In 1891, 24-year-old Eugenie Dery was living in Montreal, working to support her widowed mother and her younger sister. When I saw her occupation – librarie teneur de livres – I immediately thought “Librarian!”
How hard was it to be a woman librarian in the 1890s?
Surprisingly, there were less barriers than I expected. Librarianship was seen as a suitable job for college educated women. They had the skill to do the work, and were hired due to the sexist beliefs of the day that they wouldn’t cause trouble and would be subordinate to (male) professors. Of course, they also broke into a new field for the reason that many women did: They were cheaper to hire than men. McGill University in Montreal conferred its first degrees to female graduates in 1888, and before that women had been admitted to women’s colleges. An educated woman could be working in an academic library.
Eugenie was not a librarian. Librarie is a bookseller, and teneur de livres is a bookkeeper. In the 1892-1893 Montreal Lovell’s Directory, Eugenie is listed as working for Dery & Co., a fancy goods store, so we can assume that she handled the financial aspects of a bookstore. While not common, a spinster handling administrative work for what seems like a family business would not have been unusual. On her burial record in 1905, she is still a teneur de livres. The witnesses who signed are Flavier Joseph Granger, a bookseller and Jean Baptiste Dery, a trader.
Eugenie died on the twelfth of November 1905, and is buried in Notre-Dame-Des-Neiges cemetery in Montreal.