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Iowa State Librarians

Mrs. Sara B. Maxwell

Still another ex state Librarian has passed away since the present Librarian's last report was issued. Mrs. Sara B. Maxwell died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Emil Poerstel, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, October 12, 1904. She was born in Columbiana county, Ohio, February 12, 1837, and was consequently sixty-seven years old at the time of her death.

In 1863, she removed with her husband, William Maxwell, to Panora, Iowa. Mr. Maxwell served for two years as clerk of the District Court in Guthrie county and was a member of the Fourteenth General Assembly of Iowa. In 1878 occurred a tragedy which saddened Mrs. Maxwell's whole after-life. While in New Mexico, to which Territory he had gone to establish a ranch, Mr. Maxwell and his son were murdered. The details of the tragedy are still wrapped in mystery.

The year after her sad bereavement Mrs. Maxwell was appointed by Governor Gear to the office of State Librarian, succeeding Mrs. Ada North. Though the position was then said to be "in politics" so efficient and successful was the appointee that she remained undisturbed in her office until 1888. Her term of service was marked by conscientious and resultful efforts to raise the standard of the library and to increase its usefulness. During her term she made the first list of books and pamphlets written by Iowa authors, which was part of Iowa's exhibit at the Chicago Exposition in 1893, and has been the basis of subsequent lists.

Mrs. Maxwell was the author of the Centennial history of Guthrie county, published in 1876, also of a useful work entitled Social Forms and usages. In 1888, she was succeeded in office by Mrs. Mary H. Miller, a sketch of whose life appears on a preceding page of this report. In 1897, Mrs. Maxwell was elected librarian of the Unitarian Theological School in Meadville, Pennsylvania. This position she retained until a short time prior to her death. Two daughters, Mrs. Emil Poerstel and Mrs. Jessie Weaver survive her.

During her term of service as State Librarian, and later as college librarian, Mrs. Maxwell took deep interest in library organizations and whenever possible attended the meetings of the American Library Association. She was one of the pioneers of the Iowa Library Association and an active and influential member of that body.

Mrs. Maxwell brought to her public duties a keenly intelligent and well trained mind and a rare degree of conscientiousness.

[Biennial Report of the State Librarian to the General Assembly By State Library of Iowa, 1906; trans. by cd]

Mrs. Mary H. Miller

It becomes the librarian's sad duty to chronicle the decease of another ex-librarian of the State of Iowa. Mrs. Mary H. Miller was appointed State Librarian by Governor Larrabee, succeeding Mrs. Maxwell, who survived her a few months. Mrs. Miller did not share the usual fate of the State librarian prior to the elimination of the office from "practical politics." Though appointed by a republican, the election of Horace Boies, democrat, to the gubernatorial office did not result in her removal as was anticipated. Mrs. Miller held her office until the inauguration of Governor Jackson when Mrs. Creighton was appointed to succeed her.

Mary H. MacGinitie was born in Clarion county, Pennsylvania, July 24, 1842. She came to Iowa in 1865 and taught in the public schools of Eddyville and Ottumwa. In 1867 she married Lieut. Samuel Newell Miller of the 4th Iowa Cavalry. Her husband died in 1872. After his death she taught for a time in the Des Moines schools, resigning to take the position of State Librarian in 1888. In 1896, sometime after having completed her third term as librarian, she became matron of the Business "Women's Home in Des Moines, in which position she so thoroughly demonstrated her fitness for the work that two years later she was appointed by Colonel Horton matron of the Soldiers' Home at Marshalltown. She served in that capacity with honor to herself and credit to the state until failing health compelled her to resign. She died in Des Moines at the home of her sister, Mrs. J. Wilbur Beebe, on the 28th of March, 1904.

Mrs. Miller, though not trained to library work, soon acquired the many details of her duties as State Librarian, and her conscientious, painstaking service did much to strengthen the library in the estimation of legislators, students and the general public. Soon after entering upon library work Mrs. Miller joined the American Library Association and thus placed herself and the library in close touch with the library movement of her time. She took active part in the earlier sessions of the Iowa Library Association, was its first president and was one of its most influential members.

Mrs. Miller had a clear intellectual grasp and good administrative ability. Though devoted to her own church, the Presbyterian, she was broad in her religious views and liberal in her opinions. Her public career was marked by the rare combination of intense energy and excellent judgment. She had many friends throughout the State to whom her memory is precious.

Mrs. Miller left no children. Her only child, Frank C. Miller, died in 1896. She was buried beside her husband and son in Eddyville, Iowa.

Captain W. H. Johnston, of Fort Dodge, a member of the Iowa Library Commission and the Nestor of the State Library Association, writing to Miss Winterrowd of Des Moines, thus refers to Mrs. Miller:

"I have vivid recollections of the many pleasant occasions when Mrs. Miller, as State Librarian, was virtually hostess of the librarians of Iowa and of the many occasions afterward when I met her at library meetings in which she still evinced her interest in the work. My last recollection is associated with the library conference in Marshalltown, at which time I called on her at the Soldiers' Home and found her, though very ill, as ever interested in Library work and thoughtful of others rather than herself.

Will you please convey to Mrs. Beebe my high appreciation of her sister and of the work done by her in and for the State of Iowa, and assure her that Mrs. Miller will ever hold high place in the hearts of Iowa librarians."

[Biennial Report of the State Librarian to the General Assembly By State Library of Iowa, 1906, sub. by cd]

Mrs. Ada E. North

The subject of this brief sketch, though seventh in Iowa's official list of State Librarians, was first to stamp the impress of individual service upon the history of the State. Between the first territorial librarian, Theodore S. Parvin, and the seventh State Librarian, the service rendered by the several incumbents was incidental and temporizingówith the one single exception of that performed by Mrs. North's predecessor, John C. Merrill, whom death cut short his usefulness after three resultful years.

Mrs. North's administration was characterized to a remarkable degree by vigor and judgment in organization, discrimination in the use of the limited funds placed at her disposal and a gentle courtesy which gave new dignity to the position she so well filled. With almost none of the many present helps to librarians, Mrs. North by correspondence and personal visitation made herself thoroughly acquainted with the progress then well begun in library science and, so far as seemed to her wise and practicable, applied her knowledge to the improvement of the State Library as an aid to lawyers, legislators and the public generally.

But Mrs. North was not content with faithful and efficient service in the library. She was quick to grasp the modern idea of library service. To her mind libraries maintained by the people were for the people and not for a privileged few. She gladly availed herself of the opportunity cheerfully accorded her by the Clarkson Brothers to use the columns of The Iowa State Register for the dissemination of information as to the uses which might be made of public libraries and the duty of the State toward these invaluable adjuncts to the education of the schools.

[This tribute to Mrs. North appeared in the 29th Biennial Report of the State Librarian, Mr. Johnson Brigbam.]


It was long her dream to organize an association of librarians in Iowa, but not until she had been transferred to another field of labor was the dream fulfilled. Finding in the late T. S. Parvin, of Cedar Rapids, Curator Charles Aldrich, of the Historical Department of Iowa, and Capt. W. H. Johnston, now of the Iowa Library Commission, the sympathy and support she sought, in 1890 Mrs. North by correspondence and personal effort succeeded in organizing the Iowa Library Society, the lineal predecessor of the present influential Iowa State Library Association. Prior thereto Mrs. North had attended two annual conferences of the American Library Association, one at Milwaukee in 1886, the other at St. Louis in 1889, and the editorial pages of the Library Journal, the organ of that Association, attest the impress this brave, true woman had made upon that body.

For twenty-one years, from 1871 to 1892, this pioneer librarian of Iowa dreamed, planned and worked for the inauguration of the library movement now grandly sweeping over our State, and it is surely fitting that in this splendid era of fulfillment the name and career of this Prophet of the New Day should be honored by those who are enjoying the fruits of her labors.

The career of Ada E. North may be outlined as follows: Born in Alexander, New York, November 19, 1840; married in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1865, to Maj. George J. North, military secretary, afterwards private secretary to Gov. W. M. Stone; left a widow in 1870; in 1871 appointed State Librarian by Governor Merrill; re-appointed by Governors Carpenter and Kirkwood respectively; relieved by Governor Gear in 1878 (the office then being in politics); after a brief interval appointed city librarian of Des Moines; in 1879 chosen librarian of the State University at Iowa City; in 1892 compelled by failing health to relinquish her post; an invalid and a sufferer most of the time for nearly seven years thereafter; on the 9th of January, 1899, her spirit found release in death.

Her venerable father, Rev. Milo N. Miles, survived her but a brief time. Her son, Mr. Howard M. North, is at present roadmaster for the Southern Pacific Railroad at Los Angeles; her daughter is married and resides in South Dakota. Three brothers survive her, two residing in Des Moines, the other in Nebraska.

[The Annals of Iowa, Vol. 6; submitted by CD]

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