Electric Light, the health fad of the future!: 101 Years Ago at the Norwich Library

by Don Allen

In Norwich in June of 1917, for the price of one penny,  you could have picked up a little booklet called “City and County of Norwich Public Library Readers Guide”.

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Our friends at Picture Norfolk (click here for their webpage) discovered this interesting booklet while going through their ephemera, and thought that we here at the 2nd Air Library would be interested in it given the first topic listed on the cover: America And The War.

Of course, this refers to the first World War, and the 2nd Air Division did not yet exist. But it is still fascinating to see what, in the heart of World War I, the library chose to highlight about England’s cousin across the pond.

Not surprisingly there are a number of books on the general history of the United States. Titles like “The War of American Independence, 1775-1783” by John M. Ludlow and “The American Civil War” by Frederic L. Paxson. While these books are now long since gone from the library, you can find digital copies online at archive.org. I personally enjoy reading old history books in order to compare what they knew and thought during their time to what we know and think today.

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A separate section of the page contains four books specifically on Abraham Lincoln. And right below that is a book on then-President Woodrow Wilson, entitled “President Wilson: his problems and his policy” by H. Wilson Harris. Funnily enough, if you look nearer the top of the page (third listing down), the library has listed works BY Wilson, who was the only US President to date with a PhD. One is titled “Division and reunion, 1829-1889” published in 1893, about twenty years before he became president (also available on archive.org if you’re interested). Also listed is Wilson’s controversial five-volume “History of the American People”. In it he defends racial segregation and the actions of the original incarnation of the KKK.

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Books on the Constitution and Government, the American Navy, Literature, Education, and America and the War round out the remaining suggestions for American reading. The booklet also celebrates the then-centenary of Jane Austen’s death by offering lists of works by her and biographies of her. And much like today’s library still does, the library hosted a public lecture by M.M. Pattison Muir, Esq, M.A., Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. (Click here for information on our upcoming series of lectures in March.)

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As much as I love seeing all the old books, I have to admit that the part that made me giggle was the advertising on the back cover. The Corporation and Electricity Dept. was located at 4-10 Duke Street, with a telephone number of: 154.


That amuses me greatly.


Just remember, electric light: it’s good for your health!


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