Helen Jennette Fox was born February 3, 1882, in Hayesville, Ashland County, Ohio to Joseph Benton Fox and Christiania Wallace. Joseph Benton Fox was an insurance agent and moved to Mansfield, Ohio around 1897-98 according to Mansfield city directories. Helen was the oldest of six children and the only girl. Her brothers were Frederick H (b. 1883), Ralph D. (b. 1886), George W. (b 1891), Homer Eugene (b. 1893), and Leo Ronald (b. 1896). Upon arriving in Mansfield, Helen began attending Mansfield High School and graduated in 1901.
Miss Fox began working for the Mansfield Memorial Library in May of 1904. She started when Miss Hedges resigned from her position as assistant librarian. Mrs. Clara C. Carpenter, Chairman of the Committee on Library and Reading Room, stated in her 1904 annual report that Miss Fox “has shown in a marked degree her adaptability and fitness for the work. Her earnestness and faithfulness we heartily commend. Her whole heart seems to be in the work although her compensation is so trifling.” Miss Fox continued her dedicated work under head librarian Miss Martha Mercer. In 1905 she represented the library at a meeting for the State Library in Cleveland and, by 1912, was working full time. In July of 1914, Miss Fox went to Chautauqua, New York and attended the Chautauqua Summer Library School. This was a six-week course that instructed students on organization, administration, cataloging, and reference skills.
Miss Mercer retired as head librarian on September 1, 1914, and Miss Helen Fox was selected to take her place. A number of services were added under Miss Fox and funds were obtained from the Richland County Commissioners to perform county work. “Branch” collections were added to Bellville, Butler, Pavonia, Lexington, Lucas, Ontario, Shiloh, and three county schools. In addition to this, city branches were added to two fire departments, three schools, and the YMCA. After much discussion, the librarian’s salary was raised to $840 annually in 1917 from $780 in previous years.
During World War I, the library collected books to be sent to troops. Some were sent to Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, Ohio for which the library received a letter of appreciation from Camp Librarian Burton E. Stevenson. The library had to temporarily close in 1918 due to the spread of Spanish influenza. Miss Fox continued to expand the reach of the library and in 1921 collections were added to the Ohio State Reformatory, the County Infirmary, and Mansfield General Hospital. The library struggled to provide services and it was recommended that the library become a school district library since the city was unable to provide a large enough budget. This helped immediately and, in 1925, the library was redecorated and new stacks were purchased. The following year, more stacks and new typewriters were purchased.
1927 saw the hiring of the first trained children’s librarian, Miss Helen S. Keeting, whom the Children’s Room is dedicated to today. The following year, the first Summer Reading Program was introduced with the theme “Travel Tour through Europe.” Thirty children completed the program in the first year. In addition to the work done to improve the library, Miss Fox was also involved in many civic organizations, including the Fortnight Club and the Business and Professional Women’s Club. She also served as vice president of the Ohio State Library Association.
Upon leaving for work on the morning of January 2, 1931, Miss Helen Fox died due to a cerebral hemorrhage. Her death came as a shock to her friends and family as news spread quickly throughout the city. At the young age of 48, Miss Fox had dedicated almost 27 years to the Mansfield Library. Miss Gladys Nichols was placed in charge of the library until a replacement was found. On Monday, January 5, 1931, services were held at the First Presbyterian Church conducted by Rev. Dr. A. M. Hughes. Members of the library board, both past and present, attended the funeral as a group. Helen Jennette Fox was buried in the Mansfield cemetery.