Lawrence - Ruth Eleanor Lawrence (1905-1992)


Lawrence - Ruth Eleanor Lawrence (1905-1992)

Ruth Eleanor Lawrence was born to Rev. Charles Andrew Andrew Lawrence on March 6, 1905. Ruth died on October 17, 1992 in West Tremont, Maine.

"Ruth Lawrence: Her legacy was a life devoted to libraries.

National Children's Book Week, being celebrated this year Nov. 16-22, could not be a more appropriate time for remembering former Southwest Harbor Public Library Director Ruth E. Lawrence, who died in October at her home in West Tremont. Miss Lawrence, a graduate of Philadelphia's Drexel Institute, became the town's first trained librarian back in 1937 and made children's reading programs and story-telling hours a central part of the library activities.

She began the tradition of exhibits and special events to mark Book Week. She acquired the best in children's literature and she initiated an annual display of new books that kept young readers (including this writer) in a state of suspense until the Saturday ending Book Week. On that day each child would be allowed to choose ONE of the colorful new books to read at home.

Ruth Lawrence first came to Southwest Harbor to visit her friend, Dorothy Marcus, at Seawall. Miss Marcus was a great friend of libraries; the Southwest Harbor Library needed a librarian, and Miss Lawrence accepted the job at a salary of $179 a year.

In 1937 the library building boasted no additions. It consisted solely of the small well-proportioned hip-roofed structure that can be viewed from Main Street. Within, beneath a varnished cypress wood ceiling, a single open room overflowed with unclassified books, the results of years of random, if well-meant, donations that were not always in the best condition.

Miss Lawrence had been librarian only a few months when a June 1937 article in The Bar Harbor Times headed "LIBRARY IS IMPROVED" reported on the classification, discarding and repair of books and named her volunteers, who also organized rummage sales and card parties to benefit the library and met weekly to type catalog cards, mend and rebind books.

Less than a year later a Times item announced that the library's 5200-volume collection is "all in excellent condition... The card catalog is complete, the Dewey Decimal system installed... and the furnishings have been arranged in a more attractive and convenient position."

By 1939 the trustees were voting to build an addition, which doubled the building's size and, three months after it was finished, they opted for a new oil heating plant, having found that "since the addition to the library... the former heating arrangement is not adequate."

"Not adequate" was putting it mildly, as Southwest Harbor boat builder Ralph Stanley can attest. In those days the library was heated by a wood stove and he remembers going there on winter evenings when Miss Lawrence and Miss Marcus would be sitting behind the desk, conducting library business while all bundled up in their mittens, scarves and coats.

Dorothy Elder Marcus, Ruth's friend and companion, also served as a member of the board of trustees. The family owned Marcus Jewelry in New York and her brother, Chapin Marcus, was associated with Texas' Neiman Marcus. For many years the thumb tacks used to put up library exhibits were kept in a small white box with "Marcus Jewelry, New York" printed in gold on the cover.

Like Ruth Lawrence, Dorothy Marcus gave unstintingly of her time for the good of the library. She donated books from her personal collection, she provided money to buy children's books and she even had an extra room built onto her house "to be used for the work on library books and to store equipment." In 1944, the year she died, the Southwest Harbor town report lacks Miss Lawrence's customary annual summary of library activities.

During her tenure, Ruth Lawrence transformed the Southwest Harbor Public Library into a professionally run operation that is a source of pride and pleasure to all who use it. Although she was a quiet woman, who was never heard to raise her voice, her determination and dedication to library excellence could not be trifled with.

In 1947, when the library was again bursting at the scams, she believed the time had come to build on again. Her trustees were not of a similar opinion, however, and declined to raise the necessary money. "I could see this library wasn't going anywhere," she once told this writer, "so I submitted my resignation."

Her words proved to be prophetic. When she left Southwest Harbor for the Bates College Library cataloging department, her salary had risen to $1200 annually, the book collection had grown to 12,000 and circulation of materials had increased from 14,000 to 24,000 a year. Following her departure, the number of books borrowed went down to 17,000 annually and did not again reach 24,000 until 1979, 32 years later.

Upon her retirement from Bates, Ruth Lawrence returned to Mount Desert Island with her friend and colleague at Bates, Miss Laura Mallett. The two women built a house near "High Tide." They subsequently did cataloging for Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor. Miss Lawrence also served as honorary trustee of the Southwest Harbor Library, where she unfailingly supported the directors' efforts to improve services and facilities. She was a consummate professional, who welcomed change and improvements.

Perhaps no group remembers Ruth Lawrence with more affection than the children she served. As Sawyer's Market's Dick Alien, the lanky young man leaning nonchalantly against the library pillar in the "photograph, says, "Everybody loved her." And Barbara (Kenney) Moser, who used to shelve books for Miss Lawrence, and currently works at the library's circulation desk, recalls, "She was very kind. I basked in her."" - By Meredith Hutchins
First published in The Bar Harbor Times - November 12, 1992


“Lawrence - Ruth Eleanor Lawrence (1905-1992),” Southwest Harbor Public Library Digital Archive, accessed December 18, 2018, 13508