Virginia Hanson

Nellie Virginia Hanson (1907–1978)

“Public taboos never bothered me.”

—Virginia Hanson, 1945

(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, MSS 217, Box 1, Journal 3.)

“A very kindly soul, full of sweetness.”

Virginia recorded her life events in a series of journals. Virginia’s journals reveal her witty and sarcastic sense of humor, love of movies, and dedication to education. Furthermore, her journals provide insight into the life of single woman in Cache Valley during the mid-twentieth century. Comprised of four of five sentences, most of Virginia’s entries summarize the day’s events. For example, the entry for January 21, 1950, read, “worked like a slave all day cleaning. Had my hair done. Saw ‘Lost Boundaries.’ ” Some entries expressed emotion and humor in a single sentence. For instance, on November 10, 1933, Virginia wrote, “what a day at school! I’m becoming more of a shrew than Katherine.” Virginia did not always offer background information for her entries, leaving the reader without context for the statements. Such was the case on January 10, 1952, when Virginia declared, “I’m like an adolescent boy—never knowing what sound I’ll emit when I try to speak.”

Virginia’s journals are an example of journaling as an “individualized activity.” The construction and style of Virginia’s writing differs from Mary Ann Weston Maughan’s and Mary E. Perkes’s. Journal and diary writing is highly individualistic. People who engage in journaling refine their writing styles to suit their own purposes, motivations, needs, circumstances, and levels of emotion and comfort.[1] Accessibility to materials may also shape journaling styles, techniques, and consistency. Virginia had access to prebound journals, a commodity that may have been more difficult for pioneer women in Utah to acquire. However, several of the journals Virginia wrote in only provided enough space to make a short entry. A lack of space may have prevented her from elaborating or detailing her feelings or opinions of particular topics.


[1] Deborah Western, Gender-based Violence and Depression in Women: A Feminist Group Work Response (New York: Springer, 2013), 57.
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Virginia grew up with her five siblings—Mae, Inez, Helvie, Carl, and Bryon—on the family farm in Cornish, Utah. Of her siblings, Virginia and Mae had the closest relationship. Like Virginia, Mae never married. Together, the two sisters travelled the world, involved themselves in community affairs, worked with many of the foreign students at Utah State Agricultural College to improve their English, and often “chaperoned these visiting scholars on excursions to Saltair and Brigham City.” Virginia and Mae remained in Cornish, living on Dreary Acres for a majority of their lives. Sadly, on January 25, 1978, Virginia and Mae died in a horrible train accident.[2]

[2] Kenneth W. Godfrey, “Warmth, Friendship, and Scholarship: The Life and Times of Virginia Hanson,” Utah Historical Quarterly 60, no. 4 (1992), 341, 352.
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, MSS 217, Box 8, Folder 31.)

“This is a puzzle.”

For unknown reasons, Virginia never married. However, an interesting set of letters between Virginia and Stanley Reynolds may provide some clues. Virginia thwarted Reynolds’s forward advances through her clever use of words and described herself as “devoid of matrimonial inclinations.”

It is possible that Virginia chose to remain unmarried so she could continue her career. During the 1930s, shortly after Virginia entered the labor force, many places of employment enforced “marriage bars”—“regulations that forced single women to leave employment upon marriage and barred the hire of married women.” This practice became “almost entirely eliminated in the 1940s, but it is possible that Virginia may have been subject to such rules.[3] Marriage could have prevented Virginia from pursuing a career in education.

[3] Claudia Goldin, “The Quiet Revolution that Transformed Women’s Employment, Education, and Family,” working paper 11953, National Bureau of Economic Research (January 2006), 9.

Women and Culture

Education was extremely important to Virginia. Virginia grew during the time of the “High School Movement.” From 1910 to 1940, increased national funding for public education resulted in more people earning high school diplomas.[4] Virginia benefitted from the changes in public education. She attended elementary school in Cornish, graduated from Brigham Young College, and then registered at Utah State Agricultural College (USAC), where she earned her public teaching certificate. Virginia stood apart from her peers in how she cleverly completed her assignments. For example, an assignment for a “Women and Culture” class at USAC instructed the students to create a scrapbook highlighting the lives of ten prominent women. Instead of simply cutting pictures out of magazines and reading biographies, Virginia crafted original letters and sent them to the women she chose for the assignment. The responses were phenomenal! Virginia filled her scrapbook with letters from political figures, social activists, artists, and movie stars. This exhibit features seven of the letters Virginia received in response to her assignment. 

[4] Claudia Golding and Lawrence F. Katz, “Human Capital and Social Capital: The Rise of Secondary School in America, 1910–1940,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 29, no. 4 (Spring 1999): 685–687; Deborah Western, Gender-based Violence and Depression in Women: A Feminist Group Work Response (New York: Springer, 2013), 57.
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, MSS 217, Box 1, Journal 3.)

 The Birth of a Librarian 

On April 12, 1939, the entirety of Virginia’s journal entry read, “good library class. Kirkpatrick suggested being librarian. Should I?”

Without realizing it, Virginia foreshadowed her future.

“She was a one-woman embassy who won foreign friends and influenced for good hundreds of the world’s future leaders.”

—Kenneth W. Godfrey, “Warmth, Friendship, and Scholarship: The Life and Times of Virginia Hanson,” Utah Historical Quarterly 60, no. 4 (1992), 341.

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[Click image to enlarge; click it again to browse all pages.]
(Utah State University; Merrill-Cazier Library Special Collections & Archives SCAMSS 0217 Bx08 Fd 34.)

“A Villiage Librarian”

Dedicated to her community, Virginia worked as the Logan city librarian for over thirty years. Prior to becoming a librarian, Virginia taught elementary school, a profession she left namely for the “shamefully low wages.” Work in a library meant Virginia could continue a career in education and avoid the professional complications associated with teaching. Working in a library gave Virginia a certain type of freedom that other professions did not afford. In the early twentieth century, as librarians with control over the physical conditions of a public space, women had “a means of reinforcing their authority.” Libraries “were crucial for female professionals eager to carve out a space for professional action defined by individual ability and distinct from the charging desk, where the librarian’s role was confined by standardized library tools.”[5] In the mid-twentieth century, after World War II but prior to second-wave feminism, women struggled to retain the social authority they developed during the war years. However, libraries remained a space where women could maintain a certain amount of public power.

In a letter to Virginia, Ann Kemp Briscoe wrote about her children’s experiences at the library in Bountiful and compared them to her own memories of the Logan Library. Briscoe noted that Virginia “always took a personal interest in [her] patrons.” Briscoe then thanked Virginia “for providing such a congenial atmosphere for studying and making obtaining books pleasurable.” Briscoe ended her letter by expressing, “someday I would like to bring my children in to meet a real librarian.” Virginia took her position as the city librarian seriously. She consistently found ways to improve the library and education experiences of library patrons. For example, she contacted Rebecca Caudill, a prominent author of children’s books. Caudill replied to Virginia and included a card with a message to the children who attended the library. Caudill encouraged the children of Logan to “make many friends through books.” Along with book authors, Virginia had contact with famous poets, philanthropists, and even television producers. Virginia made connections with “important” people in order to expose the library patrons to the wider world and enhance their library experiences.

[5] Abigail V. Van Slyck, “The Librarian and the Library: Why Place Matters,” Libraries & Culture 36, no. 4 (Fall 2001): 519.