One of the most important librarians in Mansfield History spent the majority of her life in this city. Miss Martha Mercer was born about September 1859 to William Boyd Mercer, a druggist, and Johanna Holland Morrison, who came to Mansfield around 1856. Little is known of the life of Miss Mercer prior to becoming a librarian, but a few articles in the Mansfield Herald in 1887 and 1889 mentioned her performing in local plays. It was around 1890 that Mercer became a librarian, taking over for Miss Mary Ebert, in the newly constructed Soldiers and Sailors Building. Her work and dedication over the next 24 years would be a benefit to the city of Mansfield, which is still felt today.
In the 1891 Annual Report for the Memorial Library Association, the first year Miss Mercer was listed as librarian, the library had 4,588 books and 16,012 were checked out for home use. In 1914, the last year in which Miss Mercer was the librarian, the collection had grown to 18,520 books with 72,848 being circulated. In addition to expanding the use and popularity of the library, Miss Mercer is largely responsible for the Carnegie Library which still stands today. Miss Mercer traveled to New York and met with James Bertram, Andrew Carnegie’s secretary. In 1903, Carnegie awarded a grant for $35,000 for the construction of a new library. It was later reported that Miss Mercer made another trip to New York and secured an additional $2,000 for furnishings for the library. Mercer was also one of the original 12 organizers of the Ohio Library Association founded in 1895, today called the Ohio Library Council. Miss Mercer was highly respected in the library profession and, in an article in The Mansfield Shield announcing her retirement; it noted she turned down many offers to leave Mansfield at “a largely increased salary.” Miss Mercer cared deeply for Mansfield and its people; this is showcased in the 1908 Annual Report where she remarked on the new Carnegie Library saying “to see the shelves of this beautiful building filled with well selected books, the growth of 21 years of library work in Mansfield, fills one with encouragement and hope for the future.”
Miss Mercer retired from the library on September 1, 1914 citing ill health, three months after submitting her resignation. She was so beloved that the library board refused to act on the request at first, hoping her health would improve and she would reconsider. Miss Helen Fox was selected as the next head librarian and did remarkable work during her time as well.
Miss Martha Mercer stayed in Mansfield until around 1928 when she moved to Pelham Manor, New York where her sister, Mrs. Loren Thompson, lived. In the morning of April 22, 1930, Miss Martha Mercer passed away. Her body was returned to Mansfield to be buried in Mansfield Cemetery.