Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library
Amelia Gayle Gorgas (June 1, 1826 - January 3, 1913) was librarian and postmistress of the University of Alabama for 25 years until her retirement at the age of eighty in 1907. She expanded the library from 6,000 to 20,000 volumes. The primary library at the university is named after her. A native of Greensboro, Alabama, Amelia was the daughter of Alabama governor John Gayle, the wife of Pennsylvania-born Confederate general Josiah Gorgas and the mother of Surgeon General William C. Gorgas. She was inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in 1977.
Backstory and Context
Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library was built in 1939 and is located on the site of the first library on campus. The first university library, known as the Rotunda, was destroyed during the Civil War and its ruins can be found underneath the semi-circular plaza in front of the building. The current building, constructed in 1939, is named for the University’s postmistress and librarian Amelia Gayle Gorgas (1826-1913) who was the wife of Confederate General Josiah Gorgas (1818-1883), the University’s 8th president and librarian.
Josiah Gorgas was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.Having made the decision to secede, apparently motivated as much because of professional conflicts as by political principle, he moved to Richmond and became Chief of Ordnance for the Confederacy with the rank of Major.Josiah did not view slaves from a pro-slave or abolitionist, he simply went with the status quo. This simple fact should suggest that he is not a whole-hearted Southerner. It is apparent to me that Josiah Gorgas is doing his best to fit in with his wife’s family.
Historian James B. Sellers asserts that “Amelia Gayle Gorgas was, perhaps, the first woman to set the imprint of her personality on the growing University.” Mrs. Gorgas served the University of Alabama as hospital matron, librarian, and post-mistress for twenty-five years until her retirement at the age of eighty in 1907. She was the first female librarian on the campus, and the Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library was the first academic building at the University named for a woman.
In the 1894 Corolla, one student described the atmosphere of the library as follows:
“The library is open from 11 O’clock until 4 O’clock, during which time you can see a good many boys reading current periodicals…. Those desiring to read books usually draw them and carry them to their rooms, where they can keep them no longer than two weeks…. I hastily glanced at the latest North American Review, also Puck, and went over and took my seat by Mrs. Gorgas, the Librarian, for a few moments chat….I would consider my college course well spent had I gained nothing else outside of my association with her.”
The 1896 Corolla was dedicated to Amelia, who was loved and respected by the students, with the following tribute:
“Conforming to the unanimous desire of the Alabama Cadet Corps, and thus, in a measure, expressing their filial love, the Corolla of 1896 is dedicated to Mrs. Amelia G. Gorgas, whose tender ministrations to the sick, motherly counsel to the wayward and erring, and words of encouragement and incentive to all, have made her the good angel of their college home.”