When a Project Finds Life Outside the Classroom: The Edith Granger Project

By Audra M. Birek

In the summer of 2009, I was introduced to a woman named Edith Granger through a course called Retrieving Information (a core class in the Master of Library and Information Science degree program at the University of Pittsburgh). You may have heard of Ms. Granger; she has lent her name to Granger’s Index to Poetry for over a hundred years.

A Little History

The reference resource referred to now as The Columbia Granger’s Index to Poetry was originally published in 1904 by Chicago-based A.C. McClurg & Company under this very descriptive title: An Index to Poetry and Recitations; Being a Practical Reference Manual for the Librarian, Teacher, Bookseller, Elocutionist, etc. In 1902 a first draft of the book landed on the desk of a young editor. Edith Granger.

A native Chicagoan, Granger had returned to her home city after earning an A.B. from Smith College in 1891. She worked in the reference and publishing departments of McClurg & Company. Some accounts have her working there beginning in 1893; others pinpoint her in 1899. Start date aside, her most productive years at McClurg were from 1902 to 1906.

In addition to its publishing ventures, McClurg owned the largest bookstore in Chicago at the time. Identifying the need to help customers find verse in their inventory, the poetry department produced a first draft of what would become the Index. In her preface to the 1904 Index, Granger acknowledges a Mr. P.W. Coussens as the developer of the first draft that she went on to edit. The first edition of the Index contained over thirty thousand titles and three indices: an author index, title index and first line index. Also included was an appendix that itemized works for holidays and titles about notable people, among other useful lists.

Granger left McClurg in 1906 to move to California with her mother. She married in 1908, becoming Mrs. Edith Granger Hawkes. Granger’s stint at McClurg & Company as the first editor of the Index has forever associated her name with this work, even after Columbia University Press began publishing it in 1953. The Columbia Granger’s Index to Poetry is now in its thirteenth edition, including an online version available to readers as a subscription database.

Although it’s not immediately apparent, Granger never really abandoned her literary career, continuing to write poetry like she did in college and becoming involved in the League of American Pen Women, which she served as President of the Sonoma County Branch. She also wrote book reviews and other literary articles for publications like The Dial, The Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine.

The Key (Re)Sources

My discoveries about Edith Granger and her life before and after the Index resulted from my duties as biographical researcher for a group project in my Retrieving Information course. The purpose of the project was to learn about the biographical research process and the reference tools ideal for this type of research.

Starting with a name search in the Gale Biography and Genealogy Master Index (BGMI) database, I found two entries, one for "Edith Granger" and one for "Edith Granger Hawkes." The "Hawkes" entry led me to the 1914 Woman's Who's Who of America entry accessible through Google Books. This small paragraph revealed year’s worth of information, leading me to archives, libraries, and online sources. The most important pieces of information were her date of birth, her married name and the school and year she graduated.

The greatest assistance to my research has been the Smith College Archives, which maintain numerous records for alumna Edith Granger. The collection in the Five College Archives Digital Access Project (http://clio.fivecolleges.edu/smith/) is also invaluable. Here you can find the Annual Circulars that reveal things like Smith's requisites for admission, the curriculum, students' names and hometowns as well as the expenses of attending ($100 in 1888, the year Granger first entered Smith).

The Edith Granger Project

After my course ended last summer, I found that I could not stop looking for more on this elusive woman. I began to spend free time digging deeper, and this digging led me to considerable evidence of her productive life. Especially interesting were her letters of correspondence to friends and peers, such as Jack London's wife, Charmian (found in the Special Collections and Archives at Utah State University). The letters and online links to Granger’s essays began to pile up on my desktop. I realized that there must be other users of the Index who have wondered about Granger, who she was or if she was even a real person, and that was when I decided to launch the Edith Granger Project (https://sites.google.com/site/edithgrangerproject/), a compilation of web resources.

I continually add to and edit the Edith Granger Project. On the site you can trace some of the milestones of her life and view works she has written, including poetry, literary reviews, and even her own recipes. I anticipate that the project may be of use to anyone looking for biographical and/or bibliographical information on Edith Granger. I also hope that my research demonstrates the ways and possibilities of discovering evidence online, not to mention the value of partnerships with other librarians and archivists.

I feel like I have become a custodian of Edith Granger's records, and part of that duty is to prove that she has contributed more than just her name. Though not a librarian, Edith Granger was the first editor of the valuable Index to Poetry – a fact that would certainly make her a very good friend to those of us in libraries and reference work.

Please feel free to contact me (audramelissa@gmail.com) and visit the Edith Granger Project (https://sites.google.com/site/edithgrangerproject/).