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Interview with: Betsy Stone
Interviewed by: Louis Marchiafava
Date: November 23, 1981
Archive Number: OH 383
LM: November 23, 1981. The interviewer is Louis J. Marchiafava. The interviewee is Mrs. Betsy Stone. We’ll be talking today about some library history in Texas. We’ll be touching on Beaumont and Houston. I’m very happy to be in your home today to talk to you about these subjects.
BS: Thank you. You are very kind to come to my home so I didn’t have to go downtown and park. I do not like to do that.
LM: I’d like to begin the interview by getting some background information on you. Where were you born and when?
BS: I was born in Calvert, Texas, in 1903, and then the following year my family moved to Waco, where I lived until I was around 12 or 13. Then we moved to Austin, where I lived until after I finished college at the University of Texas.
LM: What did you major in?
BS: Oh, people at that time usually did English and biology or some strange things like that, which I did not really ever use very much. Of course, I did take enough education to teach school, because at that age, that’s what girls did primarily, teach school. So the following year, following my graduation, my cousin, Mary Rice, from Austin—who was later the city librarian in Austin—and I went and taught school in Ponce, Puerto Rico. We had a lovely time. I doubt that we taught the children very much, but it was fun for all of us. When we returned to Texas, we both knew that we did not want to teach school again. So my cousin went east to be with her sister, and I don’t remember exactly what I did, but that is when Lucy Groce, who was at that time the librarian of the Beaumont Public Library, gave me a job to try out, to see if I liked library work. And I loved it from the beginning.
LM: What attracted you to it? Why did you like it?
BS: 02:37.9 I don’t know. That’s just something— I was working with people on a very sort of friendly level—a sharing level—which, I guess, is what attracted me. I don’t know. But maybe anything, after teaching school, would have attracted me. I don’t know that either. But that summer, I went to LSU and took a summer course in Library Science. I think there were four or five required. Then I came to Houston to work in the Harris County Library. I didn’t know very much, I have to admit, but I was Assistant Librarian of the Harris County Library.
LM: What year was this?
BS: I would say ’26 or ’27, probably ’27 to ’28. From there, still not knowing a great deal, I was Assistant State Librarian for a year, saving my money frantically to go to Columbia to library school, which I did. The cousin who had gone with me to Puerto Rico went with me to library school, and she finally ended up as the Director of the Austin Public Library. And I worked in the New York Public for perhaps 3 years. I was a children’s librarian. And Carol Moore thought it would be so nice for me to go be the children’s librarian in the library where Lucy had been children’s librarian, which was Rivingston Street, which was the most horrible place to get to, because I lived on the west side—the Upper West Side—and this was the Lower East Side. It was really quite a struggle. Do you want me to keep on?
LM: Well, I was going to ask you a couple of questions in between, but I didn’t want to interrupt you.
BS: No, go ahead.
LM: You said you graduated from Columbia University with a degree in library science? Is that correct?
BS: Yes, a degree in library science.
LM: What year was that?
BS: In 1930. I was in New York for the Depression.
LM: What was the curriculum like at that time?
BS: Perhaps about the same as it is now—cataloging, book selection, classification. I don’t remember that far. But practically the same thing. My daughter has taught at Sac State in California. I noticed when she first got her library degree from San Jose and then she was teaching at Sac State that it is pretty much the same—that horrible cataloging and classification.
LM: 05:41.0 So then you went to New York after graduating from Columbia?
BS: I stayed in New York, in the New York Public, for about 3 years. When I finally was most unhappy with Rivingston Street, I was then sent to the Central Children’s Room, which was really a joy, because people from all over the world came into that Central Children’s Room. They had a person who—a lovely, lovely Russian woman—white Russian—who spoke Russian and one or two other related languages, an Italian girl who spoke Italian and French and Spanish so that people could be greeted, for the most part, in their language when they came into the library. It was simply wonderful to see their faces light up when they could converse with people. And that’s when they had that—they still have, I’m sure—that magnificent collection of early children’s picture books—Russian children’s books—with magnificent colors in them. We did a great deal of work with illustrators. Not so much—but so many material designers would use the borders of those picture books. They were in constant use.
LM: Now, let me find out the reasons that brought you to Texas.
LM: What were the reasons that brought you to Texas? When you were in New York and you left New York?
BS: I was married in New York—a Texan. It was during the Depression, and we decided we’d come on down here. In fact, my husband—he was an architect—he got a job when they were building the main building at the University of Texas. He worked there. So that’s really the reason we came back to Austin. My family was still in Austin at that time. And then after that building was built, we moved to Houston, where my grandparents had lived and where I had visited from the time I was a tiny baby.
LM: Approximately what year was that that you came to Houston?
BS: I was married in 1934, and we moved to Houston, I think, in ’36—somewhere approximately that time.
LM: So what did you want to do in Houston?
BS: 08:33.2 I wanted to work in the library, and Ms. Ideson wouldn’t let me.
LM: Now, this is Julia Ideson, who was—?
BS: Yes, this was Ms. Julia Ideson. She said that there were no jobs available, so I didn’t do anything for a while. I had lots of friends here, and I just sort of lived the life of a housewife until my child was in elementary school.
LM: Let me go back, though, just for a moment. Did you meet Ms. Ideson?
BS: I had met her before with my Aunt Mary—before.
LM: What was your impression of her?
BS: I don’t remember. It’s been so long ago, and I was not particularly interested. Well, that one time I talked to her she was quite abrupt and said that there were no openings whatsoever, and there wouldn’t be, which would slow you down quite a bit.
LM: Now, your aunt said something to you after that—that she wouldn’t give you a job in any case.
BS: Lucy said, “Why did you ever apply to Julia Ideson for a job? If you had a library degree, she wouldn’t give you a job.”
LM: What did she mean by that?
BS: Ms. Ideson did not have a library degree, and evidently Lucy thought that she was not going to have anybody who had a library degree. This is my interpretation. It may not have been right, but I don’t see any other reason for her having said it, do you? (Laughs)
LM: Now, this was Ms. Lucy Groce we’re talking about?
LM: So what did you do after that?
BS: 10:18.3 Well, when my child started to elementary school at Montrose—at that time, it was a very nice school—I told the principal that I would be very happy to take over the library as my part of PTA work. Needless to say, she was delighted. The books in there had been cataloged by the WPA, and they had done a very good job, but it needed a tremendous amount of weeding. I was really starting a library program with the teachers bringing the children in. I had mothers who helped me with volunteer work. That left me free to work with the children, which I enjoyed doing. See, of course, in teaching school I was working with children, but you were beating something into their poor little heads. And in libraries, you are having fun with them—the fun part—which is all the difference in the world. It seems like if you want to work with children one way, you would enjoy another way. But that’s not so, at least as it worked out in my case. Anyway, I did this for about 2 or 3 years, and in that way met Eleanor Alexander, who was Director of Library Services for the Houston schools. She came out one time and said, “I don’t care whether you want a job or not. In September, I’m going to have four openings for elementary librarians. You will have the southwest area of Houston.” So I had 22 schools to take care of, and it was really amazing and fun to watch that program grow from four librarians to as many as they have now. I don’t know how many, but I still don’t think they have one for each school. At least each school has service. Then I got sort of tired and slightly deaf and had to say, “What did you say?” to the poor little children. “What did you say?” So I thought, well, it’s time for you to stop. So I stopped.
LM: During that time, did you have any relationship at all with the city library or the county library?
BS: No. I forgot; the year that I finished library school, I went to Louisiana. I forgot about that. I went to Louisiana and was librarian of the Concordia Parish Library for one year. I didn’t much like that. The New York Public kept writing to me about working up there; then I went back. I did not go to the New York Public immediately after Columbia. I went to Louisiana for one year.
LM: So your work in the county library here was before you started on your—?
BS: Before I got my library degree. I worked for Lucy in Beaumont for perhaps 3 or 4 months, knowing nothing. Then that summer, after having worked in Beaumont, is when I went to LSU and took some library courses. I came back here to the Harris County Library and worked for 2 years before going to the state library in Austin. And I don’t remember whether I was there 1 or 2 years.
LM: Do you remember much about the county library system then?
BS: Very much.
LM: 14:36.6 Perhaps we could talk a bit about that. I’d like to find out a bit more about its early history.
BS: Well, I just wondered—you know—not knowing too much about library service, how they kept up with all of these books and where they were and so forth. But they had—to me, at that time—I’m quite sure it’s improved now—this tremendous thing with all of the books and where they were. We would, of course, get new books in all the time. They were being processed and so forth, and then we had to see which branches had what and change the collection. At that time, we had great big, sort of corrugated—I don’t remember; it was very heavy—laminated paper—boxes—with books, with straps that went around. We would have to load those boxes up, get them down to the car—the county had a car—and take them out to one or two of the stations, however you planned your day. We’d take the new books out and bring the old books back so as to keep the collection living, more or less. Then, when I was in the Concordia Parish Library, they had—well, it was not quite a bookmobile. People couldn’t go in it, but it was like a pickup truck with shelves in there, which made it a little—somehow, as I remember it—easier than carrying those tremendous boxes down. I remember I had a friend here that I had known forever—a man who was working. He said, “I just don’t believe you’re working that hard. You talk about being tired. Let me go with you some Saturday. I’ll go with you.” So I asked if he could go some Saturday. I was delighted to have somebody to carry those boxes. So after a very long, hot day, when we got home he said, “I sure am glad I’ve got my job and you’ve got yours.” (Laughs) So it did show that we did work real hard, but I enjoyed it.
LM: Did many of the people then working for the county library system have library degrees?
BS: No. I don’t think so. 17:13.1 Ruth Pooley—she was Ruth Underwood and she married Ed Pooley, who worked for the paper here that died, The Press. And Ed worked for The Press. At the time that I was working for Ruth, she was Ruth Underwood, and then she later married Ed Pooley and they moved to— Now, I’m sure she had her library degree, but I think she’s the only one who did.
LM: How many people worked for the system?
BS: I was trying to think. Mamie Riddick(?)—I would say seven or eight. And some of those did not go out into the county. In fact, it seems like to me there were just about three of us who would take the books out. I remember one—Evageline Somebody—was very fair. Her skin would burn so she always had a hat with a veil tied over it, under her chin, like this. It would have scared the natives, I should think. (Laughs) But anyway, she did a good job. And then I forgot to tell you that I did work at the university library—University of Texas Library.
LM: 18:47.5 At the county, let me ask you what the salary scale was at that time. Do you remember?
BS: I’m sure it was terrible. I think I may have gotten $100 dollars a month. I’m not sure. I know in New York, after finishing library school, I was paid $850 dollars a month. That was with a master’s degree in Library Science. So it was bound to be pretty low down here. But I’m sorry; I just can’t tell you. One reason I went on to Austin was because my family—I mean—left Houston—that’s the Harris County Library—to work in the state library as assistant state librarian, still not knowing very much about it, so seeing what you could get by with. Anyway, my family lived there, and I could be at home and save money because I did want to go to library school. That was really the main reason that I made the change.
LM: Now, you mentioned before that you knew Lucy Groce very well.
BS: Knew what?
LM: Lucy Groce.
BS: She’s my aunt.
LM: Aunt, right, so you had lots of contact with her?
BS: Well, more in earlier years. I lived with her in Beaumont for about 4 or 5 months, and then, as a child, we visited in Houston. She really was not here too much then. She left in 1950 to go to Pittsburgh to get her library degree. Well, I was 12 years old then. Before that, she was gone, you see, from then on until 1921, when she came back to the public library.
ER: She was in Tennessee before that, in Chattanooga.
BS: In Tennessee, yeah.
LM: The third voice on the tape is that of Ms. Edith Ralston.
BS: 21:04.3 Did you want to ask me something?
LM: Yes, I was going to ask you about her role in developing libraries in south Texas.
BS: Well, as I say, she was asked down here by the commissioner’s court to start the Harris County Library, which she did. I think one reason that maybe her feeling with Ms. Ideson was a result of the fact that Ms. Ideson wanted to be over the county library, and Lucy wanted no part of that. It was going to be her thing. So this could have caused a little friction.
LM: Did Ms. Groce tell you this?
ER: She told me this.
ER: Many times.
BS: Yeah. She wanted to do it her way, and she wanted to be the boss of it, which ended up that she did. I’ve been trying to think of the very nice judge—oh, it’s just awful to forget things—county judge, who worked very closely with Lucy. They were very fond of one another. He appreciated her. She knew him and his family and so forth, and she appreciated him, which made working conditions very pleasant. I’m very sorry; I can’t think of the man’s name. It may come to me in the middle of the night, but right now I can’t tell you.
LM: Mrs. Ralston, you mentioned that Ms. Groce told you personally that Ms. Julia Ideson wanted to control the county library?
LM: Can you fill in any details on that?
ER: Well, only that there was some animosity between the two. In fact, I believe she even mentions this on this other tape that my son and I made. She felt very strongly that she had been asked to come down from New York not once but several times to start the Harris County Library and that it was her baby. That’s the way she wanted it, and that was the way that the powers that be wanted it, because, as she said, it was quite political. On this other tape, she describes this old Buick that she drove all over the county. That was her bookmobile. She went to all these little towns--Addicks and Katy and Pelly and Goose Creek, Baytown. She also tells how she began the library in Baytown, which is now an enormous library. But she went and talked to Ross Sterling about possibly getting Humble Oil to finance renting some space for them because they had to keep their books on shelves and drugstores and grocery stores. Baytown just didn’t want them. They kept kicking them out, and she’d have to move all her books. So she said she went up sort of shaking in her shoes and asked him and he said, “Oh, we can do better than that,” and he called in the architect and they designed a building. It was a little one-room brick building. It’s now grown into this enormous library. And when they dedicated this new wing—I believe that was in either the spring or summer of 1977—they got her down there very surreptitiously, because she probably would have said, “Oh, I can’t do it.” They got her in the front row, and she was the guest of honor. And she said, “And I liked it.” (Laughs) But to get back to this old Buick that she drove all over— She said it was really kind of crazy. The county would provide money for gasoline and for upkeep, but they wouldn’t provide a car. She finally got that changed. But in the meantime, she had to drive this car. She said the steering wheel had been raised because the commissioner it had originally been designed for was so fat he couldn’t get under a regular steering wheel. And she said, “I couldn’t see over it. I had to almost stand up so I could see where I was going.” I think it was Spencer, who lived down the street, who helped her a great deal.
BS: Winifred Spencer’s father?
BS: Judge Spencer.
ER: Yes. He arranged for her to have this car. It was the only car they could get their hands on. Many is the time she’s told me about having to change a tire. She said, “I just learned to do all kinds of things that I didn’t think I could do.”
LM: Do you remember anything about the actual manner in which she got the Sterling Library built? Do you remember the details?
BS: No. I was not here at that time. After going to library school, I worked in the New York Public.
LM: 27:24.6 I thought she might have given you some information afterwards.
BS: No. No, I didn’t have anything much to do with that. They were not even talking about it at the time that I was working for the Harris County Library. This was after Lucy had gone. She was not— Wasn’t she in Beaumont then?
BS: When the Baytown Library was built?
ER: Oh, well, this was the first little, tiny building that Ross Sterling— I guess they built it almost immediately.
BS: When she started.
ER: When she went in and asked him for help she said, “All I really wanted was maybe $15 dollars a month to rent some space somewhere, and he gave me a library.”
BS: I guess it had been built by then, because Lucy had gone to Beaumont when I was working here, because I worked under Ruth Pooley in the county library.
ER: Well, when did Ruth Underwood come here? She was in Beaumont. I knew her very, very well. She worked in the Jefferson County Library too.
BS: Ruth Pooley did?
ER: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Ruth Underwood.
BS: I don’t know, but it’s when Lucy— I thought she took— Ruth Underwood Pooley took the job here when Lucy went to Beaumont.
ER: That probably is it, and then Lucy brought her over to run Jefferson County Library. I bet that’s what happened.
BS: I just don’t remember.
ER: Because I remember her. Oh, she was wonderful.
BS: Because when I worked for the Harris County Library, Ruth Pooley was the librarian. She was Ruth Underwood at that time, and then she married later. Some of those little things I have forgotten about.
ER: 29:37.6 Well, Ruth definitely was in Jefferson County in the ‘30s.
BS: See, I didn’t know this.
ER: Because I used to loathe to go into the little county— It was in the same building as the TARO Public Library, but it had a separate entrance.
BS: Ruth did not follow Lucy at the Harris County Library?
ER: Oh, I think she did, and then Lucy brought her to Beaumont.
BS: She was the librarian of the Harris County Library when I worked in the Harris County Library.
ER: When was that?
BS: It was in 192—
LM: It was ’29, wasn’t it?
BS: It was ’28. Well, I was working here when the national—
LM: It was ’27 to ’28.
BS: Yes. The national convention—democratic convention—met here in 1928, and that’s when Al Smith either got it or was going to get it or something. I don’t really remember. But I remember going down to the convention. Somebody had given us some tickets. We really weren’t supposed to be where we were, but we had these tickets, and we had to remember what our names were. They were not what they should have been. Anyway, we had a lovely time. (Laughs)
ER: Well, she must have come over to Jefferson County. I bet Lucy brought her over there in the ‘30s to run that county library.
BS: Yes, well, I knew that she followed Lucy. This is the reason that I was confused, because when I worked there in 1927-28, Ruth Underwood Pooley was the librarian.
ER: Well, of course, my memories of her in Beaumont— I must have been 8 or 9 years old, so that would have been the early ‘30s that I remember her there.
LM: 32:05.3 When you went to University of Texas Library, after you left Houston—
(End of tape 01)
(Start tape 02)
LM: So after you left Houston, you went to the University of Texas, as librarian. Is that correct?
BS: No. No, that’s not right at all. After I left Houston, I went to—oh, yes, I beg your pardon. I went to University of Texas—no—to the Texas State Library. I was Assistant State Librarian and did not know anything much. I worked there until the fall of 1929—to go to New York to take my library degree from Columbia. I hit New York just about the time the Depression hit New York, which was quite an experience. I was awfully glad that my money was safe in a bank. I hoped the bank was going to be safe, because I had to get through the year on it. Then, from New York, after I got my library degree, I came back to— What did I tell you? Louisiana. I worked in the Jefferson County Library. Is that right? Concordia Parish Library. I worked there for a year, and then I went back to New York and worked in the New York Public for— I get my times mixed up. Anyway, because I went to— When did I go to Puerto Rico, for heaven’s sake? I went to Puerto Rico the year I finished college, so way back. This is after I got my library degree in 1929; I came back to Louisiana and worked in the Concordia Parish Library for approximately a year. I left there to go back to New York, where I worked for several years. And Carol Moore—I think I told you—thought it would be nice for me to go to Rivington Street, where Lucy had been. It was not the place for me, and I was real happy to leave Rivington Street and go to the main library on 42nd Street. Then, from there, I was at George Bruce Branch, which is out on 125th Street and Broadway—just off of Broadway. There, I had a very strange combination. I was always a children’s librarian. We had Negroes and Irish. We had fights every day. It made it interesting. (Laughs)
LM: In your various travels and places where you worked and various libraries where you worked, did you notice a change in the professional status of the librarian at that time? Was it different in New York than it was in Texas?
BS: I don’t really think so. It could have been, but it didn’t make enough of an impression to last this long. So, I guess, there could have been differences, but it didn’t mean that much to me. After all, that’s a long time ago.
LM: A few years.
BS: 3:45.1 Yes. (Laughs) When you think back—you know—it’s not too long ago. After all, when you reach my age—78—it was a long time ago that some of these things were carrying on. But I’ve always enjoyed library work, and I’ve had very varied work—public, county, parish, city, college. I worked in the University of Texas Library at one time.
LM: Well, that was before you got your degree, though.
BS: No, that was after. That was my last job before I came— I was married during the Depression. We came to Texas so he could work on— He had got the job working on the main building at the University of Texas Library. So I applied for a job when we first went back to Austin, which was my home originally, and they had no opening. Then Donald Coney came to the University of Texas as librarian. I don’t remember who he replaced—somebody who was not very effective, as I remember. Anyway, I was phoned one day by Donald Coney’s secretary to know if I would be interested in having an interview with him. I was very interested and went. He was a delightful, charming man, and he employed me. So I sort of eventually ended up as his girl Friday. I did all of these little strange things—go see about this, go see about that—which was very interesting and lots of fun to do. In the meantime, I was pulling books to set up the Business Administration Library. They did not have a special Business Administration Library. That was one of the things that Dr. Coney was interested in doing. And then my husband received an offer from Staub and Rather, architects, and we moved to Houston. So then I did not work for a number of years until I started with the schools and was with the Houston schools for 19 years. I tried to make it 20, but I couldn’t hear quite well enough, and I didn’t think it was fair to the little children always saying, “What did you say? What did you say?” So I thought I better get out. At that time, they were trying— That’s when the schools were having a big to-do about people having to retire at 65. I don’t know whether you remember this or not—well—they had to retire, and they were trying to keep it to 70. You didn’t have to retire until you were 70. So Mr. Jones, who was the personnel man with the schools at that time, said—when I told him I was going to retire—“You can’t do it.” He said, “We are going to stay until we are 70 if it kills us.” And I said, “It’s not a question of killing me, it’s just a question of I can’t hear those poor little children because they whisper a little lower each year.” (Laughs) So he said, in that case, I could go ahead and retire, but he was real provoked with me that I did not wait until I was 70 years old, which is too old.
LM: 7:45.6 So, actually, you spent most of your time in the public schools?
BS: Yes, I really did. I had very varied library experience.
LM: You certainly have.
BS: I was with the schools here for 19 years. Oh, we were going so good for so long, and then—you know—the money started getting low. And some of these principals would rather have a PE teacher than a librarian, and there’s nothing you can do about it, because the principal had the say-so. So that was that. I don’t know what it’s like now. I don’t try to keep up with it anymore.
LM: You really have had a rich background. You’ve covered many, many years. You’ve had a lot of changes.
BS: Yeah, we did have a lot of changes. Some people say that’s not good to be hopping around to be doing one thing and then another, but it was sort of fun, I thought, to do that. I’m very thankful and grateful that Eleanor Alexander, who was Director of Library Services. She was the one who interested my daughter in becoming a librarian. She went up to Austin to bring Sally back at the end of her sophomore year. Eleanor said, “Sally, what are you going to do with an English major and a Psychology minor? Are you going to teach school?” Sally said, “Heavens, no!” At that time, you could work with 18 hours of library science. She said, “If you’ll get your 18 hours of library science in, I’ll give you a job when you get out of school.” Well, when you’re at the end of your sophomore year, that sounds real good to know you are going to have a job when you’re going to get out of school. So she worked like a dog and had to go to summer school to get in those extra 18 hours, but she has turned out a very good librarian and has had varied experience, so I’m glad she went into it. She loves it.
LM: Did you know a Harriet Dixon Reynolds?
BS: Harriet Reynolds?
BS: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Very vaguely, not well.
LM: 10:11.6 Not on a professional basis?
BS: No, I think it was more a social deal. I didn’t know anything about the library. I didn’t apply for— When was she librarian?
LM: Oh, she was librarian for— She followed Julia Ideson by a couple of years, I believe. For the last 12 years or so, maybe more—
BS: I don’t remember. I don’t remember her socially, and I don’t know why I didn’t apply for a job.
LM: Maybe you were happy where you were.
BS: Maybe I didn’t want to work by then. I don’t remember. I was trying to think of when I started to work. I started to work for the Houston Public Schools in 1953. I remember because I was 50 years old, and Mr. Jones—the same nice Mr. Jones who insisted that I work until I was 70—gave me the job. When we were having the interview, he said, “We don’t usually employ people your age.” And I wanted to know what was wrong with it, but anyway, he just laughed and said it was getting a little on the other side of the hill. But since I had such excellent recommendations and my principal that I was working with was very insistent that they were going to give me a job, so that’s where I got in with the schools.
LM: Before we close the interview, are there any other areas that you might be able to shed some light on regarding the growth of the library profession in this area?
BS: I don’t think of anything right offhand, except to say that it was something that I enjoyed doing most of the time that I worked. It was very varied, and I enjoyed doing it, and I was so glad that I had gotten into the library field and left the teaching field. (Laughs) Because I would have died an early age if I’d kept on with that, I’m quite sure.
LM: Well, on behalf of the Houston Public Library, I want to thank you for participating in this interview.
BS: Well, thank you so much.
LM: It’s been my pleasure.
BS: I appreciate your coming very much, and I hope that it might tell somebody something and help them along the road.
LM: History is like a huge puzzle; every little piece fits into place, eventually.
BS: Yeah. Something fits in when you don’t expect it to and makes a nice, complete picture sometimes.
LM: That’s right. Thank you.
BS: Thank you.
(End of interview 13:37.8)