Mansfield Librarians: Miss Helen J. Fox

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.


Record of Birth for Helen Jennette Fox

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.


Helen Jennette Fox

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.


Mansfield Librarians: Col. James E. Wharton

Col. James Edwin Wharton was born Jonathan Whitcomb Jr. to Jonathan and Lucy Whitcomb on September 7, 1809 in Heath, Franklin, Massachusetts.[i] [ii]  He spent his formative years in this area, learning the printing trade in Greenfield, Franklin, Massachusetts and starting the Fitchburg Gazette and working for the Worchester Spy newspaper.  Jonathan Jr. joined the Democratic Party, which went against his father’s views.  This would cause estrangement between the two and result in Jonathan Jr. having his name changed by special act of the Massachusetts legislature to James Edwin Wharton.  Later he would join the Whig Party, but be an opponent to slavery and become a member of the Republican Party in its formation.

The daily union 29MAR1850

The Daily Union (Washington D.C.), March 29, 1850

Shortly after his name change, Wharton would move west.  He would first arrive in Massillon, Stark, Ohio around 1830, then  make his way to Wheeling, Virginia (today West Virginia) around 1835.  He spent around 20 years in Wheeling, where he published the Wheeling Times.  It was also in Wheeling where he met his wife, Joanna R. Wheat, Daughter of Thomas Wheat, whom he married on August 13, 1839.  They had two children: John, born abt. 1840 and Julia May, born abt. 1844.  In 1855, Wharton left Wheeling and returned briefly to Massillon, Ohio before heading back east to Brooklyn, New York and New York, New York.  He was there until 1860 when he returned to West Virginia, this time staying nearly ten years in Parkersburg, West Virginia.[iii]  Little information was found on the Colonel’s military services.  In 1863, Wharton was listed as an “aid to the revenue” in customs at the Treasury Department[iv] and in 1881 he was listed as a surveyor.[v]

It was after his stay in Parkersburg that Wharton made his way to Mansfield, Ohio around 1870.  He first showed up in the 1871-72 Mansfield City Directory staying at 55 Marion Ave. with his daughter and son-in-law, Capt. A. B. Alger.[vi]   On December 14, 1871, the Holmes County Republican lists him as a lecturer at the Mansfield Lyceum for the upcoming season.[vii]  It was shortly after arriving in Mansfield that he became librarian of the newly formed Lyceum Library.  The 1873-74 Mansfield City Directory lists him as librarian of public reading rooms and living at 186 West Market Street (today Park Ave West).  Wharton was only here a short time, but many newspaper articles at the time show his dedication and commitment to the library and it how it was successful through his hard work.  It was during Wharton’s time as librarian that the library moved into the basement of the courthouse.  He also successfully petitioned many prominent residents, including John Sherman, James Purdy and Roeliff Brinkerhoff for, not only books, but various other documents for “public examination for future ages.”[viii]  An article in The Ohio Liberal stated “Colonel Wharton has given his time gratuitously to this good work and deserves the thanks of all good citizens.”[ix]


In 1875, Col. Wharton’s wife became ill and died on June 2, 1875 at the age of 59 after a few weeks of suffering.  Her obituary spoke highly of her and said she made many friends during her short time in the city.  She was buried in Mansfield Cemetery.[x]  Shortly after the death of his wife, Wharton decided to move from Mansfield and make his home in Portsmouth, Ohio.  On December 8, 1875 at the meeting of the Lyceum, Wharton tendered his resignation, which was accepted by unanimous vote.[xi]  When he left Mansfield, the lyceum had about 3,000 volumes and a cabinet of “geological and archaeological specimens, numbering some thousand.”[xii]

Col. Wharton was not finished working when he left Mansfield at the age of 66.  When he arrived at Portsmouth, he immediately saw a need for a library and began collecting books.  In October of 1878, when a bill was passed in the Ohio Legislature providing financial assistance to libraries throughout Ohio, the Portsmouth board of Education donated a building on the corner of Fifth and Court Streets to be used as a library.  Col. Wharton was given the task of obtaining books for the library, which opened in 1879.[xiii]  Wharton did briefly return to his birth place before his death, spending a few weeks at the Fitchburg Hotel in the autumn of 1880, where he met with friends and enjoyed reminiscing.[xiv]  Col. James Edwin Wharton died on November 3, 1881 in Portsmouth, Ohio of pneumonia.  His body was returned to Mansfield to be buried next to his wife.


Painting of Col. J. E. Wharton in Portsmouth, Ohio Public Library (Courtesy of the Portsmouth Public Library)

Wharton was remembered for his progressive views and his self-sacrificing labors to promote, not only the library, but schools and other public enterprises in the city of Portsmouth.  The citizens were so thankful for the work he had done in his short stay that they commissioned a life-sized painting to be hung in the library, which is still there today.  It was also suggested at his memorial in Portsmouth that the library be called the Wharton Library in his memory.[xv]

wharton library

“Wharton Library” on corner of Fifth and Court Streets, Portsmouth, Ohio


[iv] Register of Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval in the Service of the United States, Vol. 1. 1863, p. 88.
[v] Official Register of the United States, Containing a List of Officers and Employees in the Civil, Military, and Naval Service, Vol. 1. 1881, P. 198.
[vi] The Mansfield Herald.  16 DEC 1975, p. 3.
[vii] Holmes County Republican. 14 DEC 1871, p. 3.
[viii] The Ohio Liberal. 11 JUN 1873,  p. 3.
[ix] The Ohio Liberal. 21 MAY 1873, p. 3.
[x] The Richland Shield and Banner. 05 JUN 1975, p. 3.
[xi] The Mansfield Herald. 11 DEC 1975, p. 3.
[xii] The Mansfield Herald. 16 DEC 1875, p. 3.
[xiii] A History of Scioto County, Ohio, 1986. P. 27.
[xiv] Proceedings of the Fitchburg Historical Society and the papers relating to the history of the town, Vol. 1. 1895, pp. 166-169.
[xv] The Mansfield Herald. 01 JAN 1882, p. 4.

Mansfield Librarians: Miss Martha Mercer

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.

mercer 1858

William Boyd Mercer in 1858 Mansfield City Directory

soldiers and sailors

The Soldiers and Sailors Building

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.

The Evolution of the Library Card

September is National Library Card Sign-Up Month and I thought we could use this as an opportunity to explore the evolution of the library card and how patrons borrowed materials in the early days of the library.  Before the Civil War, when the Mansfield Library Association was located on the corner of North Main and West Third in the Z.S. Stocking building where the Carrousel Park now sits, the library was non-circulating.  The Hon. John Sherman donated about 1,000 books and individuals were able to become members of the association as long they were “of good moral character.”   They paid an initiation fee of $1.00 and, thereafter, $1.00 annually.  A lifetime membership could be purchased for $25.00.

After the war, it was decided there was once again a need for a library and one was located in the basement of the courthouse.  It was later moved to the newly constructed Soldiers and Sailors Building in 1889.  In 1875, Rev. C. S. Doolittle would become librarian after the retirement of J. E. Wharton.  In these days a ledger system was used to keep track of the items borrowed from the library.  The ledger in the archives in the Sherman Room contains entries for 1875 and 1877 and shows many prominent names still recognizable today.  Judge Brinkerhoff was a frequent patron of the library, as well as the Sturges, Glessner and Reed families.


Ledger used between 1875-1877

An early book plate from the Memorial Library Association shows the rules for borrowing while the library was housed in the Soldier and Sailors Building.  Any resident of the city of township, 12 years of age or older, with proper reference when not known, could borrow a book.  One book could be borrowed at a time and taken out for two weeks and renewed once for an additional two weeks.  The borrower would be fined one cent per day that the book was late and be required to replace the book if it was damaged or they could no longer check out materials.

As the library grew, the ledger system became outdated and new systems were devised.  It was soon after this that some form of library card was issued to borrowers.  The monthly reports in local newspapers note how many new cards were issued each month.  This most likely progressed into a “one-card” system, where the borrowers information was noted on a card or slip associated with the book being borrowed.  Soon the “two-card system” was used, one card contained book information and another borrower information.  When a book was checked out the borrower information would be noted on the book card and the date the book was to be returned was noted on the borrower card and placed in the pocket of the book.

early lib card

Library borrower card and book card

As technology evolved so did the library card.  Machines known as charging stations were used.  Patrons were issued a paper card with an embossed metal plate that contained the borrower’s number.  The borrowers card and the book card would then be placed in the charging machine which would stamp the borrowers number on the book card.  The borrower’s number would eventually be replaced with a barcode as computers became popular and evolve into the cards we use today.

1989 lib card_1

Late 1980s to early 1990s library card

Books are no longer the only item offered by libraries.  Movies, music and a host of other unconventional items are available to residents with a library card, including bikes, air quality monitors, blood-pressure cuffs, telescopes, Kindles, WiFi hotspots and even cake pans.  You don’t even need a physical card to access services offered by the library.  An e-card can be used to access digital content such as eBooks, movies and music.