Frances Henne by
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Prompted By Favorite Teacher

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I’ve been inspired by many fine teachers over the years but the one who influenced me most was Frances Henne, my professor at Columbia’s graduate library school.

Not a household name and surely not recognizable outside her field,   Dr Henne was a mover and a shaker in the children’s and young adult library world.

Born in Springfield,  IL in 1906,  Henne graduated from University of Illinois with a  BA,  and then got an MA in English while working at the Lincoln Public Library.   Library work intrigued her and she went to New York for library studies at Columbia,  and then to University of Chicago Graduate Library School for her doctorate.

Henne then accepted a teaching position at University of Chicago  – the first female faculty member appointed there.   There in addition to instructing,  she began to write about the importance of giving youngsters access to good literature,  and the travesty of districts where school libraries were underfunded or non-existent.   Although her first love was the literature,  she worked tirelessly on improving and codifying standards for children’s and young adult collections in public libraries,  and for libraries in elementary and secondary schools.

Luckily for me Frances Henne had left Chicago and was teaching at Columbia in the 1960s when I was a grad student there.  Of course her work with library standards and education policy was well known and she continued to advocate for that.

But thankfully she also taught two courses dear to her heart – children’s and young adult lit.   And sitting in that graduate school classroom and listening to Frances Henne reading  from Charlotte’s Web,  and explaining why children need to hear it,  is something I’ll never forget.

– Dana Susan Lehrman 

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Librarians, School libraries
Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Marian says:

    Librarians rock, Dana, and it’s heartwarming to learn about such a valuable and valued contributor as Dr. Henne. We need more like her.

  2. I love reading the stories about heroes in teaching! And Charlotte’s Web was one of my childhood favorites.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Dr. Henne sounds like a brilliant, inspiring woman, Dana. And you know from my story the impact that “Charlotte’s Web” had for me in 2nd grade. It is a must-read for all children! Forget any movie version. READ IT!

  4. Susan Bennet says:

    Thank you for this stirring tribute, Dana. It is a peak experience indeed to learn directly from and with a giant in one’s field. Ms. Henne’s vita is astonishing and so perfectly directed to her life’s purpose. And to think that the essence of that purpose was gifted to you in that lecture hall and carried forth in your life’s work in turn. The magic of teaching.

  5. This was a very meaningful commentary, Dana. The only other recognized person I could think of that I associate with being a librarian (before she became an author) was Beverly Cleary. I didn’t look up her birth year, but I would speculate that Cleary was a decade or so younger, and that therefore some of the work that Dr. Henne did laid the groundwork to ensure that more libraries would stock those stories of Ramona and Beezus and Henry and all the rest. And it pleases me to imagine that they would have crossed paths at some point, at a conference for children’s librarians, perhaps,.

  6. Suzy says:

    Great story, Dana. Sounds like she well deserved being named as your favorite teacher!

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    What a joy to have known this pioneering woman! It must be terribly difficult to be a librarian in schools these days when so much censorship is being promulgated—I imagine Frances Henne would have been a strong voice for allowing children to learn freely.

  8. Laurie Levy says:

    You were so lucky to have had Frances Henne to inspire you in graduate school. And what could be better than listening to someone reading Charlotte’s Web aloud.

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