By Greg Halbleib
BLOOMINGTON – A local literacy group has donated a rare book to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield.
Books to Benefit volunteers found a copy of “The Mill Agent” by Mary Andrews Denison from 1864 and provided it to the library.
Dr. Mary Ryder is a Books to Benefit volunteer who researches vintage fiction, and said she found that Denison’s obituary claims she was a welcome visitor to the Lincolns. Ryder said Denison wrote about 80 books, many with an abolitionist theme. She said although this novel was not one of them, it sparked an interest in Denison’s possible connection to the 16th president.
“It deals more with the problems of the working class and mill girls of New England and so on,” Ryder described. “But the reason that Springfield is interested in having it in the collection is that it gives them a further means by which to investigate the relationship that could have existed between the Denisons and Lincoln.”
Dr. Ryder said the book could help uncover more about the Lincoln era.
“I thought, if this is as important a writer as I think she was for popular consumption during the abolition era, this is something the Lincoln Library might be interested in holding simply because it increases its understanding of connections of the Lincolns potentially to the abolition movement,” Ryder said.
Ryder says Books to Benefit supports local literacy efforts and rescues books, but the organization has been able recently to discover vintage books that have been donated and in turn place them at appropriate colleges, museums and libraries.
“Books to Benefit does more than just benefit the literacy programs of Bloomington-Normal,” Ryder explained. “That is the major purpose for their sales, but they’re trying to save books that need to be in collections and made available to scholars as well.”
Greg Halbleib can be reached at email@example.com.