James Dwyer Books & Stationery
Salt Lake City, Utah
(30mm x 19mm, ca.1874)
Some interesting passages on James Dwyer [1831 - 1915] can be found in an article on his daughter, the actress Ada Dwyer Russell, interesting in her own right, in the Winter 1975 issue of the Utah Historical Quarterly:
James Dwyer, born in Tipperary, Ireland, was baptized into the Mormon church in 1860. That same year he traveled to Utah by ox team and put to work the unique talent he had developed as a bookman. Seeing the possibilities for a bookstore in Salt Lake City, young Dwyer set up a stand at the corner of West Temple and First South in the Townsend House.1 With only five dollars in hand, James started the store that served as bureau of information, dispensary of Mormon publications, and unofficial headquarters for the "intellectuals" of Salt Lake Valley. As patronage increased, Dwyer moved his store to the Constitution Building and then to the former home of the McCornick Bank.2 Among the more prominent publications sold in Dwyer's Bookstore were the New York Ledger, the Fireside Companion, and the Atlantic Monthly.
Dwyer's store became more to the people of Salt Lake City than just a place to buy good books and magazines; it was a center of education. Many of Utah's advancements started with conversation in the back room of Dwyer's. The shelves of the Dwyer store held the school books used in the territory. The teachers held institute and business meetings in the back room which was equipped with maps, charts, and other educational materials. Mr. Dwyer occasionally invited scholars to his home for a banquet.3
In March 1866 a group of prominent men met in the Dwyer bookstore to set up the framework for a viable educational system in Utah. The resulting chain of church schools substantially upgraded the training received by Salt Lake City youngsters.4 The Dwyer bookstore also was used as a study hall by students from the University of Deseret. Many of these students were able to complete their schooling because of the credit extended to them by James Dwyer. Indeed, Dwyer's reading room was referred to as the first library west of the Missouri River,5 and James [p.43] himself was a walking compendium of knowledge on the contents of almost every book in his store. If he could not find time to read the book himself he would make a gift of the book to another person who would report to him on the contents in payment for the gift.
Advertisement from S. W. Darke's Salt Lake City Illustrated, 1887.
Befitting his role as community intellectual, Dwyer's home at 166 West North Temple was a gathering place for the educated society of Utah. Luxurious with its walkways, gardens, and hothouse, this home initially had one of only three lawns in Salt Lake City. Dwyer had married Sarah Ann Hammer in 1862; their seven children grew up in the company of notable people from every cultural profession. Personal friends of the family included the owners and managers of influential publishing houses such as D. A. Appleton, Houghton-Mifflin, Charles F. Scribner's, and Harper's.6 Representatives of the stage and music worlds were often guests at the Dwyer dinner table. In his early years in Utah, James converted Sara Alexander, popular actress, and her mother to Mormonism, thus making one of his earliest theatrical acquaintances....
Chris Rigby, "Ada Dwyer: Bright Lights and Lilacs" Utah Historical Quarterly 34:1 (Winter 1975), pp.41-51.
Notes to the article:
1. Deseret News, January 13, 1915.
2. John Henry Evans, "Some Men Who Have Done Things," The Improvement Era, 14 (June 1911), 701.
4. James Dwyer, signed statement of November 11, 1913, "The Establishment of the LDS Church Schools," manuscript, Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo.
5. Deseret News, July 8, 1913.
6. Salt Lake Tribune, January 2, 1938.
Another example of Dwyer's community spirit is mentioned in Melvin Bashore's recent article on the relatively advanced literary culture of the Federal Penitentiary at Salt Lake City:
After the Deseret News called for Salt Lake citizens to donate books to the prison in 1879, James Dwyer, a Salt Lake book dealer, donated some of his stock and offered his store as a collection place for this project.
Bashore, Melvin L., "Behind Adobe Walls and Iron Bars: The Utah Territorial Penitentiary Library" Libraries & Culture 38:3 (Summer 2003), pp.236-249.
Other odd tidbits can be found on the web:
"James Dwyer, a local bookseller, had tried to combat the disagreeable [anti-Mormon] propaganda by making available small cards with the Articles of Faith on one side and a view of the Temple on the other side.3 He spent an hour every day handing out the cards on Temple Square. But many visitors to the city heard only the story of terrible Mormon doings...."
3. Edward H. Anderson, "The Bureau of Information," Improvement Era, December 1921, p.131.
"9 May, 1913 - First Presidency learns that James Dwyer, co-founder of Salt Lake City's LDS University (now LDS Business College), has been "teaching young men that sodomy and kindred vices are not sins..." Dwyer's daughter, actress Ada Dwyer Russell, is already in long-term relationship with lesbian poet Amy Lowell. Dwyer's bishop and stake president want to excommunicate him, but First Presidency allows Dwyer, now in his eighties, to voluntarily "withdraw his name" from LDS church membership."