Sadie Peterson Delaney and the Work of Bibliotherapy

As many of you have heard by now, we are opening a brand new branch on North Hamilton Street right here in Poughkeepsie. The Sadie Peterson Delaney African Roots Library will be located in the former Poughkeepsie High School/Our Lady of Lourdes building, now known as the Family Partnership Center. You might be asking, who exactly is this Sadie? And what in the world is bibliotherapy? Well, have you ever been under a lot of stress, or perhaps you felt depressed, but then you picked up a good book to read and suddenly things just felt better? Well then, you’ve been healed by bibliotherapy, and Sadie Peterson Delaney used that to help our nation’s veterans feel better again. 

Sadie Johnson was born in Rochester on February 26th, 1889. She and her family moved to Poughkeepsie, where she studied at Poughkeepsie High School and attended church at Smith AME Zion Church. She wrote poetry and became active in the local women’s suffrage movement in her early 20s. Based on marriage records and newspaper reports, Sadie’s first marriage took place in Poughkeepsie when she was only 16. Unfortunately, this marriage was troubled from the start. Instead of being weighed down by an unhappy marriage, she divorced and focused her energies on studying, hoping to fulfill her dream of becoming a librarian. She left Poughkeepsie and went to New York City for college, where she studied at the New York Public Library School from 1920 to 1921. Following her training, Delaney worked at the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library. 

In 1924, Sadie took a 6-month leave of absence from the NYPL to head south and work with the Tuskegee Veterans Hospital. The hospital library had only 200 books when she arrived, so she began expanding the collection, as well as making it a more comfortable place for patients to visit. In less than a year, she built the collection to over 4,000 volumes and decided that she would remain at the hospital for good. Her work there included everything from improving the mental state of patients to teaching the blind how to read Braille. It was at this time that she remarried to a man named Rudicel A. Delaney, though she kept her first married name as well and went by Sadie Peterson Delaney. 

While working in the Veterans Hospital library, Delaney discovered that by paying attention to a patient’s individual interests, she could connect them with relevant reading materials that would then improve overall mental health and morale. She defined bibliotherapy as “the treatment of patients through selected reading” and she would endeavor to expand the library’s collections based on what the patients asked for. Her work and findings in the field of bibliotherapy were published in various journals around the country and earned her an honorary Doctorate from Atlanta University in 1950. Eleanor Roosevelt referred to Delaney in her column “My Day” in 1957, just a year before Delaney’s death, saying, “Mrs. Delaney has received many honors and has deserved them all. But I am sure that what she treasures most is the knowledge that she has helped countless individuals.” 

Make sure to stop by and visit our new library branch named in Delaney’s honor during our grand opening on April 9th. 

For more information of Sadie Peterson Delaney, check out the Dutchess County Historical Society.

Roosevelt, Eleanor. “My Day” – Poughkeepsie Journal 18 Jan 1957

01 – Photo of Sadie Peterson Delaney
02 – Color-tinted photograph of the Poughkeepsie High School, erected in 1914. Modern day Family Partnership Center and home of our new branch! – LH Collections