Mary-Florence WILSON

Mary-Florence WILSON

1884-1977, League of Nations Librarian

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Born on the 29th of January 1884 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Florence Wilson was an American librarian, responsible for the library of the League of Nations between 1919 and 1926.

Born into a bourgeois, educated American family, Wilson completed her studies at the universities of Drexel, Pennsylvania and Columbia before graduating from the Drexel Institute Library School in 1909. She went on to work briefly for the New York public library, before moving back to Colombia, where she worked from 1909 to 1917. Whilst Wilson was a true generalist, she started to specialise during this period in the cataloging of natural sciences works, as well as in international relations. Furthermore, she also started to specialise in the classification of published works, a complex science dominated by men. During the War, she built up a collection of books for bodies closely associated to the American government.

In 1917, she left for Europe, stopping in Paris. Here, she worked as liaison officer for the Library of Congress and was also responsible for taking care of the documentation for the American Peace Commission, becoming the only woman taking part in the conference. In 1919, she joined the League of Nations and was asked to organise its library, becoming the only female library director in Europe. Before starting her contract, Florence Wilson visited the large, established libraries in Europe and the US, to use as inspiration for her own library’s organisation, which was intended mainly to serve Members of the League.

The League of Nations’ library is UN library’s ancestor, which is located at the Palace of Nations in Geneva. Florence Wilson spent 7 years with the organisation, collecting over 90’000 volumes and cataloguing the works using innovative methods that she learnt from the United States. In 1926, her American nationality - being a non-member state to the League - served as an excuse to fire her. Despite protests from international female organisations, her contract was not renewed, and a man, better paid, replaced her in her position.

Between 1927 and 1929, Florence Wilson worked for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Paris and travelled around Europe and the Western Asia. During the Second World War, she refused to leave Europe, choosing instead to dedicate herself to voluntary work with the American Committee for Civil Relief, which she will continue to do so after the end of the war. Florence Wilson died in 1977 in the Vaudois town of La Tour-de-Peilz.


  • Marbeau, Michel, « Florence Wilson » in Ziegler Deuber, Erica, Tikhonov, Natalia, Les Femmes dans la mémoire de Genève, Genève, Éditions Susan Hurter, 2005, pp. 176-177.
  • Dale, Doris Cruger, « An American in Geneva: Florence Wilson and the League of Nations Library », in The Journal of Library History, Vol. 7, N° 2, 1972, pp. 109-123.
  • « Mary Florence Wilson », in LONSEA database, (