his annual report for 1898, he praised "Miss Adelaide R. Hasse, one of the foremost librarians of the country, who was in charge of the arrangement and classification of the vast number of documents turned over to the office . . . This library, therefore, as long as it shall endure, will remain a monument to her zeal and industry."

Hasse's long and distinguished career at the New York Public Library and other Federal agencies is beyond the scope of this article. By the time of her death in 1953 she had become one of the most notable members of her profession. Her last years were spent in Washington, D.C. where she taught at Catholic and George Washington Universities and pursued her many professional activities. In 1933, she presented the typescript of her classification system to the GPO library, demonstrating her continuing interest in the institution she had done so much to build.

Adelaide Hasse left behind her a rich legacy of achievement affecting all areas of librarianship. Although her GPO years were few, her impact on the Office was great and longlasting. A statement she once made about her profession is meaningful for all working women, and summarizes Hasse's own career as well. "Never forget that it is the spirit with which you endow your work that makes it useful or futile. Let us always work towards the end that the compensations of librarianship may at least be honorable, and that the true spirit of workmanship may be kept alive among us."

Article by GPO Historian James Cameron, appearing in TYPELINE, Volume 16, Number 9 (September 1983), pages 8-9; reprinted in Administrative Notes Vol. 5, No. 8, May 1984, p.26; later reprinted in the Federal Depository Library Manual, Section 1, pp. 3-5 (looseleaf update 10-84)