Butler, Susan Dart

1888–1959

In 1927 Susan Butler opened a free library and reading room in Dart Hall, using her father’s books, folding chairs, and two tables. The reading room was open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Dart served as librarian and operated the room with donations and at her own expense until the Charleston Free Library established the Dart Hall Branch in 1931. The Charleston County Free Library and its branches received money from the Rosenwald Fund and the Carnegie Foundation, while the Dart family rented the building to the county for one dollar a year. The Dart Hall Branch opened to the African American public with 3,600 books.

Librarian. Susan Dart Butler was born in Charleston in 1888, the oldest of five children born to John Lewis Dart and Julia Pierre. Her father was born a free person of color in 1854 and was well educated. In 1882 he graduated from Newton Theological Seminary in Massachusetts and was ordained a Baptist minister. Reverend Dart returned to South Carolina in 1886, when he accepted a position at the Morris Street Baptist Church in Charleston.

The primary source of entertainment in the Dart home was reading. Butler’s father was an avid reader and maintained an excellent collection of books in his personal library, which his children and young men in his parish were allowed to use. Butler began first grade in 1895 at a private school because the public schools for African Americans were horribly overcrowded. A firm believer in education, the Reverend Dart raised money to construct a six-room building, named Dart Hall, on his own property to accommodate about 150 schoolchildren.

The Darts ensured their children the best education possible. Butler attended Avery Institute in Charleston, Atlanta University in Georgia, and the McDowell Millinery School in Boston. Her mother hoped that Butler would work as a milliner (a maker of women’s hats), which she did for about five years. Her father’s enthusiasm for books and reading, however, eventually led Butler to librarianship. In 1912 she married Nathaniel Lowe Butler, a native of Boston involved in the real estate business. The couple had one son, Nathaniel.

In 1927 Susan Butler opened a free library and reading room in Dart Hall, using her father’s books, folding chairs, and two tables. The reading room was open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Dart served as librarian and operated the room with donations and at her own expense until the Charleston Free Library established the Dart Hall Branch in 1931. The Charleston County Free Library and its branches received money from the Rosenwald Fund and the Carnegie Foundation, while the Dart family rented the building to the county for one dollar a year. The Dart Hall Branch opened to the African American public with 3,600 books. The branch was staffed by three librarians including Butler, who became head librarian after one year. During the summer of 1932 she attended the Hampton Institute in Virginia, where she took course work in library science. In 1947 she earned a bachelor’s degree in library science from North Carolina College in Durham.

Among the special services offered to promote the Dart Hall Branch were story hour programs for small children, summer reading projects for older children, book discussion groups for adults, bookmobiles, and programs to help local schools. In 1952 Charleston County purchased Dart Hall and developed plans to continue the library branch. Butler retired in May 1957 after twenty-six years as branch librarian. She died two years later. In 1968 the Charleston County Council built the John L. Dart Library, which was dedicated on December 12, 1968.

Bolden, Ethel Evangeline Martin. “Susan Dart Butler: Pioneer Librarian.” Master’s thesis, Atlanta University, 1959.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Butler, Susan Dart
  • Coverage 1888–1959
  • Author
  • Keywords Librarian, Newton Theological Seminary, Dart Hall, Avery Institute, Charleston Free Library, Dart Hall Branch
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date October 29, 2020
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 25, 2016
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