Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Charles William Dickinson (7 May 1885–13 September 1958), educator, was born in the Cumberland County town of Cartersville and was the son of Mildred Adelaide Kent Dickinson and Charles William Dickinson. His father kept a store in town, and served as superintendent of public schools for Cumberland County from 1901 to 1905 and as superintendent of public schools for the new district of Cumberland and Goochland Counties from 1905 to 1909. In 1901 the younger Dickinson entered Richmond College (later part of the University of Richmond), where he won awards in gymnastics and held office as vice president of the dramatic club, vice president of the Philologian Literary Society, and associate editor of the Messenger and the Collegian. He received a B.A. in 1905.

Dickinson served as principal of a Northampton County school from 1906 to 1908 and in the latter year attended the University of Virginia's summer session. He spent the 1908–1909 school year as a principal in Greensville County. Dickinson married Elizabeth Rodgers Hunt in Northampton County on 16 June 1909. They had three sons and one daughter. On 1 July 1909 Dickinson succeeded his father as superintendent of schools of Cumberland and Goochland Counties and served until 1918. During the summers of 1911 and 1912 he was a visiting professor at the State Female Normal School (later Longwood University) in Farmville.

Dickinson ran unsuccessfully for clerk of court in Cumberland County in November 1919 and then moved to Washington, D.C., where from 1921 to 1923 he worked as the director of the Junior American Red Cross, Potomac Division. He returned to Virginia and lived in Chesterfield County and later in Richmond after taking a job with the State Department of Education on 18 September 1923 as director of school libraries and textbooks. Dickinson was the first supervisor to administer the fund to purchase books for public school libraries, which increased from an annual legislative appropriation of $3,000 in 1923 to almost $260,000 at the time of his retirement in 1952.

Dickinson urged the state's public schools to establish libraries or to add more books to their libraries in order to earn accreditation and receive state funding. In 1928 he helped secure the adoption by the State Board of Education of library standards for Virginia's accredited high schools. That year Dickinson prepared a List of Books Approved for Public School Libraries in the State of Virginia, which also included recommendations and regulations regarding the organization and operation of school libraries. He continued his own education and in 1930 received a master's degree in education from Columbia University. Throughout his career Dickinson's articles on libraries and textbooks for public schools appeared in the Virginia Journal of Education. He also published two articles on library instruction and the development of Virginia school libraries in the Peabody Journal of Education in the 1930s. Dickinson updated his division's published lists of approved library books and created a Library Manual for Virginia Public Schools (1937). He became an officer in the Virginia Library Association in 1931 and in November 1933 was elected to a one-year term as president. At that same time he was serving as vice president of the Southeastern Library Association.

In a 1934 article Dickinson proposed requiring courses in library science as part of teacher training programs in order to help students improve their skills in using library resources. In another article two years later he called for hiring more trained personnel at school libraries and argued that school boards should include appropriations for library books in the budget. He believed that employment of professionally trained librarians was one of the most significant improvements in school library service for Virginia children. From the time Dickinson joined the division during the 1923–1924 school year through the 1949–1950 school year, the state and localities spent more than $4.87 million on books, equipment, and other materials for school libraries.

Dickinson worked to ensure that children in rural counties had access to a large collection of library books. In 1939 he and the state librarian jointly supervised a statewide project funded by the federal Works Progress Administration (later the Works Projects Administration) to create bookmobiles for traveling library service. The first bookmobile operated in Carroll County, where the public school library had reached a book circulation of almost 150,000, which was too large for the librarian's personal car. The four bookmobiles funded by the project brought library service to more than 165,000 rural Virginians.

In 1947 Dickinson summarized improvements in public school libraries during the previous ten years, which included the purchase of $3.8 million worth of library equipment, increases in the annual state appropriation for public school libraries from $33,000 to more than $1 million, and an increase in the number of volumes that public school libraries owned from 1,664,907 to 3,385,000. He also cited the establishment of a department of library science at Virginia State College (later Virginia State University) and a $500,000 WPA statewide public school library project. Dickinson served as president of the Southern Association of State Textbook Agents in 1950.

After three heart attacks, Dickinson retired in October 1952. He was most proud of increases in state aid to local school divisions, bookmobiles, and the establishment of a department of library science at the College of William and Mary, although neither it nor the library school at Virginia State College became permanent. In his honor the School Librarians Section of the Virginia Education Association created the C. W. Dickinson, Jr., School Library Scholarship Award in 1953. Two years later Dickinson was elected an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Richmond. Charles William Dickinson died at the home of one of his sons in Cape Charles on 13 September 1958 and was buried in Cartersville Cemetery, in Cumberland County.

Sources Consulted:
Biography in John A. Cutchins, History of the Class of 1905 (1956), 76–80; Birth Register, Cumberland Co., and Marriage Register, Northampton Co., both in Bureau of Vital Statistics, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; feature articles in Virginia Journal of Education 46 (Sept. 1952): 21–22 (portrait), and Virginia Librarian 3 (Jan. 1957): 57–58; some Dickinson correspondence and transcription of 1939 WRNL radio interview in Virginius R. Shackelford Papers (1939–1941), Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.; publications include Dickinson, "How May Library Instruction Be Integrated with Curricular Subjects and Whose Should be the Responsibility for Initiating Such a Program—The Teaching Staff or the Library Staff?" Peabody Journal of Education 11 (May 1934): 272–275, and "Virginia School Libraries," ibid. 13 (Mar. 1936): 242–246; published annual reports of Superintendent of Public Instruction; Virginia Library Association Records, 1905–1999, Accessions 32434, 36996, Organization Records Collection, Library of Virginia; obituaries in Richmond Times-Dispatch, 14 Sept. 1958, Richmond News Leader, 15 Sept. 1958, and Cape Charles Northampton Times, 18 Sept. 1958.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Alyssa Toby Fahringer.

How to cite this page:
Alyssa Toby Fahringer,"Charles William Dickinson (1885–1958)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2015 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Dickinson_Charles_William, accessed [today's date]).

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