The Life of Ellen Coolidge Burke

Ellen Coolidge Burke. Miss Burke was born in Alexandria in 1901, at the start of what would become a hallmark century for women. Her life and career with the Alexandria Library System exemplified the kind of contributions women made to improving the quality of life in their communities throughout the last century. Thomas Jefferson was an ancestor of her family and Ellen herself may have been named after Jefferson’s “most literary granddaughter, Ellen Coolidge.”* Her ancestress would have been proud of her namesake’s accomplishments. Ellen attended Catholic University in Washington, D.C. where she earned both her Bachelors and Masters degrees. Ellen made her mark in Alexandria through her long career with the Library System. She started in 1938 as a Cataloger and then Reference Librarian. In 1948, however, she rose to become the Library Director. As Director, she fought to bring a bookmobile to Alexandria, a service that enabled the collections to reach many more parts of the community. It was one of the first bookmobiles in the state of Virginia. During her tenure as Director, the Library expanded to include two more locations, Seminary Avenue’s Burke Branch (in 1968) and the Duncan Branch on Commonwealth (in 1969). In addition to her career, Ellen was active in the League of Women Voters and the Urban League. She belonged to professional library associations, as well as staying active and involved with several civic organizations. Those who had the honor of working with her found her to be most impressive and an effective and charming example for future generations of women. Sources: * History News Network of George Mason University, &

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