Sullivan, Maud Durlin (1870–1943)

By: Martin Donell Kohout

Type: Biography

Published: October 1, 1995

Updated: January 14, 2018

Maud Durlin Sullivan, El Paso librarian and patroness of the artistic community, was born on December 7, 1870, in Ripon, Wisconsin, the daughter of Fayette Durlin and Annie L. Root. Her family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where her father was a rector in the Episcopal church, and she was educated at Kemper Hall, a local Episcopal school. She then studied art and music at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She returned to Madison after graduation and opened an art studio, but soon accepted a position as assistant librarian with the Eau Claire public library. She returned to the Pratt Institute to study library science and after graduation returned to Wisconsin and became librarian with the Oshkosh public library. She moved to El Paso and succeeded Clara Milliken as librarian in August 1908. In 1912 Maud Durlin resigned her position, married John Sullivan, a Harvard-educated mining engineer, and moved with him to New Mexico's Mogollon Mountains. She returned to El Paso in April 1917 and resumed her former position as librarian; her second tenure lasted twenty-five years and under her leadership the El Paso Public Library became one of the best in the nation. In 1919 the library had 17,453 volumes; ten years later, the it had 36,842 volumes, and by 1940 it had 112,290 books and pamphlets. Sullivan built the library's excellent mining reference section, which has been used by engineers from throughout the southwest. Believing that El Paso needed a strong Spanish-language section as well, she taught herself Spanish in order to choose the right books herself, and at the time of her death the library had more than 2,000 volumes in Spanish. She also built up the library's widely respected Southwest Collection, which at the time of her death included 3,481 volumes on southwestern history. Among them was the original manuscript of J. Frank Dobie's Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver, donated by the author because of his admiration for Sullivan. Sullivan served as president of the Texas Library Association from 1923 to 1925, and during her tenure as president she founded the association's bulletin, which she edited from its first issue in November 1924 until 1927. In the summer of 1927 she spent two months studying the public libraries of Mexico City, and in May 1928, representing the American Library Association, she conducted six Mexican librarians on a tour of major United States libraries. She then spent a week at the West Baden Conference, sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace. In 1932 she went to Puerto Rico to survey the island's libraries, and in May 1935 the Carnegie Corporation sent her as a member of its International Relations Committee to the International Congress of Libraries and Bibliography in Spain. She was also an honorary member of the El Paso Woman's Club and a member of the auxiliary of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers.

Sullivan never completely forgot her early studies of art. In 1935, thanks to her efforts, the El Paso Public Library became one of only two in Texas to receive the Carnegie Art Reference Set, a collection of 1,400 prints and 127 books on art. She also served as the unofficial patroness of a thriving local artistic community, which included Peter Hurd, Jean Carl Hertzog, Sr., Tom Lea III, José Cisneros, and Fremont Ellis. Maud Sullivan died on December 28, 1943, a week after breaking her ankle in a fall and several months after the death of her husband. Lea and Hertzog were among her pallbearers, and after her death Lea wrote that Sullivan "had made with her mind and energy one of the richest contributions a good citizen ever brought to West Texas."

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El Paso Herald, December 28, 1943. El Paso Public Library Progress Report, 1894–1929 (El Paso: Ellis Brothers Printing, 1929). El Paso Times, December 29, 1943. Tom Lea, Maud Durlin Sullivan, 1872–1944: Pioneer Southwestern Librarian (El Paso: Carl Hertzog, 1962). Password, Spring 1963.


  • Visual Arts
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
  • Women
  • Museums, Libraries, and Archives
  • Archivists
  • Librarians

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Martin Donell Kohout, “Sullivan, Maud Durlin,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 24, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995
January 14, 2018

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: