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Mascoutah Public Library - Your Link to Literacy - Since 1929

Library History

History of the Library

The Mascoutah Public Library:

Its Early Years

and the
    Mascoutah Woman’s Club
Pictured are the Charter Members of the Mascoutah Woman’s Club,
Founders of the Mascoutah Public Library, April 1929

Seated:  Mrs. George Draser, Mrs. Enno Karstens, Mrs. William Fries, Mrs. W.C.Freivogel,
                Mrs. Frank Boman, Mrs. George Pulliam, Mrs. William Lorenz
Standing:  Mrs. Herbert F. Lill, Mrs. J. D. Mollman, Mrs. H. K. Browne, Mrs. J. R. Jones,
                Mrs. Arthur Worms, Mrs. Philip H. Postel, Mrs. Karl Fritz, Miss Nettie L. Haines
Not pictured:  Mrs. William Behrens, Mrs. O. F. Reinhardt, Mrs. L. A. Schafer, Mrs. Charles Rayhill

–Selected from a
      compilation by
        Marjorie Lill Worms

  In 1929 a small group of civic minded women had a dream.  Their dream was for Mascoutah to have a free public library.  This was an ambitious project for a newly formed organization.

        The first formal meeting of the Mascoutah Woman’s Club in January, 1929, convened in the home economics room at the high school.  The program included “What Part Will the Woman’s Club Have in the Future of Mascoutah?” by Mrs. William Freivogel, president.

        In her talk at this meeting, Mrs. Freivogel stated that members of the Mascoutah Woman’s Club would take an active interest in civic affairs and that they would try to start a library.  They discussed the feasibility of undertaking such a large project.

        Establishing a library was a huge task for nineteen women who had no money, no books, no building to house the library and no furnishings.  They went right to work on their project.  The first major step was to find a suitable building for their needs.  For six dollars a month they rented a small, musty, two room brick house from John Boos.  It was at 15 West Main Street across from the Cottage Hotel, the present site of the Mascoutah Post Office.   The goal was to have the building ready for occupancy by April 1, 1929.  Mr. George Pullium, the manual training teacher at the high school, along with some assistants, built shelves and tables and did other work to prepare for the opening of the library to the public.  It opened on schedule with a few donated books on the shelves.

        The club needed money to start the library.  The city council rejected a request to allocate funds.   The only way to obtain funding for operating expenses was to go directly to the citizens of the community and solicit cash donations.  The Annual Tag Day began.  They divided Mascoutah into sections.  They assigned members a group of homes or businesses to visit and ask for financial support for the library.  Tag day was met with much disfavor by those who had to participate.  It was a day to knock on doors and beg for money, not a pleasant task!  In 1929 and the 1930’s few people had extra money to buy books or luxuries.  However, citizens were eager to support such a worthy cause and gave what they felt they could afford to give.   Five, ten and twenty-five cent donations were common during the depression years.

        The first Tag Day, Friday, November 8, 1929 netted $125.61  They accepted monetary gifts of any amount with gratitude.  In exchange, they gave a poster to every donor to be placed in a window, indicating financial support was given to the library. The women who participated in the drive were exceptionally pleased with the courteous treatment shown them.  It made the task a little bit easier for them.  Each succeeding year brought in about $95.00 to $125.00 to add to the Woman’s Club treasury.

        With $72.00 annual rent there was little money left over to purchase books.  The club members appealed for donations of books for the new library.  Response was overwhelming.  Many, many boxes and bags of books and magazines were donated.  They accepted all donations.  There were good books, some books that were not acceptable, and there were discards, including many old worn text books.  Each incoming book was carefully checked and read by a club member before it was placed on the shelf.  Some books such as God’s Little Acre  were considered too “raw”.   Kitty Foyle contained an objectionable word, resulting in that page being removed from the book before it was placed in circulation.

        At first, the library was open one afternoon each week.  Two club members working together assumed all duties.  A wood and coal stove heated the building.  The librarian for the day often had to shovel a path through the snow to get wood from the storage shed for the fire she had to start.  Sometimes splitting the wood to the proper size to fit the stove was necessary…a job they would not have done at home!

        The library was across the street from a large flour mill.  Much dust blew into the library when the windows and the door were open.  Dirt from Main Street along with the dust from the flour mill and no air conditioning made the building a very uncomfortable place to spend much time in the summer months.  Heat radiating from Main Street made the library very hot.

        By late fall of 1930, the library had between fifteen hundred and eighteen hundred books on the shelves.  Miss Ann Schroeder and Miss Erna Herrold donated their time to catalog and number all of the books and to place each in its proper place.  Children’s books were placed in their own section.  This was the beginning of a card file system.

        Along with Tag Day, there were other money making projects with proceeds designated for the upkeep of the library and for purchasing books.  The club sponsored public card parties and had several silver teas.  They saved and redeemed soap wrappers for cash and sponsored book reviews.  There were other fund raisers, too.  Possibly the most unique project was a handwritten cookbook produced in 1934 when Mrs. Enno Karstens was president of the club. The fund raiser must have been a two-year project, since some cookbooks are marked 1934 and some dated 1935.  Each member contributed her favorite recipe to include in the cookbook.  Each member wrote six books which were sold for $1.00 each.  Some of these books exist today.

        A written record from 1937 gave a total of books borrowed for the month of August as 223.  Fines collected amounted to 20 cents.  The last number in Mrs. Jones’ accession book is 2000.  The new book will start with number 2001.

        Finances continued to be a burden for the club.  The Works Progress Administration (WPA) opened many libraries in the area.  They were interested in operating the Mascoutah Public Library.  Finally, much needed help was on the horizon for the Woman’s Club.

        Officially the WPA-aided library opened October 31, 1938.  The WPA extended hours from 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM daily except Wednesday, when hours were 10:00 AM to noon and 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM.  Mrs. Otto Siebe was appointed librarian and custodian.  Mr. Lawrence Schafer was appointed the assistant custodian.  The librarian and custodian salaries were paid by the WPA.  All other operating expenses continued to be the responsibility of the Woman’s Club.  At the time the WPA assumed operations, the library contained 2,317 books which remained the property of the Woman’s Club.  The WPA and the project’s official sponsor, the Library Extension Division in Springfield, added many new books to the existing collection.  Some books in demand at the time included:   My Invincible Aunt by Dorothea Bandre,  The Glass Key by Dashiel Hammet,  The Yearling  by M.K. Rawlings and The Red Lamp by Mary Roberts Rinehart.

        In the circulation of books and magazines, the library ranked third during the month of May among WPA libraries in St. Clair County.  Its circulation of 882 was exceeded only by libraries in Lebanon and Freeburg.

        In January, 1939, another step was taken toward giving Mascoutah a very modern up-to-date library.  At a meeting of the Woman’s Club Executive Committee and the Library Committee, Mayor Raymond Pfeifer announced that a room in the new City Hall would be set aside for the library.  Not only would the city supply the room, but they would furnish tables, chairs, and book shelves, as well.  The new room would be on the second floor and would extend across the entire front of the building.  The new city hall was still under construction.  The library would be available for occupancy when the municipal building was complete.

        When the library moved from 15 West Main Street into its new quarters June 30, 1939, it owned 900 books.  At this time the Woman’s Club added a large number of volumes to the existing collection.  Dedication of the city hall took place July 4, 1939.

        In February, 1940, Miss Gretchen MacArthur, representing the state WPA office in Chicago, declared the local WPA library to be the most beautiful one in the State of Illinois, including Chicago and any other reading rooms in the state.

        The WPA continued to staff and maintain the library until 1941, when the Mascoutah Woman’s Club again resumed responsibilities.  Hours were curtailed to two afternoons a week.

        The following article appeared in the Mascoutah Herald on July 30, 1941.

The city is considering the acquisition of the Woman’s Club Library, for the last three years under the WPA sponsorship.  Since the latter have no authorized persons available and because the library division is being rapidly curtailed, the only way the library could be available to the public would be to make it a city project.

It is proposed to form a library board, according to the state law, with nine members.  One shall be a member of the city council and the others are appointed from the general public. Because the Woman’s Club originated the idea and have since fostered its growth, it is understood that the majority of the new board will be composed of their members.

A small mill tax will be levied for its maintenance.  The club will, however, continue to exercise an interest in the project as before.

        On March 16, 1942, the city council voted to adopt the library as their project. The action of the board, as represented by an ordinance published in the Mascoutah Herald, ended the sponsorship of the library by the Mascoutah Woman’s Club who for so many years fought to keep the library an asset to the community.

        Mrs. Lethia Siebe received the appointment as librarian.   Mascoutah Woman’s Club members who served on the first city-appointed library board were:  Mrs. Allan Postel, Mrs. E. C. Kammann, Mrs. E. A, Karstens, Mrs. Frank Boman, Mrs. John Proffitt, Mrs. Arthur Worms, Mrs. Philip H. Postel, and Mrs. Herbert F. Lill.

       The library continued to grow and was well patronized.  By July, 1942, five hundred new books were added.  Library board member Arthur D. Jenkins obtained 400 books from the WPA as a gift to the library.  In the lot were books for young children and teenagers, fiction for adults and a few volumes of nonfiction.  Other things happened that July, too.  One hundred books were on loan from the State Library for three months.  Because of a high demand for thriller novels and detective stories, most of the volumes from the state were in that category.

        A rental shelf containing about 40 volumes was very popular with the readers.  It contained fiction and nonfiction including two books for the young or expectant mother. They were in great demand. As new books were received, many old and worn books were discarded.

        Through the years the Mascoutah Woman’s Club continued to support the library in many ways from financial support and donations of books to serving as members of the new library board