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A Century of Service
Published in 1948


History of the Dayton Public Library, Dayton, Ohio, 1847-1947

by Elizabeth Faries


     “A great library cannot be constructed,  it is the growth of ages.  You may buy books at any time with money, but you cannot make a library like one that has been a century or two a’growing though you had the whole national debt to do it with.” (1) In  1886 Robert W. Steele, one of the Library’s founders, used this quotation in an address on “Resources for Culture in the Dayton Public Library” to evaluate forty years of growth.  How meaningful this quotation becomes today as the Public Library marks the end of one hundred years of continuous service to the city of Dayton and its surrounding territory.

     Library service in this community one hundred years ago was not a new project for the citizens.  In 1805, nine years after the first settlers arrived, the social Library Society of Dayton was organized and granted a charter by the State of Ohio—the first public library in the state to be incorporated.  Benjamin Van Cleve, the first postmaster and first teacher in the Dayton settlement, was also the first librarian.  The books were kept at the post office, on the southeast corner of First and St. Clair Streets, until Van Cleve’s death in 1821, when they were moved to the East First Street office of Justice John Folkerth, later Dayton’s first Mayor, and like Van Cleve, one of the original incorporators.  For thirty years this library, “two well-filled bookcases”, (2) served the small town of Dayton, closing its doors in 1835 when the proprietors decided to sell the books at auction.

     During the 1830’s several societies and institutions organized libraries for their members, but they had small collections and most of them led a struggling existence for a few short years and were discontinued.  By 1846 a need was felt for a public library that would serve a greater number of citizens—one that would have permanency and would be a worthy institution in a community that in 1841 had been granted a charter as a city.

     Consequently on December 10, 1846, a group of citizens interested in organizing a library association met at the office of John G. Lowe, Attorney.  A committee composed of Milo G. Williams, Jonathan D. Phillips and Robert W. Steele was appointed to draft a constitution and to review Robert W. Steele’s offer to lease rooms at a reasonable rate in the Steele Building.  The Committee presented their report the next week, recommending that the constitution they had prepared be submitted at a public meeting and that Steele’s offer of two rooms for ten years at $25.00 a year be accepted as soon as possible.

     In the Dayton Journal and Advertiser of December 29, 1846, this notice appeared:



                     “We publish today a call, signed by several of our influential citizens, for a public meeting on To-morrow Evening, at the City Hall, ‘for the purpose of maturing and instituting a plan for a Dayton Library Association.’  The object is most praise worthy and desirable, and we trust our citizens will assemble in numbers, that it may not fail of full consummation in such manner as will be entirely satisfactory to everyone who is, or who ought to be, interested.  Dayton is much behind other places of equal importance in this regard, and we are confident that the attention of her citizens need only to be called to the subject to make her ere long as note-worthy for her Library as she now is for many other things indicative of good taste, enterprise and public spirit—Come, then, to the Meeting.” (3)


     The call, appearing on the same page of the paper, was signed by thirty-five leading citizens of Dayton --men whose names are seen again and again on the pages of Dayton’s progressive history.



                “The undersigned being convinced that great individual and general benefits would accrue from establishing and sustaining, upon a permanent and liberal basis, a Public Library in the city of Dayton, and having conferred together to some extent in regard thereto would invite their fellow citizens to meet them at the City Hall on Tuesday evening the 29th inst for the purpose of maturing and instituting a plan for a DAYTON LIBRARY ASSOCIATION.


Milo G. Williams,    P. Odlin,            R A. Kerfoot,             Danl Beckel,            John A. Collins,             

J. W. Hall,              D. A. Haynes,    C H Bronson,          Ed Smith,                 E. M’Cann,

H L Brown,            John Howard,     R N Conly,             J V Perrine,              R W Steele,

Joe Davison,          Chas. G Swain,    Horace Pease,       V Winters,                W G Greene,

E W Davies,           J M’Daniel,         H Gephart,             T J S Smith,              John Wilson,     

P P Lowe,              J W Van Cleve,   R S Hart,               J C Payne,                Thos B Tilton,

W J M’Kinney,      Richard Green,    Geo. B Holt,           J D Phillips,              W. F. Conly.(4)


     At the public meeting held December 29, 1846, the constitution was adopted and the permanent organization started on its way.  Dues were set at $3.00 for annual membership, $30.00 for life membership and $50.00 for membership in perpetuity.  Minors, who complied with the regulations set up by the Board of Directors, were given free access to the Library.  Feeling that the distrust on the part of many citizens in regard to the permanency of the library was due to their past experience with the small libraries of the 1830’s, the constitutional committee provided in Article 5 that: “if the members of the Association shall fail to carry it on in agreement with the provisions of this Constitution, then the books and other property belonging to it shall become the property of the Corporation of the City of Dayton, to be used for the benefit of the citizens as a public library according to regulations to be made by the city council; provided that the books are in no case to be sold.” (5)  

     At this public meeting two committees were appointed to solicit subscriptions and donations of books.  Over two hundred signatures to the constitution were secured.  The Dayton Journal and Advertiser of January 12, 1847, announced: “The plan adopted by this Association is a popular one, and has built up excellent public libraries in other cities of the State.” (6)          

     On January 12, 1847, members of the Dayton Library Association met in the Mayor’s office to elect officers for the first year.  Milo G. Williams was elected president; Dr. John Steele, vice president; Valentine Winters, treasurer; and Robert W. Steele, secretary.  The first Board of Directors was composed of Charles G. Swain, Ebenezer Thresher, Daniel Beckel, James McDaniel and John G. Lowe.  Milo G. Williams, a teacher of wide reputation, was at this time in charge of the Dayton Academy.  Later on he left Dayton to found Urbana College and became its first president.  John Steele, who had arrived in Dayton in 1812 and served during the war as physician and surgeon in charge of the Dayton depot, won an enviable reputation for himself as a doctor, and the respect and admiration of the community.  Valentine Winter’s name is almost synonymous with banking history in Dayton.  For half a century he was not only prominent in commercial fields, but took an active part in education and religious affairs.  Robert W. Steele’s record in the annals of Dayton includes thirty years’ service on the Board of Education—twelve of those years as president.  He was one of the incorporators of the Cooper Female Seminary in 1844, and for over forty years served almost continuously on the Library Board; first on the Board of Directors of the Dayton Library Association then as chariman of the Library Committee of the Board of Education, and last as a trustee of the Dayton Public Library.  His activities included services on boards of agricultural, social welfare and religious organizations in the state, as well as in his home town and county. He was popular as a public lecturer and wrote many articles of Dayton history, especially dealing with the growth of educational institutions in the city and county.

     Charles G. Swain was a business man, at one time cashier at the Dayton Branch State Bank; Daniel Beckel—an engineer, bank owner, industrialist, builder of several business places, one of which was the Beckel House; James McDaniel—a merchant tailor with an establishment on West third Street; Ebenezer Thresher—industrialist and one of the founders of the Barney car works; John G. Lowe—an attorney prominent in city and state affairs and later a colonel during the Civil War. For these men, directing the business of the Dayton Library Association was one of many public services in lives filled with activities in civic as well as commercial affairs.

     Under their guidance the Dayton Library Association launched its first year’s program.  At an early meeting of the Board, they voted to comply with the state law providing incorporation for associations.  The charter was granted January 21, 1847.        

     One of the first items of business considered by the Board of Directors was to ask a suitable person to lecture on the importance of a public library in the community.  The Reverend W. C. Anderson was secured to speak at the Third Street Presbyterian church on March 12th and the lecture met with a very favorable response from the public.               

     Two rooms at the rear of the second floor of the Steele building having been leased for ten years, donors of books were asked to bring them to the library room between three and five o’clock on Saturday, January 30th.  On February 2nd, the Board elected Haskell Ewing Curwen as first librarian and appointed a book committee composed of Joseph N. Crane, Dr. John W. Hall, Ebenezer Thresher, Milo G. Williams, Jonathan D. Phillips, R. W. Conover, and Robert W. Steele.  This committee, at several meetings, discussed the best books to buy on the limited sum at their disposal and finally selected around one thousand volumes, making the purchase through Ells, Claflin, and Company, a local bookselling concern.  The first list of magazines ordered included Blackwood’s Magazine (still currently received at the library), North American Review, Hunt’s Merchants Magazine Sillman’s Journal, American Review, Democratic Review, and Knickerbocker.

     Early in that first year the Adolphic Society of the Dayton Academy, with the consent of the Academy trustees, gave to the Dayton Library Association their library of approximately two hundred books. A large number of these volumes had been originally (1832-42) the property of the Dayton Young Mechanics Lyceum and Library Association, one of the small public libraries of the 1830’s.

     The spring months of 1847 were spent in organizing the collection and in the Dayton Journal and Advertiser of May 18, 1847, Daytonians were informed:



     “A few of the books belonging to the Library having been arranged, the rooms will hereafter be opened every FRIDAY AFTERNOON, from 3 to 6 o’clock, and from 7 to 10 o’clock in the evening.

     “Every person applying for books, will be required to produce the Treasurer’s receipt, to entitle him to have his name entered on the Librarian’s Record.  If children or servants are sent, they must bring a written order to deliver books to them.

     “ Books may be retained two weeks.

     “All persons under age, whether their parents or guardians are members or not, will be entitled to draw books, on depositing with the Librarian security that they will comply with the regulations.  The guarantee is in this form and must be signed by a responsible person, approved by the directors.

     “The Dayton Library Association will permit A B C to draw books from the Library, and for all damages to books, losses or forfeitures, I will be responsible to the Association for (twelve) months from this date.


                                                                                                  ‘Signed W B K’

     “The treasurer’s books are, at present in the hands of the Librarian, to whom members are requested to pay their subscriptions.

                                                                                                 H. E. Curwen, Librarian” (7)

     “Transcript and Empire please copy.”


No further notices appear in the papers and the minutes of the Association give no definite date for the opening of the Library, but from the above, we may assume that it opened the following Friday, May 21, 1847.  A description of that first library room is not available, but we are told by Robert Steele that it was “a second-story room near the north-east corner of Main and Third Streets.” (8) The Steele Building, in which the Library was first located, still stands at 12 N. Main Street, a landmark in Dayton history.

     Haskell E. Curwen, first librarian, was also an early Dayton historian.  A cousin of Judge Peter Odlin, Curwen was a lawyer by profession and editor of the Dayton Tri-weekly Bulletin, published from September 1, 1848, to April l7, l850.  His “History of Dayton” appeared in the “Odell Dayton Directory” of 1850. Mr. Curwen served as librarian until October 30, 1848.  He later became a professor at the Cincinnati law school and author of the Standard Digest of the laws of Ohio, a work in four volumes.

     During the period 1847-1860 the library was served by thirteen other librarians.  Most of these were lawyers of the city; some few were teachers.  Their periods of service ranged from several months to two years.

     In March of 1851 the librarian’s salary was set at $60.00 per year, plus light and fuel.  When Marcus Q. Butterfield was appointed librarian on April 17, 1854, he was hired with the understanding that “he shall employ an assistant satisfactory to the Board and that the salary be $300 per year to be divided between them as they may determine.” (9) Later, lack of funds made a reduction of salary necessary.

     At the first annual meeting of the Association, the Secretary of the Board could report a circulation of 2,400 volumes, with the Library open twenty-four weeks and service given to sixty-two minors.

     From the first, the founders of the Dayton Library Association were interested in sponsoring a series of popular lectures each year and in establishing, in connection with the Library, a reading room furnished with the leading newspapers of the country.  Lack of funds did not permit the setting up of a reading room until later, but the popular lectures were held from the very first year of the Association’s existence and continued as long as funds would allow.  In August, 1847, the Board laid their plans for the first winter’s series—a lecture to be held every two weeks from the first Tuesday in November through the last Tuesday in March.  The City Council agreed to furnish the City Hall with light and heat if the lectures were free.  This proposition was acceptable to the Library Board, and for the first winter local speakers were secured.  These free lectures were held for four winters, the last three series including speakers from Cincinnati, Springfield, Columbus and other neighboring towns, as well as Dayton men.

     Despite a small operating fund and the constant need to appeal for money, the library grew until its quarters became decidedly crowded.  In 1848, with the handicap of $100 debt from the first year’s book purchase, it added to its collection 250 volumes--described in a local paper as “books which are books”(10) besides leading magazines of this country and of England.  In 1850 it was opening its door daily, with Friday afternoons reserved for minors.  At the beginning of this year the Association claimed eight-two members.  In the Annual report of the Association for 1851, the Secretary predicted: “To build up a Library by voluntary subscriptions in a community like ours, is necessarily a work of time and what we have already accomplished, gives ample assurances that the foundation has been laid of a great Public Library, which will at no distant day become the pride and ornament of our city.” (11)

     Need for funds brought about the presentation of a benefit musical Soiree by given amateur musicians under the direction of Dayton’s music master of the period, James Turpin.  This entertainment was presented January 13, 1849, in the Hall of the Sons of Temperance and netted the Library $55.20.

     In 1853 a committee of the Board was appointed to see about rooms in the new Phillips Building being erected on the southeast corner of Main and Second Streets.  Jonathan D. Phillips, actively interested in the Dayton Library Association, was willing to lease rooms on the second floor of the new structure and had them finished for library purposes. A subscription of over $2000 was taken for the furnishings and when the rooms were opened May 15, 1854, they ranked among the most ornate and most convenient library rooms in the state.  A reporter of the day was eloquent in his praises:


     “The rooms embrace the south half of the second story front of the new ‘Phillips building,’ and are spacious enough for the present and future wants of the Association, being 40 by 50.  The first object which arrests attention as you enter are two beautiful Corinthian columns, which support the lofty ceiling; the elegant bronzed work of the pilasters and cornice of the library; the oakum furniture; the handsome carpets, costing nearly $500.  The reading stands, and all other equipment are worthy of attention.  In pleasantness of location, convenience, elegance and adaptation to the purposes of a Library and Reading Room, we know of nothing superior in the whole country.”(12)


For use of the Reading Room, annual members were assessed an additional $2.00 a year.  Here at last, the plan for a reading room was realized, a project that had been in the minds of the founders and for which members had worked and planned from the beginning.

     After moving into the Phillips Building, the Association resumed their lecture series, this time on a season-ticket basis, tickets selling for $2.00 and later $3.00 a couple.  These lectures held during the winters of 1854-1857 in the hall on the third floor of the Phillips Building, brought prominent speakers from different parts of the United States to the Dayton platform.  Although admission was charged for the lectures, the expense became too great for the Association to carry and the series were discontinued in the fall of 1857.

     The January 1857 election of officers aroused much interest in the city for there were complaints about the number of novels in the Library and the access young people had to them.  The full minutes of the devoted secretary, Isaac J. Kiersted, are very interesting.  In the newspapers there appeared a call for reform on one hand, and on the other, a call for more financial support and not so much criticism.  One member, entirely satisfied with the Library as it was, signed himself “No Old Fogy.” (13)  Three tickets of nominees were presented at a well-attended annual meeting. Nominees from all three tickets were elected, with Robert Steele a nominee on the compromise ticket, as president.

     The year 1858 brought financial difficulties and several called meetings of the Association were held.  To encourage membership, the constitution had been amended to allow members to pay annual dues over a period of years as installment payments on a life membership or membership in perpetuity.  Thus annual income dwindled while the membership remained the same.  The board, in 1858, recommended that all members pay annual dues.  After several lively meetings at which life members stood “on their rights”, and resolutions were passed to reduce income rather than increase it, Robert L. Schenck saved the situation by a one-man campaign for money for the debt and recommendations for the establishment of a permanent fund from which the Association could derive an income.  With the debt subscribed and retrenchment made in expenses, the report of the 1859 annual meeting had a happy note of anticipated progress.

     On March 11 and 12, 1859, benefit concerts were given, again under the direction of James Turpin.  These were the “Old Folks’ Concerts,” presented in old-time costumes.  They proved so popular that two more performances were given in April, one for the benefit of Mr. Turpin and the other for the Library.  Financially these concerts were more of a success than the Soiree of 1849, for the Library added over $400 to its funds from the receipts.

     In spite of the optimism of 1859, the Board, in the latter part of that year, was faced with the facts of lack of funds and the strong rivalry of a free Public School Library which had been organized in 1855.  At the annual meeting in January of 1860, in the best interests of library service in the community, the Board suggested that the two libraries be combined and a committee was appointed to approach the Board of Education on the subject.

     The school law of 1853 in Ohio had provided for the establishment of libraries in the district schools.  The school board of Dayton decided to set up a central library with their allotment rather than distribute the books in small collections to the various district buildings.   A room was rented temporarily on the second floor of the U. S. Building, corner of Main and Fourth Streets, and the Public School Library opened in the fall of 1855 with a collection of 1240 volumes representing “every department of literature” (14) for young and old.  William H. Butterfield, principal of the Second District School, was librarian.  The library was opened only on Saturday, but as it was tax supported and could add to its collection with no direct cost to the public, its growing strength presented a problem to the Dayton Library Association.  In 1858 this library moved into the newly completed Central High School, Fourth and Wilkinson Streets, to a room especially arranged for it, at the northeast corner of the first floor.

     During the spring of 1860 a plan was drawn up by the committee of the Dayton Library Association, with the approval of the Board of Directors, whereby the Association offered “to sell their furniture to the Board (of Education) for the sum of $250, (the amount needed to liquidate their debt), with the privilege of repurchase in case of resuming possession of the library.”(15) The receipt of a letter from the Library Association setting forth this proposition, along with an inventory of the property, was reported at a meeting of the Board of Education on September 12, 1860.  “On motion of Mr. Love (sic. Lowe?) the subject was referred to the Library Committee with power to act.”(16) As a result of this action the ownership of the large valuable collection of the Dayton Library Association was transferred to the Public School Library, which then moved into the Association’s “elegant” library room in the Phillips Building.

     Part of this Dayton Library Association collection was an almost complete file of the Dayton newspapers from 1808 to the current date.  On January 15, 1850, the Board of Directors of the Association had authorized the purchase of a file of Dayton papers from John Van Cleve.  The years 1816 to 1849, bound in twenty-three volumes were purchased for $50.00, and the volumes 1808-1816 for $10.00.  Later the Dayton Watchman for the years 1822-1826 was presented to the Library by Robert W. Steele.  This covered a period not represented in the Van Cleve file and made the collection practically complete.  Much of the early Dayton history was written for the records preserved in those early newspapers, and the volumes that survived the 1913 flood form a very valuable part of the library collection today.

     From 1856 to 1860 the Public School Library had been supported by voluntary appropriations from the Board of Education funds as the library law of 1853 was repealed three years after its passage.  In 1860, however, a library law was passed by the state legislature which again established tax support for libraries.  This law also placed the management of libraries supported by such a tax under a library committee of the Board of Education.  Thus from 1860 until a separate board was created in 1887, the affairs of the Dayton Public Library were directed by the three members of the Library Committee of the Dayton Board of Education.

     With the union of the two libraries, another milestone in Dayton’s library history was reached as all-day book service was inaugurated and the first full-time librarian was employed.  This librarian was Mrs. Hiley Davies, who was hired by the board of Education in December, 1860.  Mrs. Charlotte Reeve Conover, Dayton historian, has given us a very good picture of Mrs. Davies and of this early library she served so faithfully.

     “Mrs. Hiley came often to my mother’s house, where her vivacity and her quickness of repartee made her a welcomed visitor.  I used to look on in silent amazement that one could talk so fast, so long, and say so many clever things.

     “If this was a biography, there would be a long history of misfortune bravely met, to record to Mrs. Hiley’s credit.  Most of it came under the heads of illness, death, and lack of money; but no one ever saw her downcast.  She supported her four orphaned children in various ways; by administration of the Public Library, by a clerkship in the Post-Office and by taking boarders.  A daughter of General Loury (Mary Loury) and a sister of Fielding Loury, she had the Loury quickness of wit and versatility of mind.  This combination helped her, as some one said, ‘to bob up like a cork’ after each new trouble, as buoyant and intrepid as ever.

     “My recollections of Mrs. Hiley Davies are chiefly connected with the Public Library, when it occupied an upper floor in the Phillips building on the corner of Main and Second.  This was in the Sixties, before modern library methods had come in.  The books were behind wire screens like burglar-proof basement windows.  You could not see the titles very well, and were allowed, under no circumstances, to handle them.  Mrs. Hiley Davies sat at a desk in the middle of the room, austere and absorbed in her knitting.  When you had made an experimental choice from the back of a book, she came with a bunch of keys and unlocked the shelf.  If what you took to be a good novel, turned out to be only a religious work, you were obliged to take it and go; no more attention for you that day!  Asked whether the library contained anything on Russia, Mrs. Hiley was apt to reply, ‘I don’t know. Just look around,’ and go on with her knitting.  This was not neglect of duty, it was all that the public and the trustees required of her.  Not knowing that Mrs. Hiley was pleasanter than she appeared, I used to dread to be sent to the library.  If I raised on tip-toe to look over the edge of the desk, and said ‘Mother wants The Woman in White, I was afraid she would scowl.  Her glasses and her keys made her formidable.  I am glad I learned to love as well as to admire her.

     “A valiant character she was, who faced death as she had life, unafraid.”(17)


     In the 1866-67 report of the Board of Education library progress is reported with a collection of over 10,000 volumes, and a reading room “sustained by an association of young men has been kept open in connection with the library.”(18) In this year the City Council granted the board of Education the use of the room known as the City Hall for library purposes, free of rent.  This was on the second floor of the old City Building at the west end.  This old City Building or Market House, extending from Main Street to Jefferson, between Third and Fourth, had had a face-lifting in 1845 when the Main Street end was torn down and a new structure erected in its place. This new west end brought the building out flush with the street, with stronger pillars supplied in the market house section and a second floor, one hundred feet long and thirty feet wide, built over the pillars.  This furnished a City Hall and some adjoining rooms.  Meetings of the Council, as well as public meetings were held in this hall.  At this location the Library was housed from 1867 until 1888, except for about a year in 1876 and 1877 when it was moved temporarily to the Journal Building, first building north of the Court House, while the old City Building was torn down and the new one constructed on the same site.

     The Library was opened on September 3, 1877, in its quarters in the new City Building.  On the pages of the Dayton Daily Journal of January 1, 1877, appears a long account of the new building which was finished sometime the previous December.  The location of the Library is given as a room to the extreme west, with a domed ceiling.  “Next east is a small room to be used as the Librarian’s office.” (19) While the rooms were not as elegant as those in the Phillips Building, there was a dignity about them quite in keeping with the fine collection shelved within their walls.  In a resume of library progress in the Librarian’s Annual Report of 1921-1922, these rooms are described thus:

     “The room was fitted with heavily moulded black walnut book-cases arranged in alcoves with a gallery on three sides and the librarian’s desk in the center.  At the rear was a small room for the local daily papers and a very large reading table. There were three sets of encyclopedias, some dictionaries and a few art books in the alcove next to the small reading room, as the nucleus of a reference collection.  There was no catalog; and reference service as we understand that term today did not exist. But there was dignity in all the appointments and the books, due to the fine literary taste of Robert W. Steele, exercised over a long period of years, formed a select and well balanced collection.”(20)


     Library service during the 1870’s and 1880’s remained much like that of Mrs. Conover’s girlhood.  Harry M. Lydenberg, formerly director of the New York Public Library, got his first library card of the Dayton Public Library in the days when it occupied rooms in the “new” City Building.  Later, he served several years as a page on the library staff after the Library had moved into its own building in Cooper Park.  As an eager, boyish patron, he often visited the Library and has a vivid memory of this place where he first found so many book treasures.  He writes of it:

     “The books were behind glass in cases with locked doors.  The location was, of course, fixed.  Grown-ups I suppose used the catalogue.  We youngsters merely wandered around the shelves, making our selection by glancing at the titles seen through the glass.  Grown-ups called the librarian by tapping on the glass with their cards, the attendant sweeping along with the keys tied to the belt or girdle at her waist, opening the case, trotting back to the charging desk with book in her hand and the reader following in her wake.  I do not know what would have happened if a person called a librarian to let him consult a book to decide whether he wanted it or not.”(21)


     While the library was occupying rooms in the old City building, Miss Araminta I. Dryden was hired as librarian.  She began her service in 1874 and was a member of the library staff until her death in 1913.  She served as librarian until 1896.  During the years from the union of the two libraries in 1860 through the 1880’s, the Library experienced a gradual and steady growth, serving the people who sought out books with a quiet dignity characteristic of libraries of that period.  Presiding over this institution in a period when the librarian’s main job was guarding the books entrusted to her care, Miss Dryden left an impress of dignity and quiet efficiency on her patrons and co-workers—a poise and efficiency based on the “sense of justice,  promptitude, order and method that ruled all her activities.”(22)

     A colleague (Miss Elizabeth Doren) who was a young patron of the Dayton Library when readers climbed the steps of the City Building for their books, has written of Miss Dryden:

     “Those early impressions of Miss Dryden’s personality were deepened and broadened with the years but not essentially modified.  Appearance is the young person’s basis of judgment and approval, and Miss Dryden’s held for me an unquestioned distinction.  Dressed always in well-chosen black with meticulous care, her presence commanded a similar fresh admiring interest to that one gives the immaculate, well-designed uniforms, and their feminine wearers in the Service today.

     “Slender, erect of stature, appearing to youthful eyes taller than actually so, perhaps, she moved about her domain of authority with a fine poise and a quiet, unobtrusive assurance and dignity of bearing.  Her steady gray blue eyes brought a Library visitor to attention to the point in hand: in keeping with the general atmosphere which prevailed of established and accepted authority and a compliance with rules and regulations, taken for granted on both sides.  Indeed, it would have required considerable temerity of spirit to have attempted any overstepping the bounds of accustomed public respect and decorum for Library privileges and their administrator.

     “All of which shows that an excellent and effective order and discipline were maintained by Miss Dryden as Librarian; all achieved apparently so casually and effortlessly—and that in cramped, restricted space already overcrowded and which allowed no chairs for readers.”(23)


In commenting on his work as a page, Mr. Lyndenberg writes:

     “About 1889, I began work as a page in the new building just opened in Cooper Park, and it took little time to let me see that Miss Dryden, too, (in comparison with her assistant Miss Doren) was genuinely sympathetic and kindly, full of interest in what I was doing, quietly and effectively in touch with every side of the work.  That I saw just as I saw how constantly and inevitably she wore nothing but black.

     “She was less bookish than Miss Doren.  She read books, I’m sure, knew her collections, commented on them freely and wisely when need arose, frequently settled whether to buy this title or that.  But her interest in the youngsters hired to get books back to the shelves, do errands, trot after overdue books, and all that, seemed directed more toward current duties than to the reading he did so constantly every free moment he got.

     “As time went on my affection and respect for her came to equal that I felt for Miss Doren.  No one could work for or with her as I did and fail to recognize her kindly nature.”(24)

     Miss Electra C. Doren, who became her assistant in 1879 and later, her chief, wrote in tribute to Miss Dryden in 1913: “The work was carried with a dignity and fairness that commanded the respect of the community and established an internal discipline which ensured foundations for the broader superstructure that was to follow.  Nor was this all.  When the time for changes finally came, after twenty years of headship, she quietly adjusted herself to the new order and reorganization and, through two successive administrations, lent her powers loyally to pushing forward the progress of the library. Although sedate and dignified with the stranger, she was to those at closer range an endearing companion, always keenly interested in others, especially in the younger members of the library staff, always cheerful and appreciating the humorous, yet with a sense of fitness from which she never departed.”(25)

     Miss Dryden supervised three library moves, one in 1876 to temporary quarters in the Journal Building, the second in 1877 back to the City Building, and then in 1888 to the new building in Cooper Park.  She continued in charge of the statistics and accounts under her successor.  Later, in perfecting and operating the duplicating process for the library card catalog and other records, she was responsible for the development of a very helpful tool for the catalog department.

     Soon after Electra C. Doren joined the Library staff, a work of major importance was undertaken in the publication of an analytical dictionary catalog.  This publication, issued in 1884, covered 20,000 volumes.  As early as September, 1847, the directors of the Dayton Library Association made plans to publish a catalogue, or finding list of books, for its members.  During 1854 and 1855 Marcus Q. Butterfield was working on another such catalogue for the Association.  No doubt there were other catalogues prepared for Association members.  After the union of the two libraries, a catalog was published in 1870 listing books under author, title and some few subjects.  A supplement to this was issued in 1874.  In 1879 in Miss Doren’s handwriting began the earliest of the current records, the numerical accession book.   Those numbers were assigned and the listing done from the titles as arranged on the shelves at that date, and unhappily contain no information as to the source of the volumes, or from which the original libraries they came.  The dictionary card catalog was first introduced in 1880 and it was from this type of cataloging that the printed volume of 1884 was compiled.  This work was superintended by Miss Doren, who had done much of the original cataloging herself.  For a library of its size, this was a notable achievement as the catalogue was the fourth of its kind in the country.  Only much larger and more scholarly libraries had printed catalogues of this type in that period. The work was cited by an eminent Frenchman as a very good example of American work in the field of bibliography.

     Since 1872 the Library Committee had been recommending that something must be done about the crowded quarters, especially as they were not fireproof.  The rooms in the new City Building relieved the situation for a time, but the need to build a separate fireproof building was again urged in the early 1880’s.  At the time of the erection of the Kuhns Building in 1884, the agitation for a new building reached another peak, as someone had suggested that room in this new building might be secured—a plan which the Library Committee did not regard as feasible.  In June, 1884, a committee was appointed to study the matter of erecting a separate building and two sites were considered—the Phillips property on Fourth Street near Main, and Cooper Park, if the City Council would give its consent.  In 1808, Daniel C. Cooper, the man who did so much for early Dayton, had set this land aside as a common, and in 1836 David Zeigler Cooper, his son, executed a deed providing that this square “should be enclosed, planted with trees, and forever kept as ‘a walk’ for ‘the citizens of Dayton and its visitors’.”(26) At first the Council stated they did not have the right to grant permission to build on land dedicated to park purposes, but the City Solicitor and other attorneys found that the city had long ago purchased the interests of the Cooper heirs, making the city virtually the heir to the Cooper estate.  When this legal tangle of the question was unsnarled, the Council granted the request September 5, 1884.

     At a meeting of the Board of Education September 8th of that year, the report of the special committee was adopted, providing:

     “1.  That the Board of Education accept the 5,625 square feet of park which the council agreed to grant.

     “2.  That the proposed building be constructed out of Dayton stone in rock-faced rubble work, and that the same be made practically fire-proof.

     “3.  That a special committee of four be appointed to obtain plans and specifications, to be approved by the Board of Education.” (27)


On March 5, 1885, the plans submitted by Peters and Burns, architects, were accepted by this special committee.  In approving the plans, the committee was guided by suggestions made by William F. Poole, of the Chicago Public Library, one of the outstanding Americans of the profession.

     In a tribute to Dr. William J. Conklin, a trustee who did much to bring about the erection of this building, Dr. J. C. Reeves describes Cooper Park before construction of the building was started:

     “Very few of those who now look on and admire Cooper Park and its beautiful building, can remember what this part of the city once was: a block surrounded by an iron fence, the inclosure overgrown with brush, a disgraceful and disreputable place.”(28)

     Of course, Cooper Park was not always an “inclosure overgrown with brush,” for pictures of the park at an early period, showing the fountain in the center, show also clean paths under the stately trees and a smooth lawn.  The park did not then extend to the east as far as it does today, nor did it for a number of years after the Library Building was erected, for directly east of the main building was the public landing for the Miami and Erie Canal which flowed along the eastern side of the park in the present path of Patterson Boulevard.

     Eight years after the Library Building was dedicated, when the State of Ohio was offering Miami and Erie Canal lands for lease, a city ordinance was proposed to accept the lease of land along the canal between Second and Third Streets and build thereon a city prison and other necessary offices, abolishing the public landing.  The acceptance of a minority report, submitted by James Oliver Arnold and John Haban, was strenuously urged by Mr. Arnold on the grounds that such a proposition would hamper the growth of the Public Library, “Dayton’s greatest educational institution,”(29) and that if the canal were ever improved for electric boats, the public landing should remain where it had been for over sixty years.  Otherwise, he suggested the use of the land for park purposes and library and museum extension.  In the opinion of these men who made the minority report, next door to the public library was not the place for a prison.  The minority report was accepted. 

    In 1887 the Board of Education obtained from the state legislature power to set up an independent non-partisan library board in order to provide more stable management for the institution as it moved into its own building.  This legislation provided for six members of the Board of Trustees, with the president of the Board of Education as ex-officio presiding officer.  Later the law was amended increasing the powers of the Library Board, omitting the provision for ex-officio representation from the Board of Education, and changing the number of members to seven.  This newly created Library Board held its first meeting in April, 1887.

     The evening of January 24, 1888, was a gala night for library staff and trustees, and for all citizens interested in library affairs.  Dedication services were held on the second floor of the new building, the program being presented from a gaily decorated stage set up on the north side of the room.  For an audience of approximately seven hundred, music was furnished by the 

Y. M. C. A. orchestra and addresses were given on library history in Dayton, on the relation of this institution to the community, and on its relation to the schools.  The new structure was rated as the largest and best building in the state of Ohio devoted exclusively to library purposes.  In style it was described as a “free treatment of the Southern French Gothic, or Romanesque, built of Dayton limestone, laid in random range work, with Marquette red sandstone trimming freely used, giving it a very rich contrast, assisted largely by red slate for the roof.”(30) Crowds of visitors inspected the building, every part of which except “the Holy of Holies” (31) where the books were kept, being thrown open for their pleasure.

     The Dayton Daily Democrat of January 25,1888, gives a detailed account of the arrangement of the charging desk on the first floor.


     “The book-room, which occupies the entire eastern wing of the building, is separated from the tiled serving lobby by a handsome desk of black walnut extending across its whole width, and admitting of entrance only through a gate at the south end.  That part of the desk which is between the two columns supporting the roof is placed a foot or two further into the lobby than that of the sides, thus pleasantly breaking the line and giving the person at the desk command of the two entrances and the general reading-room opposite.

     “At this point will be received and delivered all the books, whether for home use or reference in the library, patrons selecting from catalogues and making their wants known to the attendant in charge.”(32)


During the 1890’s printed book order forms were supplied to patrons wishing to secure books.  At least five books were to be listed on one order and written orders were given preference over verbal ones.

     One of the innovations in the new library building was specially designed shelving for the bound newspapers.  As the entire library was housed on one floor, bound newspapers were shelved in the book-room.  In that first early period of occupancy of the new building, high, slant-top stands were placed out in front of the charging desk.  On these the bound volumes of newspapers could be spread open, and men climbed up on high stools to read them.  At the time the new building was opened, there were four librarians on the staff, Miss Dryden, Miss Doren, Miss Mary Althoff and Edward Koch.

     Dayton Public Library has a record of pioneering.  One pioneering step had been taken in the early 1880’s when the dictionary card catalog was introduced and the printed analytical catalogue compiled.  The 1890’s and early 1900’s were years of rapid growth and expansion into new fields of service.  The book collection of less than 5,000 volumes in 1874, by 1896 had reached 35,000 and by 1912 numbered almost 90,000 volumes.

     A museum of natural history had long been the dream of the trustees and early plans for use of the new building provided that the second floor be set aside for that purpose.  In 1893 legislation was passed by the state giving the Dayton Board authority to use money from the library funds to finish and furnish the second floor of the Library Building for a museum.  Thus Dayton Public Library became the first library in the state to establish such an institution.  The museum was opened September 15, 1899, and occupied the second floor until April of 1921.  At this time, because of crowded conditions in the Library Building, it was moved to the Steely Building, corner of Second and Ludlow Streets.  Originally the second floor of the Library Building was reached by an iron stairway.  Later it was replaced by the hand-carved staircase of today.  It is said that this staircase was a gift of Robert Steele as an appropriate entrance to the museum.

     In 1895, recognizing the importance of library service for children, the classroom traveling libraries for the public schools were organized.  On January 23, 1897, a sunny room in the basement was opened, called the School Department Library.   It was open to children two days a week and boys and girls, who had accepted an invitation issued through the schools to become members of the Library League, were permitted to take one book a week from this collection—a book they could select themselves.  This was in addition to their privileges in the general library.  Ethel P. N. Hoskins was the first children’s librarian, serving from 1896 until 1908 when she had to give up the work because of poor health.

     When Miss Electra C. Doren, after a year of special training, became librarian in 1896, her task was to reorganize the library upon broader lines of efficiency.  The evolution of library practices which resulted in modern library services had just begun.  The rise of women’s clubs and the expanding school curriculum during the few years prior to 1896 had brought new opportunities for library service, and the foundations of a growing reference department were already laid.  Trained workers were needed to carry on this rapidly developing program, but at that period there were only two library schools in the country.  Pioneer that she was, Miss Doren established her own training school at the Dayton Library, the second such school to be started in the United States.  The first class convened October 21, 1896, and were given a two-year comprehensive course.  Among the seventeen members of that first class were Frederick H. Cook, Miss Mary E. Althoff, Miss Matilda Light and Miss Ethel Hoskins.  The first three served for many years as heads of departments—Mr. Cook of the Reference Department and Technology Department from 1904 until his retirement in 1942, Miss Althoff of the Circulation Department from 1904 until her retirement in 1936 and Miss Light of the Catalog from 1905 to 1920.  Various other training classes have been held through the years as the need arose, and as trainees were available.

     This period of reorganization, begun in 1896 and completed in 1899, brought a reclassification of the entire collection on the Dewey system and the introduction of open shelves, which meant a rearrangement of the first floor.

     1903 was a year of expanding services.  Four branch libraries were opened in district school buildings, an outgrowth of classroom library service.  Brief classes on the use of the library were introduced into the Normal School curriculum, with the permission of the Board of Education.  Later on a class in library training was offered to Norman School students.  Weekly meetings of readings for the blind were started at the Main Library, with volunteer help in conducting these people to and from each session.  This service was conducted for five years prior to the organizing of the Association for the Blind in Dayton.

    The Medical Department, under the auspices of the Montgomery County Medical Society, was established in 1904 and constituted an important part of the Main Library collection until 1919, when it was moved to the Fidelity Building in an effort to center it with medical activities and at the some time relieve crowded conditions in the Library.

     New services reaching out through publications during the years1905-1908 were inaugurated for teachers and children in the Library Manuals, graded lists of children’s books compiled by the children’s librarians; and for workmen in the lists of books for men in shops and for those engaged in the various trades, compiled by Frederick N. Cook.  From 1924 to 1934 the Library operated its own printing department, which greatly enlarged the services rendered through publications.  The period 1905-1908 also saw the beginning of factory visits, with technical collections taken direct to workmen at the shops.

     In 1905 Miss Doren resigned as Librarian to accept the position of Director of Western Reserve University Library School.  Her place was taken from 1905 to1913 by Miss Linda M. Clatworthy from the Illinois State Library School, who had joined the staff in 1900 and had served as head cataloger for four years.  Miss Clatworthy carried on many of the projects started under Miss Doren’s administration, expanding them and adding new services as the Library grew in volume.

     In 1911 another chapter in the history of Library service was opened, when Carnegie funds were obtained to build east and west end branches.  As early as 1905 the Board had tried to secure such funds for relief at the Main Building, but were unsuccessful.  When Mr. Carnegie offered instead to provide funds to build two branches, the Board accepted, realizing the growing need of branch service in Dayton. Thus Dayton Public Library added another first to its record, becoming the first library in a city of second grade in the state to establish branches. 

     Then came the 1913 flood.  Flood waters sweeping through basement and first floor took a toll of over 46,000 volumes and all fixtures and furniture on those two levels—a loss estimated at $85,000.  Included in the loss of books were bound volumes of the early Dayton newspapers, many of them irreplaceable; books just purchased for the new branches; the children’s collection; and the medical collection.  The loss in the book collection would have been much greater had it not been for the immediate rehabilitation service started by a loyal staff.

     Various staff members experienced rescues and losses common to so many Daytonians during that March week of 1913.  Two staff members, with other people who had sought refuge in the building, were marooned for two days on the second floor without food.  Through the large window on the stair landing they could see the havoc being wrought on the first floor.  In all that swirling water, the charging tray, containing records of all books out in circulation, floated hither and yon, finally came to rest right side up on the charging desk as the water receded.

     Through that first dark night the men took turns calling at intervals to a man clinging to a tree in the park, encouraging him to hang on.  In the morning he reached the safety of the building.  The second night there was plenty of light from the flames of the fire sweeping along Third


     As did other Daytonians, the staff went at the task of cleaning up the mud with a will.  To the President of the Board, “The magnitude of the work of regeneration and the smallness of our resources suggest the prayer of the British sailor on first going to sea:

     ‘Oh Lord!  Thy ocean is so big—My boat so small.”(33)

Windows and doors were opened and long planks set up on which to spread out books to dry, long before anyone could get into the basement to start the furnace.  Then began the long, painstaking process of separating wet pages, turning then as they dried, scraping off mud, washing and drying again.  All books in the basement, except the newspapers, had to be shoveled out.  The bound newspapers, resembling huge cakes of mud, were transported to a large barn rented in the country, where they were spread out on long racks for drying.  Press feeders, accustomed to handling wet paper, were hired to turn the pages.  Many volumes were preserved in this way, although many of their pages still retain mud and stains.  During the 1940’s the Library has been able to have a few of these volumes rebound.

     Catalog cards, pried out of swollen cabinets, were dried on the flat roof of the study hall and arranged in shoe boxes on the floor of the book gallery, as workers scraped mud, copied cards,  and restored as best they could the record of the Library collection.

     With the Carnegie grant came an additional $1500 to help replace books newly purchased for the two branches.  Through the efforts of the women of Dayton, headed by Mrs. James Marley, a fund of $1000 was raised to reestablish a children’s collection, and doctors and publishers of medical books from all over the country contributed medical publications to help replace the losses in the medical department.  Book donations came from other libraries and from individuals, and so, helped by many friends, the Library not only struggled to its feet, but began anew its march of progress.

     Miss Clatworthy superintended the work of clearing the building and restoring sufficient equipment and book collections to open the Library doors again June 7th.  All the summer and for many months to come the work of restoration continued.  Evening service at the Library was not resumed until November when light could be supplied.  In July Miss Clatworthy resigned to go into state library work.  Later she became librarian at Denver University, a position she held until death in 1933.  She not only carried on a very active, progressive library program in Dayton during her thirteen years residence, but was one of the promoters of art activities in the city. It was due in large part to her efforts that the Montgomery County Art Association was organized.

     In 1913 Electra C. Doren was called again to carry on the work as librarian, this time faced with the task of rebuilding the services cut off by the flood.  Dedication of the two new branches and been delayed, but as soon as services were resumed at the Main Building, the work of preparing the branch buildings and the books for their opening was pushed forward.  The branches were dedicated as West Carnegie Branch, East Fifth Street, and East Carnegie Branch, East Fifth Street, on February 25 and 27, 1914.

     Branch library service, with the collections housed in public schools, began in 1903 and many areas are still served by such school branches.  As fast as the board could meet the demand, other regional branches have been opened—Electra C. Doren Branch in January, 1928; Dayton View Branch in September, 1930; Westwood Branch in November, 1938; and Belmont Branch in June, 1941.  Bookwagon service was inaugurated October 1, 1923, the first wagon serving twenty-six stations within the city.  Since then county bookwagon service has been added and three county branches have developed from former bookwagon stops.  Through the years, extension work has also been carried on with deposit collections.

     This expanding service, this reaching out to make the library a useful institution in a growing community, was causing drastic changes in the fine building erected in 1887 to give adequate service for years to come.  Built at the end of a period when librarianship was chiefly a guardianship of books, with the rapid evolution of modern library service—an evolution that “has few parallels in the history of education development”(34)—the stout walls were literally bursting their seams.  In the 1880’s the library occupied one floor; children’s rooms were unheard of; museum connected with libraries were a thing of the future; classroom libraries, branches and bookwagons with head quarters for collections and staff at the main building were unknown library activities; and the many departments necessary to keep those agencies going had no part in the library work of that period.  In an attempt to accommodate a live expanding institution within the solid walls of an unexpansible building, a series of interior changes began in 1892.  Two rooms in the basement were finished for public documents and newspapers.  In 1896 a room in the east end of the basement was fixed for the School Department Library.  Since then the basement has housed various departments, and although the Children’s Library has been moved to better rooms on the west side, it remains in the basement.  The first and second floors have been rearranged and remodeled several times in efforts to gain more space.  In 1904 the first exterior change was made—a stone addition on the north side of the east wing to serve as a study hall.  It later became an art room and still later the catalog room, now being incorporated into an enlarged catalog department.

     1909 saw the addition of a book gallery in the east wing and in 1928 this gave way to a five-floor steel book stack, which greatly increased the book space.

     In 1924, after repeated reports of the Librarian and the Board of Trustees on the need for a new central building, a temporary annex was built on the east side to provide a High School library and space for various other departments, including the Bookwagon Department and a garage.  Three years later a second floor to the annex was added for the Museum, which, isolated as it was from the Library in its Steely Building location, was handicapped in its services.  1930 brought another addition in a basement and first floor structure on the north side of the Main Building, between it and the Annex.  This provided staff rooms in the basement and much needed additional work space for the Catalog Department on the first floor level.  For the second time the Museum was moved out to obtain more space for its growing collection and to relieve crowded conditions in the Library.  This time, in 1941, it moved into the former Roberts Pump Company Building on Second and St Clair Streets, and the old Museum quarters on the second floor of the annex were available as additional shelving space for the Main Reference Room.

     In spite of crowded conditions, of constantly shifting materials, of changing interior lines here and adding extensions there to gain more room, the regular library services had been maintained, new services have been instituted and extra services have been extended during special periods.  Dayton Public Library, still handicapped by her depleted collection due to the flood, made the challenge of extra services during World War I.  Over 7,000 books went out on long-time loans to various training camps in the state, and library workers and supervision were supplied to the camp libraries at Wilbur Wright and McCook Fields.  Money was raised for the American Library Association Camp Libraries, and Dayton Public Library “made the headlines” by originating and organizing for the League of Women’s Service the making of special booklets for hospital libraries.

     In the period immediately following the flood two departments were organized that greatly aided in the extensive work necessary to develop and maintain the new services.  In September, 1913, the Book Order Department was established under the direction of Miss Elizabeth B. Doren, a position which she held until her retirement in 1942.  A Shelf Department, set up in January, 1918, under the supervision of Mrs. Alice K. Neibel, marked the beginning of systematic training of pages.  The department continued under Mrs. Neibel’s guidance in 1942, when she also retired.

     The 1920’s were years of carrying out plans delayed by the war.  They were years of actively campaigning for more funds to carry on the work as prices skyrocketed.  As a result, the Library budget was increased from $64,000 in 1919-1920 to $225,000 in 1927.  It was during the 1920‘s that Friends of Reading, the Dayton Public Library Staff organization, was established.  Monthly staff meetings had been held since January, 1903. This new organization for “’promotion of the pleasure of reading and study, especially for members of the staff,’” (35) was proposed by the Librarian and held its first meetings in the spring of 1924.  Friends of Reading sponsored several series of public lectures and evening courses in university extension work during the years 1925-1931.  For over twenty years they held monthly book review meetings, and these were carried on when lack of funds curtailed outside activities.  During the last few years outside speakers have been secured for these staff meetings.

   This period was also marked with sadness at the death of Miss Electra C. Doren on March 4, 1927.  Community and staff joined in paying tribute to this librarian, pioneer leader not only in her own locality, but in national library affairs, who for a quarter of a century had guided the Dayton Public Library in its services.  The place she had made for herself in the community is indicated in these words of tribute in the Dayton News of March 5, 1927:

     “If it is true that an institution is the lengthened shadow of one person, then certainly the Dayton Public Library is the shadow of Miss Electra Doren.  Miss Doren has built her own monument, and one that will not crumble.  For fifty years she has stood for culture, education and idealism in a community where most of us lived for things.  She has been one of the city’s great assets and her position of leadership will not be easily filled.”(36)


Members of a loyal and devoted staff, as evidence of the place she held in their hearts, express themselves in these words:

     “We, the staff of the Dayton Public Library and Museum, wish to testify to the irreparable loss sustained in the death of our beloved leader and counselor, Electra Collins Doren.

     “We realize deeply that it has been our privilege to serve one of the ablest members of the library profession, one known as a pioneer and leader throughout the state and nation.  We recognize also, that in our work for the community we have been directed by a great citizen who has made a distinctive contribution to the intellectual and cultural life of Dayton.

     “It is impossible for us to express our loving admiration for all the qualities which characterized her as a leader: her professional ability, her indomitable courage, her vision, her optimism, her sympathy, and her deep religious faith.  She was at once beloved chief, guide, adviser, and understanding friend.

     “In the midst of exacting duties and heavy responsibilities she never for a moment forgot her staff.  We were her partners in every enterprise.  With us she shared her plans; to us she confided her vision for the future.

     “She was a dear and loving friend to each one of us.  We will always remember her sympathetic interest in our personal affairs.  Our joys, our sorrows, our aspirations were hers.

     “It is a source of grief to us that she did not live to realize her life-long dream, a new main library building embodying her ideals for library service to the community.

     “With trust and resignation she has handed on the task to us.  May we have the vision, the strength and the courage to follow where she leads.”(37)

     On December 4 (Miss Doren’s birthday), 1929, a portrait of Miss Doren was unveiled at the Library, the gift of the Library staff, citizens of Dayton and personal friends.  Painted by Paul Swan, it hangs on the stair landing overlooking the entrance to the Main floor.

     Paul North Rice, of the New York Public Library, succeeded Miss Doren, assuming his duties July 1, 1927.  As Miss Doren had done, he worked and planned for a new central building while he continued to build up services. The dream seemed near realization in the Civic Plan of 1929 and 1930 for the city of Dayton.  This included, along with other public buildings, a new home for the library.

     However, the depression brought other problems—problems of increased service and decreased funds.  Tax shrinkage in 1930 cut the Library appropriation more than $35,000, while the change from real estate to intangible tax as the source of library income in 1932 held up funds until salaries had to be delayed four months.  Again in 1933 the appropriation was cut, and in 1934 the Attorney General’s decision on a technicality of the law stopped payment in Montgomery County of any library appropriation.  Other lawyers of the state affirmed that the Attorney General was wrong, and in December, 1934, the Dayton Public library took court action.  By a decision handed down by the Supreme Court February 21, 1935, the Library won the case and the funds were forthcoming.

     During these years, when staff hours and salaries had to be cut, when branches were closed part time and book funds were reduced drastically, more people than ever turned to the Library for information and relief.  Some came to forget their financial troubles in recreational reading, others came to get information on the development of new jobs or to prepare themselves for different positions.  Only by a rigid economy and a staff working at top speed, sometimes for several months without pay, was the library able to keep open its doors and make its services available to the throngs of daily visitors.  The Detroit self-charging system, which had been introduced in 1930, was a valuable aid in speeding up services at crowded circulation centers. It was during this period that the Library began to give county service, in compliance with the Intangible Tax Law of 1933 which provided that any library, wishing support from the tax must extend service to all the inhabitants of the county, except those in subdivisions served by other public libraries also receiving tax support.

     CWA and WPA projects during the 1930’s provided workmen and funds to refurbish the Main building and four branches, carry on book repair work, take inventories, prepare a genealogical index of Dayton and Montgomery County histories, and do numerous jobs of multigraphing, typing and filing.  The Library also cooperated in 1938 and 1939 with the WPA Newspaper Indexing Project.  As a result, the Indexes of the Dayton Journal for 1934 through 1938 were finished and the 1931-1933 indexes prepared for printing.

     News of Mr. Rice’s resignation in the fall of 1935 brought forth, in the local papers, comments of his contribution in library service to the community.  On the editorial page of the

Dayton Herald for October 5, 1935, his administration is summed up in this way:  “If any single achievement under his administration may be rated higher than the others, it seems proper to award that distinction to his stimulation of reading habits in the community.”(38) The editorial page of the Dayton News of the same day speaks of his plans for a new building, and of the extraordinary services given by the Dayton Public Library during the depression:

     “We came to a badly housed plant, full of hopes for a modern library such as the community badly needs.  Had conditions remained normal, the hope would ere this have been fulfilled.  There came instead the crash.  Down with the wreck went the immediate hope for the public library which Librarian Rice and all interested Daytonians desired.

     “The old plant overtaxed by the new demands, funds for services drastically reduced, the library stood by its guns and did its job.  Through a dark time it kept its light aglow.  The saving strength of that service to the community has had a value beyond what many of us know.”(39)

     Mr. Rice resigned to accept a position of Director of Libraries at New York University.  William J. Hamilton from the Gary (Indiana) Public Library was chosen to take his place and became head librarian at the Dayton Public Library February 1, 1936.

     The late 1930’s and the early 1940’s brought advances in library services, marked by the establishment of two more city branches and three county branches.  The moving of the Museum to the Roberts Building provided the opportunity to enlarge services at the Main Library, particularly in the Second floor Reference Reading Room.

     In the summer of 1941, the Library tried an outdoor reading room.  A collection of books and magazines, along with chairs, cushions, a beach umbrella and a table, were moved out under the trees in the park.  The following, written by one of the circulation assistants, expresses the spirit in which the outdoor reading center was established, and also the spirit in which the public accepted it.

“Ditty of Our Book-Park”

“Friend, you are welcome here, be at your ease.

     Come when you’re ready, leave when you please.
Happy to share with you such as we’ve got,

The cool of the shade, the books and what not.
Read as you like, cheer up with some jokes,

           Sit deep and come often, you’re one of the folks.”(40)


     Early in 1942 a staff reorganization in several important departments was necessary due to the retirement of eleven stall members, most of them with many years of service.  In honoring Frederick N. Cook who had served for fifty-one years, the greater part of this time as head of the Reference and Technology Department, the Board of Trustees gave the name of Cook Hall to the Library’s Main Reference Room.  Mr. Cook died June 15, 1947, in Arizona, where he had resided since his retirement.

     World War II was another period of extra services and the Library met the demand, even though staff shortages were a serious problem.  Victory book campaigns to collect books for men and women in service were conducted during 1942 and 1943.  Registration rules were adjusted to serve the many new military and civilian personnel at Wright and Patterson Fields.  The Library was designated as a War Information Center by the Dayton Council for Defense, and special clipping files on war activities of the community were set up.  Scrapbooks containing information on Montgomery County men and women serving in the armed forces were also prepared.

     In 1945 the Board of Trustees commissioned Joseph L. Wheeler, authority on library administration, to make a survey of  “the need, location, approximate cost, of a new central library and of any extension or remodeling of the present branch provisions for the Dayton Public Library system.”(41) As a result of this study, a bond issue was presented to the people of the Dayton School District at the general election in 1945.  It was defeated by a very small margin, so the new building is still a hope for the future.

     In an article on library achievement in Dayton, written in 1923, Miss Electra C. Doren paid tribute to the citizens of Dayton who have helped so much throughout the years since 1847, when continuous library service began in this community.  “Dayton has been singularly fortunate in the public spirited citizens who have contributed of their time and effort to the establishment and support of its library,”(42) she wrote.  “Conspicuous among these must be mentioned two men whose combined services span a period of over three quarters of a century, Robert W. Steele, and the late Dr. William Judkins Conklin.”(43) We have noted Robert W. Steele’s part in helping to establish, to foster, and to direct library affairs in the city from the very first days of the Dayton Library Association until his death in 1891.  To Dr. Conklin, who served on the Board of Trustees from 1887 to 1916, is credited the leadership in the work of securing the present building, of obtaining legislation for the Museum and building up its collection, of establishing the Medical Department, of securing the Carnegie grant for the branches, and of directing the flood rehabilitation work wisely and well.  He also worked for legislation on a retirement fund for library employees and, at his death in 19196, left $2000 to be held in perpetual trust for such a fund.

     There are many others who through the years have supported library services in Dayton.  Some have helped by adding notable books or papers to the library collection, or in establishing special funds for the purchase of such gifts.  A large number of rare books, pamphlets, manuscripts and newspapers have been added to the local history collection through the efforts of interested Daytonians.

     The record of library history in Dayton is the record of the work and achievement of those people—librarians, trustees and friends—who have worked together to build a living institution.  Dayton Public Library now faces a new century.  The services that it will give, the names of those who will advance and support these services, the location and description of the modern library building that will replace the outgrown structure—all this belongs to the story of the future.



1.         Burton, Hill.  Book Hunter (Quoted in Steele, Robert W. Resources for Culture in the     Dayton Public Library.  p. 6)

2.         Dedication of the Dayton Public Library Building.  January 24, 1888.  Addresses, p.15

3.         Dayton Journal and Advertiser, December 29, 1846, p. 2:3

4.         Ibid. p. 2:7

5.         Dayton Library Association.  Constitution

6.         Dayton Journal and Advertiser, January 12, 1847,  p. 2:6

7.         Dayton Journal and Advertiser, May 18, 1847, p. 3:1

8.         Steele, Robert W.  Public School and Libraries of Dayton.  p. 34

9.         Dayton Library Association.  Minutes.  April 17, 1854

10.      Dayton Tri-weekly Bulletin, January 10, 1849,  p.2:1

11.      Dayton Daily empire, January 17, 1852,  p. 2:3-4

12.      Dayton Daily Gazette, May 27, 1854,  p. 2:3-4

13.      Weekly Dayton Journal, January 20, 1857,  p. 1:2

14.      Dayton.  Board of Education.  Report for the year 1856-57.  p.  11

15.      Daily Dayton Journal, September 15, 1860,  p. 1:4

16.      Ibid.

17.      Conover, Charlotte Reeve.  Some Dayton Saints and Prophets.  Pp.  261-263

18.      Dayton, O.  Board of Education.  Annual report. 1866-67,  p. 38

19.      Dayton Daily Journal, January 1, 1877,  p. 4:2

20.      Dayton Public Library and Museum.  Sixty-first and sixty-second annual reports, 1921-1922,  p. 10

21.      Lydenberg, Harry M.  Letter to W. J. Hamilton, September 14, 1939

22.      Dayton Journal, July 31, 1913,  p. 12:2

23.      Doren, Elizabeth B.  Letter to W. J. Hamilton, May 24, 1944

24.      Lydenberg, Harry M.  Letter to W. J. Hamilton, May 23, 1944

25.      Dayton Journal, July 31,1913,  p. 12:2

26.      Steele, Robert W. & Mary D.    Early Dayton.  p. 164

27.      Dayton Daily Democrat.  January 25, 1888, p. 4:4

28.      Dayton Herald, November 6, 1916.  p 5:2-3

29.      Arnold, J. O. Scrapbook.  p. 91 (Article dated Dec. 30, 1896)

30.      Dedication of the Dayton Public Library Building. January 24, 1888.

31.      Dayton Daily Democrat, January 25, 1888, p. 4:6

32.      Ibid. p. 4:4

33.      Conklin, W. J.  Public Libraries in Dayton, 1805-1914. p. 6

34.      Ibid.  p. 4

35.      Dayton Public Library & Museum, Sixty-third and sixty-fourth annual reports, 1923-1924. p. 23

36.      Dayton Daily News, March 5, 1927, p. 4:1-2

37.      Dayton Public Library and Museum, Sixty-sixth and sixty-seventh annual reports, 1926-1927, p. 15-16.

38.      Dayton Herald, October 5, 1935, p. 6:1

39.      Dayton Daily News, October 5, 1935, p. 6:3

40.      Library Journal, October 1, 1941, p. 850

41.      Wheeler, Joseph L.  Report on a survey of postwar Library Building needs of the Dayton Public Library and Museum.  p.2

42.      Dayton Daily News, November 25, 1923, New Home edition, Financial Section, p. 6

43.      Ibid.




Arnold, James Oliver, comp. 

     Scrap book, 1895-96, 97, 98 v. 2, p.91

Conklin, William Judkins 

      Public libraries in Dayton, 1805-1914 (n.p., n.p., n.d.)

Conover, Mrs. Charlotte (Reeve)

      Dayton and Montgomery County, resources and people,

      New York, Lewis historical publishing co., 1932, Vol. 1, pp. 22-23, 53-54

Conover, Mrs. Charlotte (Reeve)

      Some Dayton saints and prophets

     (W. B. publishing house, Dayton, Ohio) 1907, pp. 260-263

Dayton, Ohio.  Board of Education

      Annual reports, 1856/57, 1866/67, 1871-72, 1886/87

Dayton, Ohio.  Public library and museum

      Annual reports, 1887-1943

Dedication of the Dayton public library building Jan. 24, 1888

     Addresses. Dayton, Ohio, Press of the Groveweg printing co., 1888.

Drury, Augustus Waldo

     History of the City of Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio

     Chicago-Dayton, S. J. Clarke publishing co., 1909, Vol.1, pp. 160-161, 477

Edgar, John Ferris

      Pioneer Life in Dayton and Vicinity, 1796-1840,

      (Dayton, Ohio, W. J. Shuey,) 1896, p. 252-254

History of Dayton, Ohio

       Dayton, Ohio, United Brethren publishing house, 1889, pp. 244-252

History of Montgomery County, Ohio

      Chicago, W. H. Beer & co., 1882, Book 2, pp. 695-697

Steele, Robert Wilbur and Mary Davis 

     Early Dayton, (Dayton, Ohio, W. J. Shuey,) 1896, pp. 84-85, 164, 190

Steele, Robert Wilbur

      The public schools and libraries of Dayton,

      (Dayton, Ohio United Brethren publishing house,) 1889.

Steele, Robert Wilbur

       Resources for culture in the Dayton Public Library, Dayton, Ohio.

       Press of U. S. job room, 1886.


Periodical Sources


Clatworthy, Linda M.   Ohio libraries in the flood.  (in Library Journal, vol. 38, no. 1, p. 602-

     607, November, 1913.)

Hamilton, William J.   Parkside service.  (in Library Journal, vol. 66, no. 17, p. 850,

     October 1, 1941.)

Light, Matilda M.   What some libraries are doing for the blind: Reading aloud for the blind,

     Dayton, Ohio.  (in Public libraries, vol. 9, no. 4, p. 152-153.)


Newspaper Sources


Dayton Tri-Weekly Bulletin

   1849-January 10,  p.2:1

   1850-January 25,  p. 2:1,2

Dayton Daily Democrat

   1858-January 25,   p. 4:3-6 (illus.)

Dayton Daily Empire

   1852-January 17,  p. 2:4

Dayton Daily Gazette

   1854-May 15, p. 2:1, May 27, p. 2:3-4 (illus.)

Dayton Herald

   1916-November 6,  p.5:2-3

   1917-September 4,  p.14:2

   1930-July 9, p. 1-4

   1935-October 5, p.  6-1

Dayton Journal and Advertiser

   1846-December 29  p. 2:3; p.2:7

   1847-January 12,     p. 2:6: January 19, p.2:6; May 18, p. 3:1

   1848-February 8,     p. 3:2

Weekly Dayton Journal

   1869-January 20,     p. 1:2

Daily Dayton Journal

   1860-September 15, p. 1:4; October 17,  p. 1:3

Dayton Daily Journal

   1877-January 1, p. 4:2-6

Dayton Journal

   1888-January 25, p. 3:2-7

   1913-July 31,  p. 12:2-3

   1918-January 6, Sec. 11  p. 12:1-3

   1919-April 6,     Mag.  Sec., p.6

   1925-March 29, Sec. 1, p. 11:9; May 31, Soc. Sec., p. 10

Dayton Daily News

   1914-March 15, Sec. 1, p. 12:1; March 22, Sport Sec. p. 6:1-7

   1917-Dec. 9,   Sec. 1,  p. 8:1-3

   1918-January 5(?), Editorial (in publicity book)

   1923-November 25, (New Home Ed.) Finan. Sec., p.6

   1924-June 15,    Mag. Sec., p. 3

   1925-January 4,  p. 4:1-2

   1927-March 5,    p.4:1-2; March 6, Sec. 1, p. 12:2-3; Sec. 2, p. 2:9; March 8, p. 4:2-5

   1929-September 22,  Sec. 1, p. 1-4

   1930-July 9,         p. 14:1-5

   1933-January 17,  p. 1:8

   1935-October 5,   p. 6:3

   1936-January 26,  Mag. Sec., p. 3

   1945-July 29,  Camerica Sec., p. 1:5


Manuscripts and Miscellaneous Sources


Althoff, Mary E.

     The Dayton Library in the flood, a personal record.  Dayton, Ohio (manuscript)

Dayton, Ohio.  Board of Education

     Library building bonds, 1836.  (Dayton, Ohio (?), n.p., n.d.) (broadside announcing     

      issuance of bonds)

Dayton Library Association, Dayton, Ohio

     Constitution, by-laws and minutes, December 10, 1846-September 13, 1860.


Doren, Elizabeth B.

     Letter from Elizabeth B. Doren, Dayton, Ohio, to William J. Hamilton, Director of the

     Dayton Public Library, Dayton, Ohio, May 24, 1944. (manuscript)

Lydenberg, Harry N.

     Letter from Harry N. Lydenberg, New York City, to William J. Hamilton, Director of

     The Dayton Public Library, Dayton, Ohio, September 14, 1939.  (manuscript)

Walter, Theresa   

     Notes of flood rehabilitation.  Dayton, Ohio. (manuscript)

Wheeler, Joseph L.

     Report on a survey of postwar library building needs of the Dayton Public Library and

     Museum, 1945.  Dayton, Ohio.  (manuscript)