Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The legacies of Margaret Brown Herrick

The Margaret Brown Herrick Memorial Chapel on the campus of Occidental University, Los Angeles, commemorates the life of the Chariton Free Public Library's first librarian.

Check the list of books added annually to the Chariton Free Public Library collection and you'll discover that 2016 patrons continue to benefit from the lifelong commitment to it of Margaret Brown Herrick, the first librarian.

Mrs. Herrick, who died at age 82 in Los Angeles on May 28, 1954, left a memorial bequest of $38,000 to the Chariton library --- a very small percentage of the wealth of a very rich woman. A much larger bequest, $500,000, was used to build the Herrick Memorial Library on the campus of Alfred University in Alfred, New York.

And Mrs. Herrick herself is memorialized by the Margaret Brown Herrick Chapel on the campus of Occidental University, Los Angeles, the product of a similar bequest from her husband, John Pierce Herrick.

But still --- it's nice to be remembered. Proceeds from the Chariton memorial still are used to buy books.

You'll find Margaret's 1916 history of the library here, in a post from Monday. What follows is more of her story.


Margaret was born in Chariton on October 5, 1872, the elder of two daughters of Joseph A. and Bella (Wright) Brown. Her younger sister, Willie E. Brown, was born during 1876.

Joseph Brown was a native of Maryland and Bella, of Belmont County, Ohio. Her father, Dr. James D. Wright, a pioneer Quaker physician, brought his family to Chariton during 1861. Joseph had arrived on his own and gone into business. The couple married on June 3, 1869.

Initially, Joseph conducted a hardware and implement business on the square. He was a very good businessman, accumulated capital, sold his retail operation and thereafter specialized in banking and real estate, becoming very rich indeed. He built all or parts of three business blocks still standing on the north side of the Chariton square, commencing in 1893.

Margaret and her sister grew up in in a modest home at the intersection of North 8th Street and Auburn Avenue, but in 1902 --- after the girls were grown but still at home (actually, Willie never really left home), the modest house was torn down and replaced by the vast hulk that still stands in the northwest corner of that intersection.

 I don't like the way that old home looks now, so try to avoid taking photos of it. It's pretty banged up after serving as Dunshee Funeral Home, Riggs Nursing Home, a convalescent home for veterans and now, apparently, as apartments.

But in its time, this was one of Chariton's most elaborate homes --- two parlors, a huge dining room, library and vast stair hall downstairs, all finished in highest style, with service rooms to the rear and many bedrooms upstairs.


In September of 1889, when she was 17, Margaret enrolled at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, the museum school of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and remained a student there through 1892. During summers and on other visits home, she taught clay molding, drawing, paper-folding and china painting, occasionally from an upstairs studio in one of the buildings on the square owned by her father.

Back in Chariton full-time during 1893, Margaret fell ill --- a chronic condition, most likely tuberculosis although it was never identified in print as that, that would plague her for several years and affect the course of her life. In 1894, she moved to California for a time and the climate change seemed to benefit her. Back in Iowa, her life during 1894 and 1895 seems to have revolved around medical treatment administered at sanitoriums in Des Moines, Burlington and elsewhere.

Whatever the course of treatment was, it was successful enough to allow Margaret to become active in the many clubs and organizations for women that flourished in Chariton at the time --- P.E.O., the Pandora Club, D.A.R., Chariton Improvement Association and many more. She also traveled widely.

By the time the Chariton Public Library Association was formed during early 1898, Margaret was in good health and prepared to plunge into the field that remained a passion for the remainder of her life.


Upon her appointment as the first librarian of what would become the Chariton Free Public Library, Margaret set out to learn as much as she could, joining the Iowa Library Association, reading omniverously, networking, attending all sorts of meetings and training sessions across Iowa and elsewhere. There were no schools of library science in those days.

It was Margaret who first learned of the possibility of a grant from Andrew Carnegie to fund a new library and Margaret who pursued the possibility tirelessly. In 1900, she set out for New York fully intending to track the philanthropist down and talk to him personally. Sadly, we have no way of knowing if she actually managed that.

Whatever the case, the grant was obtained after the city fathers had been convinced to provide a building site and pledge the required funding --- and in 1904 the new library was dedicated, with Margaret as head librarian.


While all of this was going on, Margaret had received an offer she apparently could not refuse and the result was what probably were the busiest years of her life.

During 1901, the State Library Commission --- headquartered in Des Moines --- asked her to become administrator and librarian of the state traveling library, which provided books, periodicals and services to communities across the state without public libraries or with poorly equipped ones. Part of the job was to serve as an advocate for public libraries and to assist communities that wished to establish libraries of their own. She said "yes."

Margaret did not give up her position or her work in Chariton, merely added to it. Her weekdays were spent in Des Moines or in travel across the state; her weekends, at the family home in Chariton attending to local library affairs.

This went on for 11 years, until 1912, when her respiratory condition worsened, most likely because of the whirlwind life she was leading. During November of 1912, she submitted her resignation to the Iowa Library Commission, which convinced her to take an indefinite leave of absence instead, although she never returned on a full-time basis.

As The Des Moines Register and Leader of Dec. 20, 1912, reported, "Miss Brown has not only given the state valuable service in developing the traveling library to its present high efficiency, but has brought to the work such a broad vision of its possibilities that she has rendered to the commonwealth a service which cannot be estimated."

"The use of the traveling library is general throughout the state in the small towns and country neighborhoods and something of the growth may be seen from the fact that in 1901 the number of books in the traveling library collection was only 7,809 volumes, and in that year  8,700 volumes were loaned, while during the past year the number of books sent out was 30,211 volumes, and there are now 22,823 volumes in the collection. Special help has been given to farmers' clubs, study clubs, debating teams, individual students and isolated readers."


Meanwhile, back in Chariton trouble with the taxman had soured the relationship between Joseph and Bella Brown and the community had called home for more than 50 years.

It was kind of a complicated case, but the county had discovered --- using the services of a gentleman referred to as the "tax ferret" in newspaper reports --- that Brown had underpaid his taxes during the opening years of the 20th century. The county sued and the jury returned a whopping judgment of $55,000.

Twisting and turning and looking for a way out, Joseph claimed that the property in question actually had belonged to his sister, who lived in California and had died recently, and his mother in Ohio, also dead. As appeals progressed, Brown failed to produce any evidence whatsoever backing his claims, but other judges ruled that because the county had been woefully lax in allowing Brown to self-assess himself during the years in question it bore some responsibility, too, and a compromise judgment of $11,000 was decided upon.

Brown filed another appeal, this time alleging that documents backing his claim had been found storied in a barrel in Webb Hultz's barn. The judge expressed skepticism, the appeal was denied and Joseph had to pay up. Then to add insult to injury, his attorney presented him with a bill in excess of $3,000.

At that point, the Browns decided to leave their magnificent almost-new home in Chariton behind, at least temporarily, and move to California.

During January of 1913, Margaret and her sister, Willie, joined them there. She did not, however, give up her position as head Chariton librarian. That she retained as long as there was any possibility the family might return to make its home in Chariton.


As it turned out, Joseph and Bella Brown liked the greater Los Angeles area better than they did Chariton. Animosity resolved itself and eventually the decision was made to sell the big house in Chariton although the Browns retained business interests in the Lucas County.

Margaret never returned to Iowa permanently either, although as late as 1916 she still was identified as head librarian of the Chariton Free Public Library.

Margaret did not go back to work professionally in California, but she became active in Los Angeles-area social clubs and maintained her memberships and interests in state and national library associations.

During World War I, according to her Los Angeles Times obituary, she "was in a supervisory position over 75 employees at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C."

The family circle was broken on Aug. 5, 1925, when Joseph Brown died at a Long Beach hospital. Following funeral services there, Margaret accompanied his remains back to Chariton for burial on a lot near that of her maternal grandparents.


Two months later, to the considerable surprise of her Chariton friends, Margaret married John Pierce Herrick (1868-1961) in California. She was 53 at the time. Here's the announcement, as published in The Chariton Leader of Oct. 27, 1925:

"Formal announcement is made of the marriage of Miss Margaret Brown, daughter of Mrs. Joseph A. Brown, of 1207 West Third Street, Los Angeles, to John Pierce Herrick of Olean, N.Y., the ceremony taking place the 14th inst., in St. Cecelia's Chapel, Riverside, Rev. Ira W. Barnett, D.D., officiating. Owing to the recent death of the bride's father, the ceremony was attended by members of the immediate families only. Mr. and Mrs. Herrick will be at home after December 1 at 233 North First Street, Olean, N.Y."

Born during 1868 in Michigan, Herrick began his career as a teacher and newspaper editor and publisher in western New York. He went on to found and publish a newspaper in the Pennsylvania Oil Fields and began to invest heavily in the oil industry of that state and New York. As a result, he made a fortune.

Herrick and Margaret had become acquainted at the turn of the 20th century when he courted and married a friend of hers, Nellie Brown Young, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lafayette Young, who were Des Moines luminaries. They were married in Des Moines during June of 1902 and had three children. Nellie died at Olean on Feb. 10, 1923, and two years later, John and Margaret decided to marry.

After their marriage, Margaret seems to have settled comfortably into life as stepmother to John Herrick's three children and life as the partner of a very wealthy man. If the inscription on her tombstone in Mountain View Cemetery at Olean is an indication, then she was a success in this field, too: "The Arabs say, 'The gates of heaven open at the approach of a good mother.' They must have opened wide to welcome her."

As the years passed, Margaret and John began to divide their time between homes at Olean and in the greater Los Angeles area, spending six months in each.

Margaret's mother, Bella Wright Brown, died in Los Angeles during 1932 and at that time Joseph A. Browns remains were disinterred at the Chariton Cemetery, cremated in Des Moines and returned to California. The senior Browns and the remains of their daughter, Willie, are interred in Unity Columbarium, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale.

Margaret died on May 28, 1954, at the couple's winter home in Los Angeles and following funeral services at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, her remains were returned to Olean for burial beside those of her friend, Nellie, in Mountain View Cemetery.

John Pierce Herrick was a patron and trustee of Alfred University, not far from Olean, and so Margaret's largest bequest was $525,000 to build the Herrick Memorial Library on the university campus. The couple also had endowed as many as 40 scholarships at Alfred and more at other colleges and universities, including the University of Missouri.

Following Margaret's death, Herrick moved permanently to Los Angeles and died there on Feb. 3, 1961, age 93, of complications following surgery. One of his major bequests was $500,000 to Occidental University in Los Angeles for construction of the Margaret Brown Herrick Memorial Chapel, which today continues to serve the university as headquarters for the Herrick Interfaith Center and the university's Office of Religious and Spiritual life.

Completed in 1964, it generally is recognized as one of the most beautiful college chapels in the United States.


Janel Swarthout Miller said...

~ What was the Pandora Club ? Googling did not help :0)

Frank D. Myers said...

The Pandora Club was one of dozens of study/service/social clubs for women that operated in Chariton from around 1900 into the 1950s, when changing social patterns began to eliminate them. Originally, Pandora Club members were younger than those affiliated with some of the town's other clubs. Alma Clay was a leader in the club until her untimely death. It was strictly a local club, although associate with the larger woman's club movement.

Janel Swarthout Miller said...

~ Thank You !