Esther Mitchell Morse June 3, 1822 – September 30, 1910
Esther Mitchell Morse was born in the town of Norway, Maine, in 1822. From an early age she demonstrated a keen intellect and a propensity for education, eventually heading a seminary. In 1847 she married Reverend Alfred Morse, whose work took them from Maine to Ohio and Illinois before they settled in Minnesota in 1864.
When Esther arrived, Austin was still very much a small, rural village, one which had only recently been a frontier town. Right from the beginning, she noted the lack of cultural attributes and activities in the little community, and she set out to change that. On March 16, 1869, she chaired the first meeting of what was to become the Austin Ladies Floral Club, a civic group dedicated to the betterment and beautification of the town. The club had a two-fold purpose – to create aesthetic beauty in Austin that all its citizens could enjoy, and also to fund and support a public circulating library. In the century and a half since its founding, the Floral Club has steadily contributed to the Austin Public Library’s growth and development.
Right from the very beginning of her civic efforts, Esther’s dedication and energy made her a force to be reckoned with, a force of benevolence and commitment. In the first year of her leadership of the Floral Club, the organization raised $100 in its flower show, a considerable sum in 1869, which went to purchase 123 books. Those volumes, along with another 103 books donated by private citizens, formed the Austin Public Library’s original collection. Esther’s vision for a strong and vibrant library for Austin succeeded far beyond the club’s humble beginnings – when the Carnegie Library was built in the town in 1904, the Floral Club contributed 3,500 books to its collection.
In addition to her work as a community activist and proponent of education and literacy, Esther achieved some recognition as a writer of literary short stories and poetry, with several of her pieces published in leading periodicals of that era.
Esther died at the age of 88 in 1910. She was remembered as “a woman of courage, wisdom and vision…” whose enduring dream was “to make Austin a better place to live.”
Do you know someone that has made an impact on the City of Austin? Submit a Pillars of the City nomination for next year!