History on the Page: Mansfield Memorial Library Board Bookplates, designed by Louis Lamoreux

This week’s blog post is inspired by a piece of history found within the pages of a book in the history section of the library.

Donations to libraries have often been designated in honor of the donor or in honor of a person chosen by the donor by placing a bookplate inside the book. One such bookplate used in books in the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library in the past bears this image:

Black and white image of a scanned woodcut bookplate, with a central image of the Mansfield Public Library. The words "Free Public Library" are easily visible under the pediment. Under the image are the words "Ex LIbris" and around the image are the words "Mansfield Memorial Library Board."
Bookplate

“Ex libris” is a common phrase on bookplates, especially in personal libraries, as it is Latin for “from the books” or “from the library,” usually followed by the name of the individual or organization that owns the book.

This bookplate indicates that the book was donated to the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library by the Mansfield Memorial Library Board.

As previously discussed in this blog, the Memorial Library Association (or Board, later) was the originator of the public library in Mansfield. The membership of the Memorial Library Association was, from its foundation, female, although men could become honorary members. The organization was founded in 1887 and first had its library in the Memorial Building, also known as the Soldiers and Soldiers Hall, on Park Avenue West.

Memorial Building, Mansfield, Ohio. From the Sherman Room Digital Archives.

However, when the Carnegie library on West Third was built (what is now the Main Library), the Memorial Library Association was replaced in its oversight role by a board of trustees appointed by the city. Instead, the Memorial Library Association carried on its work in supporting the library by hosting lectures, fundraising, and donating materials to the library. This is where our bookplate comes onto the scene, placed into books that were donated to the library, especially when the books were donated in memory of someone.

While the Memorial Library Association had been supporting and donating materials to the library since it opened in 1908, this particular bookplate was used beginning in about 1941. In the Mansfield News Journal from April 27th, 1941, the bookplate made its public debut, and is cited as having been designed by Louis Lamoreux, a local architect best known for designing the “Big House” at Louis Bromfield’s Malabar Farm, now Malabar Farm State Park [Mansfield News Journal, 27 April 1941, page 14]. Some of the early books to bear this bookplate were North American Wildflowers, which was donated in memory of Mrs. Frank Black, and Flowers and Fruit Prints of the Early 18th and 19th Centuries, donated in memory of Mrs. Henry Weaver. Both women were past presidents of the Memorial Library Board.

Have you come across anything seemingly inconspicuous that was hiding years of history lately?

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The Quarantine of 1918

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first instance the library had to close due to public health concerns. In late 1918, Spanish Influenza was quickly spreading across the country. The pandemic spread worldwide and was estimated to have killed at least 50 million people, 675,000 of them in the United States. It was a unique pandemic, as young and old alike were at risk. The city health board reported that not one case of Spanish influenza had been reported in Mansfield by Oct. 4, 1918, but they insisted measures still be taken to reduce risk.i The following day, 25 cases were reported to the health board, one being considered serious. Dr. G. T. Goodman, the city health official, didn’t think it was necessary at the time to take stringent action, but asked citizens to take caution.ii On October 8, 1918, a quarantine went into effect closing schools, churches, lodge houses, and the public library.iii The disease continued to grow and, on October 9, 1918, 30 more cases were reported and the first death was reported: Mrs. Millie Hays Sigler, the 42-year-old wife of Curtis C. Sigler.iv It was also reported that the Mansfield General Hospital could only care for four patients at a time in their isolation ward.v

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Before the quarantine order, the library was already being used to help victims.  In September, the basement was being used as a hospital supplies room and office for the Red Cross.vi Soon more deaths happened in the city.  33-year-old Mansfield police patrolman, Henry Miller, died on October 12, as did 24-year-old Ralph Sites, who passed away during his mother’s funeral, who also succumbed to influenza.vii In the next two days, there would be 50 new cases with 8 deaths and a familiar warning was issued to citizens by Dr. Goodman: “stay at home and take care of yourself.”viii By October 18, 43 people had succumbed to the sickness.ix

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The Mansfield News, October 16, 1918

By November, the daily cases reported began to decrease but the health board still decided to increased the ban and ordered all businesses to close by 7 o’clock each night.x On November 6, Dr. Goodman reported for the first time in a month that no new cases of Spanish Influenza were reported and talks began about lifting the ban.xi On November 11, 1918, the library reopened and, on the following day, experienced one of its busiest days ever. The Mansfield News reported that there seemed to be a new appreciation for the library, shown by many of the remarks given by patrons.xii The library had been closed for over a month. Mansfield’s other businesses quickly returned to normal as well.  Six places, including the library, were reported to have been robbed on the night of November 14. Ora Baldwin, his brother Harry, and Clifford Bartrum reportedly first robbed the Buckeye Bakery, getting $1.50 and a flashlight.  They next went to Calvert Laundry where they got another flashlight. Armed with the two flashlights, they made their way to the public library where they were arrested.xiii

Sources:

i The Mansfield News, 04 OCT 1918 p2
ii The Mansfield News, 05 OCT 1918 p4
iii The Mansfield News, 08 OCT 1918 p2
iv The Mansfield News, 09 OCT 1918 p4
v The Mansfield News, 09 OCT 1918 p2
vi The Mansfield News, 21 SEP 1918 p8
vii The Mansfield News, 12 OCT 1918 p4
viii The Mansfield News, 14 OCT
1918 p4
ix The Mansfield News, 18 OCT 1918 p4
x The Mansfield News, 01 NOV 1918 p7
xi The Mansfield News, 06 NOV 1918 p7
xii The Mansfield News, 13 NOV 1918 p10
xiiiThe Mansfield News, 15 NOV 1918 p4

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.

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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.

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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.

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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: 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.

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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.”

Library

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.