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The representatives then tried an appeal to pecuniary interest (it was, after all, a very safe investment with a guaranteed rate of return) and, when that didn’t work, made an appeal to pity: Didn’t she realize that the Huns were running around all over France and Belgium raping women, they asked her? The boys in France were fighting to protect her from the same fate. How could she deny them her financial assistance in their quest to save Belgian and Northern French women from the predations of these amorous Teutonic beasts? Wouldn’t she want the same consideration if she were in their position?
Hunt parried that thrust by assuring them that she was prepared for any suffering (this exchange was the source of the “would rather be ravished by the Huns” line in the newspapers) and then riposted that if the government wanted her money, it could come and take it; but she would not give it voluntarily.
The representatives hurried back to make their report, and to leak it to the press; and when it appeared, in the Telegram, it sparked a popular furor. The district attorney called for Hunt to be fired from her job; the mayor and the governor soon weighed in as well; and angry letters started pouring into the newspapers and to the library board. So the library board called an emergency meeting to discuss the matter.
Aware of the mounting hostility, Hunt carefully prepared her statement for the board, in writing, and forwarded it to them before the meeting. “I am an American, and no one can more earnestly desire to see America leading in the world’s progress to a higher civilization,” it read. “It is increasingly a source of pride to me that in this conflict our President now stands head and shoulders above the statesmen of the other warring nations. His aims and ideals and those of other earnest people with whom I disagree are my aims and ideals. The disagreement is purely an honest difference of opinion about the methods which will best achieve those ends. At no time have I desired to be an ‘obstructionist.’ I merely wish to claim the Constitutional American right privately to hold a minority opinion.”
The board was convinced — all but board member W.F. Woodward; and the board voted to support her right to abstain from buying bonds, although every member disagreed with her stand.
Woodward was soon being quoted in the newspapers as calling the decision a disgrace. Nobody, he said, who was getting a $175-a-month salary in a publicly funded position should be allowed to keep her job if she refused to support her country.
THE PUBLIC FURORE now worked itself up to such a pitch that the library board was more or less forced to meet again three days later. Woodward clearly came to this meeting armed for bear, and was apparently surprised when it was announced that Hunt had resigned her position.
“Because I do not wish in any degree to hamper the usefulness of the Library, and because I am unwilling to place upon the Library Board the burden of a conflict to maintain its brave stand for freedom of conscience, I hereby tender my resignation,” she wrote.
This was not good enough for Woodward, who promptly moved that action be deferred on the resignation until after the board had voted to dismiss her outright — in other words, a “you can’t quit, you’re fired” move. This failed, and the resignation was accepted. Woodward, cheated of his prey, then started pounding on the table and shouting accusations that the head librarian, Mary Frances Isom, was “disloyal” as well. Isom, enraged, leaped to her feet and shouted back at him that he was “no gentleman.” Board member Jonah B. Wise jumped up as well and, addressing Woodward, said, “I am ashamed of you, sir.”
All the other board members joined in the general condemnation, and Woodword, in high dudgeon, got up and walked out of the room without another word.
“I want to be quoted as saying that Mr. Woodward’s conduct is yellow and he is yellow clear through,” Board president W.B. Ayer told reporters after the meeting.
“Yellow,” of course, was 1910s slang for “cowardly”; so Ayer’s statement was, in effect, an ever-so-slightly more civil version of “Put up your dukes.” The newspapers don’t give any indication of whether this challenge was accepted, though.
IN SHORT ORDER, the whole affair was forgotten — especially after dead soldiers started coming back from France and the whole jingoistic glow of propaganda-driven excitement started to drain away. Within a few months of the end of the war, most of the people who had so bitterly opposed Louise Hunt were now firmly in her camp; but by then she was gone. After resigning her job, she moved immediately back to Maine, and later finished her career as head librarian at the public library in Racine, Wis.