Columbia City of Women Honoree
Lucy Hampton Bostick
Image courtesy of Richland Library Archives, Richland Library, Columbia.
An active member of a thriving cultural community, Lucy Hampton Bostick was instrumental in establishing and growing the infrastructure of the public libraries in Richland County from 1925 to 1968. In her 40-year tenure as Chief Librarian, Bostick established local library branches, a mobile circulation service, and a state-wide library association, laying the groundwork for today’s dynamic and multi-faceted Richland Library.
"Mrs. Bostick, herself, is inclined to avoid the spotlight, preferring to create the impression that whatever she does has been largely “fortuitous.” But fortuitous circumstances arise in the lives of many of us – who fail to rise with them. Mrs. Bostick is one of those rare ones who obviously recognize “that tide, which taken at the flood” lead on to ever increasing accomplishment."
— Adger Brown, 1966
Lucy Hampton Bostick was a true pioneer in the library field at both the local and statewide level. During her 43-year tenure in the Richland County library system, she expanded the organization’s footprint physically, geographically, and philosophically.
Lucy Hampton and her twin sister Gertrude were born in 1898 to Frank Hampton and Gertrude Ruffini Elliott Gonzales. As the grandniece of Wade Hampton III, she grew up as a socialite in Columbia’s white society. She attended Converse College and studied library science at Emory University in Atlanta and the University of South Carolina. On October 16, 1925 The State announced Lucy Hampton as the newest addition to the Columbia Public Library Staff. She began working for the Columbia Public Library (renamed the Richland County Public Library in 1934) and became the Chief Librarian in 1928, a capacity in which she served until her death in 1968. In the first years of her tenure at the Columbia Public Library, Bostick guided the physical expansion of the library, from a series of Main Street storefronts to its longtime site at the corner of Washington and Sumter streets.
After just one year at the helm, The State boasted that the Columbia Public Library lent “a book a minute” to local patrons on some days, which was more than double the circulation reports of the previous year. In addition to expanding the circulation and increasing the library’s holdings, Bostick was determined to ensure that more people in Richland County had access to books. In 1930, when the library secured a Rosenwald grant she was able to realize this vision. In addition to increasing the footprint of the existing library, the new funds enabled the establishment of library branches as well as a mobile library – the Bookmobile traversed rural areas of the county visiting orphanages, stores, homes, and schools. Over the next 38 years, the library grew exponentially, adding more than 200,000 volumes that circulated a million times and new branches in Waverly, Cooper, St. Andrews, and Eastover.
Yet almost all of these improvements remained unavailable to the county’s black residents. In 1930, Bostick used county and Rosenwald funds to purchase 1,000 books, which the library then loaned to the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA. Although the library referred to Wheatley as a branch, its black patrons were not welcome in the main library, nor were they able to access resources like the bookmobile. This meant that of the 164,179 books loaned in 1930, only 3,015 were read by the city’s African American readers. This policy of segregation remained in place throughout most of Bostick’s tenure.
During her first years at Chief Librarian, Bostick worked with others to pass legislation creating the State Library Board. Active in the organization for her entire life, before the state appropriated funds to establish the agency, she traveled the state advocated for the establishment of libraries. Once funded, a lobbying effort in which Bostick was actively engaged, she housed the fledgling organization at the Richland Library’s Sumter Street location.
In 1938, she expanded her role into literary production, working alongside Assistant Librarian Fant Thornley to establish publishing company Bostick and Thornley, Inc. Using the slogan “beautiful books of enduring significance,” the first publication to bear their imprint was a second edition of the Mills’ Atlas of South Carolina, which originally came out in 1825. The firm produced books of regional import until 1961 including Prints and Impressions of Charleston by Elizabeth O’Neill Verner (1939), which included 48 beautifully-reproduced etchings and Wind Star, a collection of the published poems of Nancy Telfair (1944).
In addition to her work with the library, Bostick was active in other parts of the community including the Columbia Museum of Art, Historic Columbia (as a founding member) and Town Theater. In an interview from 1965 she described her fondness for Town Theater an organization for which she campaigned for funds while still in high school. Frequently referred to as “the backbone of the theater,” Bostick served on the Board of the Town Theater from the 1930s to 1968.
Bostick’s life came to an abrupt end in July 18, 1968, when she died in a fatal car accident. Her vast memorialization illustrates the impact of her contributions and accomplishments. Following her death, The State called her a “Woman of Achievement,” and proclaimed that Bostick’s “highly successful library mission” and “sponsorship of the arts will leave a permanent mark.”
"Her zeal and leadership in the cultural life of our community has passed from us; but her good works continue as a memorial to her bountiful years, devoted to creating a more meaningful life for others."
— The Columbia Record, July 19, 1968
Bostick is memorialized by institutions and organization for which she had a profound impact both as an organization and a philanthropist. In the year following her death, Hammond Academy, a private school in Columbia for which she was a founder and benefactor, renamed its main building for Bostick in recognition of her generous donations to the school, including twenty acres of land. The South Carolina State Library’s boardroom was dedicated in recognition of her service as Secretary for the State Library Board. In September 1969, Richland County Public Library held a memorial service unveiling a portrait and plaque of Bostick to hang prominently in the library. Additionally, the Lucy Hampton Bostick Award, established in 1978, is given annually by the Richland Library Friends and Foundation as recognition of someone in the Midlands who has written a significant literary work on South Carolina or who has significantly advanced interest in books and libraries. In the twenty-first century, the Lucy Hampton Bostick Foundation keeps her legacy alive by continuing to support the arts, public history, and educational opportunities throughout Columbia and South Carolina.
Although built in 1991, more than two decades after Lucy Hampton Bostick’s death, Richland Library’s 242,000-square-foot main branch still embodies many of the ideas that Bostick pioneered, including increased access to information regardless of your physical location. The nationally-ranked library was awarded the 2017 National Medal from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for its community outreach.
Want to learn more about Lucy Hampton Bostick? Connect with a historian at Historic Columbia.
Interested in advancing the health, economic well-being, and rights of South Carolina's women, girls, and their families? Check out what's going on at WREN.