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The Great Library War of 1905, Part 3: The Firing of Mary Jones

Nicholas Beyelia, Librarian, History and Genealogy Department,
LA Times illustration of Los Angeles Club Women taking their concerns to Mayor McAleer.
Los Angeles Times illustration of Los Angeles Club Women taking their concerns to Mayor McAleer

This blog post series looks at the history of the 1905 firing of Mary L. Jones as Los Angeles City Librarian. It reveals the sexism that influenced the library’s Board of Directors and shaped their decision to actively place a man, Charles Fletcher Lummis, at the head of the Los Angeles Public Library; their decision would set off a firestorm across the city.

In 1904, the election of a new mayor altered the playing field yet again. Owen J. McAleer was elected mayor of Los Angeles and Library Board Member, A.W. Fisher was replaced with L.A. businessman, Foster C. Wright. Jones visited Wright on at least two occasions following his appointment and discussed the possibility of a salary raise. Jones, very much aware of, still seated, Board Member Dockweiler’s disdain for her, spoke to Wright about her qualifications, her unusually low salary, in relation to other LA City Department heads, and job offers she had declined since taking charge of Los Angeles Public Library. Wright responded that a pay raise would require a unanimous approval by the Board and, later, shared that he was “disagreeably surprised” by Jones’ audacity in approaching him with what he interpreted as a negotiation. In a very short time, Wright would grow to mirror Dockweiler’s skepticism of Jones and her abilities as department head. Any Board discussions regarding Jones’ salary faced resistance from both Dockweiler and Wright. Moreover, Wright began to scrutinize Jones’ business transactions and openly questioned her efficiency. Following a board meeting where she was grilled by Wright about a disbursement of funds, Jones was reported as saying “I suppose he’ll investigate the petty cash next.”

With a forthcoming vacancy pending on the Library Board and Jones well aware of the growing discord between herself and the board, Jones approached Mayor McAleer in January 1905. She asked the Mayor if he could be mindful of appointing a board member who was “better suited to assist the librarian in the technical side of the library.” McAleer acknowledged Jones’ concerns and agreed to investigate the “complaints” that had been reported but they fell on deaf ears and the matter was abandoned by the Mayor.

Owen McAleer

Los Angeles Mayor, Owen McAleer

On February 14, Dockweiler, Wright and McAleer convened for a luncheon where the mayor voiced his thought that the library “ought to have a man at the head” and the trio began discussing the existing Board vacancy. McAleer’s suggestion was to fill the vacancy was Siegfried Marshutz, a businessman and neighbor of Dockweiler. Marshutz was appointed to the post on March 29, 1905.

On March 31, Jones approached Board President Trueworthy regarding her salary. Trueworthy told Jones that an increase in salary was impossible and would not be contemplated by the Board until the library had relocated; it had outgrown its current location at City Hall. Jones read this statement as a rejection of her service and asked Trueworthy if he wished her to ‘seek other employment’. Trueworthy describing her as “insolent” and “sarcastic” asked if she intended to leave without notice. She replied, “I will consult my own convenience” and Trueworthy ended the meeting. Trueworthy now concurred with Dockweiler and Wright that Jones should be removed from her post as he relayed the events of the meeting to the other Board Members. On April 11, Jones sent a letter to Trueworthy apologizing for threatening to resign without notice but it was too late and at the April 12th Board Meeting, a decision was made to change library leadership. The decision was nearly unanimous with only Board Member Willoughby Rodman dissenting. Board Membership decided that it “was in the best interests of the library that we should have a man at the head of it.”

In the month of May, the Board discussed possible replacements for Jones with Marshutz championing Charles Fletcher Lummis. Lummis, the editor of Out West magazine and founder of the Southwest Museum was a prominent figure in Los Angeles and had served as a consultant regarding library purchases on regional history books. Lummis, however, was not a librarian. Dockweiler, aware of Lummis’ notoriety, liked the idea of Lummis in the head position at Los Angeles Public Library but Lummis was hesitant. After considering the opportunity, he would submit his name as a candidate but only if the position were vacant; he was assured that it would be. Dockweiler had informed all Board Members of Lummis’ decision by the May 24th board meeting. Trueworthy was particularly excited given Lummis’ reputation and he was certain Lummis would raise the library’s profile. On June 11, Dockweiler, Marshutz and Trueworthy met with Mayor McAleer and informed him of the board’s intent to fire Jones in favor of Lummis. Jones had not yet been informed of the board’s intent but McAleer let the group know that he would regard his January meeting with Jones as her intent to ‘play politics’ giving him cause to remove her if she refused to step down.

​Charles Fletcher Lummis

Charles Fletcher Lummis

At the June 13th board meeting, the board voted 4 to 1 (Rodman dissenting) to request Jones’ resignation. At that same meeting, Lummis was voted as Jones’ successor (with Rodman, again, dissenting). That same day, Trueworthy went to Jones to ask for her resignation; he stated that she “cheerfully agreed to resign” and requested that she meet with City Attorney, W.B. Matthews and himself the following day. At that June 14 meeting, Jones questioned Matthews demanding to know her rights as librarian. Matthews relayed that he wasn’t completely sure, however he told her that he would look into the matter. When the Board convened shortly thereafter, she demanded they provide her a satisfactory reason for resigning. In later testimony, Jones shared the actual reason she was given:

“Dr. Trueworthy told me that the board had decided that it wanted a man for a librarian. No woman could administer a library with an income of sixty five thousand, and consequently they would ask for my resignation.”

She was given until June 21st to resign. The meeting also marked the first time she heard Lummis’ name in connection with her job. On June 16th, Jones wrote to her mentor, Melvil Dewey, explaining the situation and relaying the motive for her dismissal: “I am asked to resign to make way for a MAN.” She explained that she would force the board to fire her in order to bring the matter to light and invited Dewey to Los Angeles to help “slay a few Philistines.”

On June 21, 1905 Mary Jones was fired by the Board of Library Directors. At the meeting, Jones delivered a letter to the Board that spelled out, in no uncertain terms, that she refused to resign simply to make way for a man: “At first it was my inclination immediately to yield to the request relayed upon me by the president. But, upon reflection, I have concluded that it would not be fitting for me to tender my resignation as the head of a department where only women are employed. When such a resignation is tendered solely on the grounds that the best interests of the department demand that its affairs no longer be administered by a woman. Ever since the adoption of the present city charter, the library has been presided over by a woman with a staff of assistants composed exclusively of women.”

The board was unprepared for her rejection of their will but the City Attorney assured them that they were permitted to dismiss Jones; they proceeded to draw up a list of charges against her. Dockweiler then contacted the press about the developments just before the board reconvened. Instead of following the board as Dockweiler had anticipated, the press gravitated to Jones who gave them a doozy of a quote: “those directors seem as crazy after a man as though they were a board of old maids.”

Trueworthy attempted to backtrack the issue of wanting a man at the head of the library; he admitted that it was the case that a majority of the board was interested in a male to lead the library, however it was not the only reason they sought to dismiss Jones. He then read the list of charges against Jones and the Board voted on the matter. They followed up with the vote on replacing Jones with Lummis. Both matters passed 4 to 1 with Rodman (again) dissenting. When questioned why he had dissented, Rodman relayed that he believed that Jones had been improperly removed from her post and, therefore, the vacancy did not exist for Lummis to fill. The following day the Times framed the situation as a triumph for Dockweiler and ran with the following headline: “Lummis is City Librarian...Isidore Dockweiler and “Mushy” Miller at last get Miss Jones’s scalp.”

Newspaper article "Lummins is City Librarian"