Sunday, September 25, 2011


Emily F. McCormick was born in Pennsylvania where her father was a lumber merchant.  After high school she entered Vassar College and received her AB in 1922.

Shortly after graduating from college, McCormick started working as a substitute at NYPL.  After a year of substituting McCormick took a leave of absence to attend the NYPL Library School and completed the one-year certificate course in 1924.  She then received a regular appointment at the Fordham Branch. 

McCormick worked in the Extension Division, 1926-1936, and for a short period in 1936 she was the Acting Superintendent of the Book Order Office.  McCormick was promoted to Branch Librarian in 1937 at the Epiphany Branch.  She later served two years as head of the Aguilar Branch and finally headed the Bloomingdale Branch for 20 years, 1941-1961, before retiring.

I was once told by a librarian at the Bloomingdale Branch that Emily McCormick was known for taking staff members of the branch with her on trips to Europe.  This would certainly be an interesting fact, if true.  While her father was a successful businessman, it is not clear that McCormick would have had enough money to pay for the vacations of staff members.  In fact the ship passenger lists available through do not support this story.  While McCormick did travel to Europe, as did other Branch Librarians, I found that there was no evidence that any NYPL staff members accompanied her on these trips. This story is apparently an oral tradition that got mangled over the years.

Friday, September 23, 2011

CATHERINE A. FAY (1880-1953)

Catherine Fay was born in Northern Ireland on this day 131 years ago.

I know nothing of her schooling but do know that she had no formal library training.

Fay had been a volunteer at the Cathedral Free Library before she joined NYPL in 1908.  She spent most of her career at the Cathedral Branch, serving as a children’s librarian and then as head of the branch.  She retired in 1946.

It isn’t certain, but it is likely, that Catherine Fay was one of 16 Catholics who served as head of an NYPL branch, prior to 1950.  The Cathedral Branch was originally the headquarters of the Cathedral Free Library, which was absorbed by NYPL in 1905.  It was housed in space provided by the Archdiocese of New York, and Fay’s predecessor at the Cathedral Branch had been a Catholic.  Thus, it is very probable that Catherine Fay was herself Catholic, but I have not been able to prove this as yet.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Until the late 1930s, New York City librarians did not have pensions, and H. Estelle Olmsted (as she was known at NYPL) is a good example of how the lack of retirement allowances impacted library services.  As the librarians aged, they could not afford to quit, and the Library kept them on payroll despite their infirmities. 

Olmsted graduated from Auburn (NY) High School in 1882 and taught in the town’s public schools for at least three years, maybe more.  She entered the NYPL Training Class in 1902 and earned a regular position in 1903.  Olmsted was promoted to Branch Librarian at the Tottenville Branch in 1908 and remained there until 1917.  She then transferred to be the Branch Librarian at the Stapleton Branch and served there until 1929, when she died suddenly.

In 1927, Edwin H. Anderson, the Director of NYPL, wrote that Olmsted (who was then 64 years old) was "a mere shadow of herself ... stooped and shriveled and hardly able to get about".  Although she could barely walk around the branch to serve users, Olmsted kept working the best she could since she would be unable to support herself if she retired. 

Anderson’s memo also listed five other librarians, with between 25-41 years of service at NYPL, who were described as “feeble”, “practically blind”, or “exhausted”.  All were single women with no other means of support, and NYPL kept all of them on payroll.  Another decade would pass before a pension plan was finally enacted for all NYPL librarians and retirement at a reasonable age became the norm.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Ida Buchanan Lowther was born in Northern Ireland and came to the United States at the age of three. 

She had no college and probably no library training either.

She started working in the New York Free Circulating Library in 1898 and worked at two branches prior to the NYFCL’s consolidated with NYPL in 1901.

Ida Lowther was appointed Branch Librarian at the 96th Street Branch in 1905 and transferred to the new Carnegie-funded Melrose Branch in 1913 and served there until her retirement in 1939.

In 1913, Lowther married Arthur Molnar who worked for the YMCA and later became a real estate agent.  Thus, Ida Lowther Molnar became the first Branch Librarian to be married and remain in her position as Branch Librarian. 

Today would be Ida molnar's 139th birthday.


Dorothy H. Robinson was born and grew up in Washington DC.  In 1919 she received a BA from the Howard University Teachers College.  It seems likely that she began teaching at that point, but I have not been able to confirm that possibility

In 1931 she came to New York City to attend the School of Library Service at Columbia University and received her degree in October 1932.

Homer worked at NYPL, 1932-1935, but then returned to her hometown to be a librarian at Miners Teachers College.  In December 1935 Dorothy Robinson married Theodore H. Homer, Jr., who was a pharmacist.

She returned to NYPL in 1938 to be the Acting First Assistant at the 135th Street Branch, serving under Ernestine Rose.  Homer who was described as  "a southern lady" who was "soft-spoken, very quiet" was clearly being groomed as Rose’s successor.   As First Assistant, she helped Rose bring artists, writers, and musicians of the Harlem Renaissance into the 135th Street Branch.

When Rose retired in 1942, the Harlem community wanted an African-American appointed as her replacement.  The NYPL administration, however, thought that Homer needed an additional one or two years experience before being promoted.  In the end, NYPL acceded to community pressure and named Homer as Acting Branch Librarian and later appointed her to the position permanently.  Thus Dorothy Homer became the first African-American to head the 135th Street Branch which was the center of NYPL’s efforts to serve the Harlem community.   Homer was also one of the three African-Americans  who headed a neighborhood branch of NYPL before 1950.  (See Regina Andrews and Jean Blackwell for the the others).

In 1962 Homer was promoted to work in the Office of Branch Librarians and she retired in 1964.

Today would be Dorothy Homer’s 114th birthday.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Florence Normile graduated from Wadleigh High School for Girls in Harlem in 1910 and began work as a clerk for a publisher.
She joined the NYPL Probationary Class in 1911 and became a children’s librarian in 1912.  That year Normile also started classes at the NYU School of Commerce but never graduated.  She also took some classes in the NYPL Library School.

Between 1912 and 1928 Normile worked at 11 different branches in all three boroughs served by NYPL—Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island.  During that time she lived in Manhattan with her mother.

Normile was appointed Branch Librarian at the Port Richmond Branch on Staten Island in 1928 and the following year became head of the Hunt’s Point Branch in the Bronx.  In 1933 she took a leave of absence due to illness, and she never returned to NYPL.  I have no information on her life after that point except that she was receiving Social Security benefits in Central Islip NY when she died in 1984.

Today would be Florence Normile’s 119th birthday.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Frederick Goodell started working as a page in the Detroit Public Library in 1902.  In 1906 he was head of reference but left to attend the University of Michigan.  He dropped out of college during his first year due to health issues.  Goodell returned to DPL in 1907 but resigned in 1912 to attend the NYPL Library School. 

In 1913, as Goodell entered his second year of library school, he was appointed to be the First Assistant at the Hamilton Fish Park Branch and was soon promoted to Branch Librarian.  He later headed the Seward Park and Epiphany Branches.  He resigned in 1916 to return to Detroit.

Goodell’s short tenure at NYPL illustrates some of the gender tensions faced by the library profession and NYPL in the early twentieth century. 

When Goodell applied for admission to the NYPL Library School, two of his reference letters were from administrators at the Detroit Public Library and both commented on gender issues.  One, by a woman, pointedly described Goodell as “manly” while a second from the male Assistant Librarian recommended him to NYPL because he “would profit considerably from some hard professional training and at least temporary removal from the feminine friendliness of our staff.”  

Indeed, Goodell did “profit” from working at NYPL.  He was promoted quicker and was paid more than most of the female Branch Librarians.   At the start of the his second year in library school he was hired at the First Assistant level and the following month was promoted to Branch Librarian.  His rise was exceptionally rapid as was the increase in his salary—in a short period of time it went from $75 to $110/month, higher than 80% of the women Branch Librarians.  Keyes D. Metcalf’s memoir Random Recollections of an Anachronism  (Readex, 1980; page 130) cited this as an example of how women were discriminated against in the NYPL Circulation Department.

After leaving NYPL Goodell worked for the ALA Library War Service, 1917-1920.  He then enrolled in the University of Detroit Law School and graduated in 1924.  Goodell practiced law in Detroit for the next 38 years.  In 1962-1965 he served as Librarian/Administrator of the Detroit Bar Association and wrote a column about the library’s holdings for the Association’s newsletter. 

Today would be Frederick Goodell’s 126th birthday.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Elizabeth King was born in Michigan 107 years ago.  She attended the University of Michigan and received an AB in liberal arts in 1926.  During her college years she worked as a substitute and then a reference librarian at the Hackley Public Library in Muskegon MI.

Upon her graduation from college, King moved to New York City and began substituting at NYPL.  She entered the NYPL Training Class in 1927 and worked as both a children’s librarian and as a school and reference librarian.   She received her certificate from Pratt Institute’s Library School in 1930.

In 1936 King studied British library methods as an exchange librarian at the Bury-Knowle Branch of the Oxford (England) Public Library.  A year after her return, she was promoted to Branch Librarian at the Washington Heights Branch, 1937-1939, and also headed the Hudson Park Branch, 1939-1943.

Upon her return from England In 1936, King married Louis Charles M. Abolin (1886-1968) who worked for the US Labor Department.  Elizabeth King Abolin resigned from NYPL in 1943 when her husband was transferred to Washington DC.  Between 1949-1954 she worked in several federal and special libraries in the Washington DC area.   She was later Coordinator of Adult Services at the Prince George’s County Memorial Library in Maryland. 


Annie Jungermann was born in Georgia and earned a certificate in librarianship from the Carnegie Library School of Atlanta in 1914.  Her first professional position was as an Assistant Librarian at the University of North Carolina.  Also working in the UNC library was William Cecil Rymer, a student assistant from Hendersonville NC who would graduate in 1916. 

In 1916, Jungermann took a job at the Birmingham (AL) Public Library and two years later moved to the Montgomery (AL) Public Library. 

In 1918, she married William C. Rymer who was then a Second Lieutenant in the US Army.   The marriage was short-lived since the Army later reported him to be lost in action. 

Anne J. Rymer moved to New York City and entered NYPL in 1920.  She served as a First Assistant at three busy branches in New York’s Lower East Side.  In an undated note, an NYPL administrator recalled that Rymer worked “in the midst of the thickly populated east side, in the centre of Manhattan Jewry.  It was severe in its demands on the technical skill, nervous and physical strength of its staff, to say nothing about their professional attainments and their stock of common sense.”  In 1923 she was transferred to the newly opened Fordham Branch and served there as Branch Librarian, 1924-1928.  In the latter year she resigned to become head of the new Scarsdale (NY) Public Library.  It was reported that she sought this suburban position in order “to be relieved of tension” of urban library services.

Rymer worked in Scarsdale until 1948 when she retired to Hendersonville NC, her deceased husband’s home town.

Today would be Annie Rymer’s 118th birthday.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Eunice C. Wilson was educated in private schools but had no formal college or library school training.

Wilson joined NYPL in 1904 and became a Branch Librarian when the new Carnegie building for the Fort Washington Branch opened in 1914.  In 1918 she was transferred to be the second librarian to head the 58th Street Branch a position Wilson held until her retirement in 1941. 

Shortly after going to 58th Street, Eunice Wilson began the development of a special Music Library at the branch. 

Wilson’s predecessor at 58th Street was Pauline Leipziger, a singer who had added Beethoven scores to the branch’s collection.  Wilson continued that effort and in 1920 the Library officially created the Music Library as a special unit at the 58th Street Branch.  Dorothy Lawton was hired to head the Music Library.   Under Wilson’s and Lawton’s leadership, the branch continued to add scores and also purchased books on music and dance.  They also starting collecting phonodiscs in 1928 and in 1930 installed a phonograph booth so users could listen to music.  The branch also frequently sponsored concerts.

September 6th would have been Eunice Wilson’s 138th birthday. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Jean F. Blackwell grew up in Baltimore and became one of the most influential African-American librarians in the United States.  Her career at NYPL encapsulated the problems African-Americans faced as the Library integrated its staff.

Jean Blackwell started college at the University of Michigan but quit when she was denied the right to live in an integrated dormitory.  She transferred to Barnard College and earned her BA in 1935.

Following Barnard she entered Columbia’s School of Library Service.  Upon her graduation in 1936, Blackwell applied for a job at NYPL, but she was told that NYPL did not need more Negro assistants.

The initial rejection of Blackwell’s application was the result of a de facto quota system.  Since 1920 the Library had been committed to having an integrated staff at the 135th Street Branch, which served Manhattan’s rapidly growing Black community.   NYPL’s well-intentioned integration policy, however, imposed a quota since the 135th Street Branch was the only branch that accepted new African-American librarians. 

Fortunately for Blackwell, the National Urban League intervened, and she was soon hired as a substitute at 135th Street.  Once hired, Ernestine Rose, her Branch Librarian, became her mentor, and with Rose’s encouragement Blackwell began to rise through NYPL’s ranks.

Even with Rose’s support, Blackwell continued to run into obstacles.  Generally a Branch Librarian could select her own staff members, and this was another factor hindering integration.  In 1938 Blackwell was transferred to the Harlem Branch, in an area experiencing an influx of African-Americans, without the approval of the white Branch Librarian.  Blackwell recalled that this librarian refused to speak to her directly due to this breach of NYPL protocol.    

In 1947 Blackwell was promoted to Branch Librarian at the Washington Heights Branch.  She only served as Branch Librarian a short time before being made Acting Curator of the Schomburg Collection, a special collection at the 135th Street Branch which documenting the African Diaspora.   She was eventually made full-time curator and served there until her retirement in 1980.

Despite her short tenure as Branch Librarian, Jean Blackwell Hutson’s major contribution to NYPL was building the Schomburg Collection into one of the worlds best repositories on the history and culture of people of African descent.  That collection is now the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. 

Friday, September 2, 2011


One of the issues I am studying focuses on the autonomy the Branch Librarians had to run their branch and how that autonomy began to erode in the 1920s.  Isabel de Treville’s career illustrates that autonomy.

Isabel De Treville, as she was generally known at NYPL, was actually named Sarah Isabelle de Treville at birth.  She was part of a prominent South Carolina family but moved to NYC in the mid-1880s.  She joined the New York Free Circulating Library in 1891 and was promoted to head the NYFCL’s George Bruce Branch in 1898

De Treville continued to head the George Bruce Branch from consolidation with NYPL in 1901 until 1913.  At that point she transferred to be the first Branch Librarian of the new Carnegie building for the West 40th Street Branch.  In 1915 she transferred back to George Bruce and headed it until her death in 1929.

Fourteen years after her death the Library uncovered a practice that illustrated the autonomy the Branch Librarians could exercise over the operation of their branches.  The Circulation Department discovered that the George Bruce Branch had never stamped its books “Property of the City of New York” as was required by the 1901 contract between NYPL and NYC which established the Circulation Department.  Every other branch followed the contract provision.  In a 1943 memo about the contract violation, the Director wrote: “My guess … is that it goes back to Miss de Treville, who was for many years librarian of the old Bruce Library and then the George Bruce Branch.  She was a very independent person and operated the George Bruce Branch as independently from the system as a whole as possible.”  

Today would be the 148th birthday of this autonomy-seeking librarian.