Since 1872 the Los Angeles Public Library has been home to some very interesting librarians. This is the first of an occasional series highlighting these fascinating people, many of whom are little known but had a role in the history of the city, connecting people with ideas, information, and resources. Women's History Month marks the perfect time to discover Eleanor Brodie Jones, an early twentieth-century librarian who influenced the community of Hollywood and helped shape the burgeoning movie industry.
According to her obituary, Eleanor Brodie Jones taught English Literature at Lincoln High School in Nebraska before moving to Hollywood. It is cliché to say she was able to put that knowledge to work, but that is exactly what she did. As head librarian at the Hollywood Public Library from 1908 to 1926, she also encouraged artists, championed the newly emerging movie industry, provided unique educational opportunities for her community, and initiated the Hollywood Studio Club.
Following her move to Southern California from Nebraska, Jones attended the Training School at the Los Angeles Public Library. These training classes, which began in 1888, prepared women for library work. Applicants were expected to have a high school education, be between the ages of eighteen and thirty (unless they already had library experience), be physically fit, and pass an entrance exam consisting of lengthy questions dealing with literature, art, history and general knowledge. In 1907 Jones was one of six women who passed (her score was 75.5) one of the "severest library examinations" (Los Angeles Herald, October 22, 1907). City Librarian Charles Fletcher Lummis proclaimed in his annual report that Harvard freshman would find the exam difficult to pass. The 1907 annual report for the library contains a sample of questions from the entrance exam for the Training School. I have yet to find examples of the questions on the final exam but based on the entrance exam it was not an easy test. Following completion of the training courses Jones took a position as the head librarian at the Hollywood Public Library.
Hollywood had its own independent library before being annexed into the city of Los Angeles. In 1905 a group of women formed the Hollywood Woman's Club expressly to establish a public library. Andrew Carnegie funded most of the project and the rest came from local businessmen. The Woman's Club established a library through this arrangement in 1906, turning it over to an appointed Hollywood Library Board the following year. Mrs. Jones, hired in 1908 to lead the library, retained her position after the annexation in 1910 and the branch became part of the Los Angeles Public Library.
Eleanor Brodie Jones was the library's biggest booster, she was also one of the biggest boosters of Hollywood, both as a community and as an industry. One early outreach endeavor of Jones' had the Hollywood Library supply books to the famous Hotel Hollywood for guests to read. In addition to a selection of books available in the lobby, guests could request books from the branch or Central Library be delivered to the hotel for their enjoyment.
Art and artists were celebrated in early 20th century Hollywood. When Jones began at the Hollywood Library in 1908, the most visited tourist destination was artist Paul de Longpre's studio and gardens at the corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga. Art was important to the community and Jones championed artists, inviting many to show their work in the library's gallery. The Hollywood Art Association regularly held exhibits at the Hollywood Public Library.
As movie studios began populating Hollywood, the earliest was founded by the Horsley brothers in 1911, Jones was there to extol the graces of the library. Scenarists (aka screenwriters) visited the Hollywood Library regularly to do research. Jones and her coworkers helped actors prepare for historical roles by providing period-appropriate materials. The services of the library proved so useful that movie studios began opening their own libraries on their lots, employing librarians who would be solely at their disposal.
Young women who flocked to Hollywood in hopes of making it in motion pictures frequently met to read plays at the library. Jones, concerned about the living conditions these young women experienced, set the wheels in motion for what would become the Hollywood Studio Club. She rallied the support of the wives of movie industry notables, including Mrs. Jesse Lasky and Mrs. William C. DeMille, for the project. According to the Los Angeles Times, she persuaded the Hollywood Board of Trade and several film companies to advance the money for the first year's rent on the Studio Club. The Studio Club was initially in a rented home at 6129 Carlos before moving to the Julia Morgan designed building at 1215 Lodi Place.
Eleanor Brodie Jones was a club woman as well as a librarian and news of her club work showed up in the pages of magazines such as Clubwoman, California Southland, and The Women Citizen. She became a member of the Woman's Club, the organization that established the first public library in Hollywood. An early proponent of the Hollywood Bowl, she signed the petition as a representative of the Hollywood Public Library alongside representatives from the Ebell, the Friday Morning Club, USC, and the Woman's Club. Mrs. Jones also served in a leadership capacity of the Los Angeles Drama League in 1916 and hosted several luncheons honoring visiting thespians and poets.
Mrs. Jones was no stranger to throwing parties, hosting receptions, and organizing unique learning opportunities. For example, when World War I ended she was on the committee to host a party for all enlisted men in Hollywood, according to the Los Angeles Times (May 21, 1919), "whether they got an invitation or not." The party began with a parade from the library to the high school followed by hors d'oeurves at the Woman's Club house and a dance at the Hotel Hollywood. In 1919 she was on the University Extension board (UC) and organized lecture courses, open to the public for a fee and including university credit, that covered artistic topics and were held at the Woman's Club.
The Hollywood film colony loved Eleanor Brodie Jones for her dedication over the years. The studios and scenarists, along with the young women who benefited from the Studio Club, rallied around Jones when it was threatened that political influence was underway to "place Mrs. Jones in some out-of-the-way library." according to an October 12, 1917, Los Angeles Times article. What caused the uproar? The annual reports for the library don't say and I am still researching other sources. It was also in 1917 that Jones wrote in a report on branch activities about her satisfaction as a librarian.
"In surveying the year, the thing that stands out as of greatest value is the human touch of the library with the community. Through the clubs and the local papers and book talks in the Library the constant aim is to keep the community in the current of ideas and to know each individual and make him feel the Library is a friendly place and not merely a public institution."
The news of Jones' bad luck or ill-health made it into the pages of the local press due to her popularity. Luckily, several of these sources are digitized. For example, in September 1919 Hollywood weekly magazine, Holly Leaves reported that she fell down the library stairs on the eve of a vacation back east, and spent time at the Glendale Sanitarium recuperating. According to a digitized history of the Hollywood branch, I learned she fell again in 1924 and broke her arm. Digging deeper I found a 1925 blurb in News Notes of California Libraries that announced Jones missed four months of work due to a spider bite on her tear duct. Each of these illnesses and injuries forced her to miss work for a few months.
Holly Leaves, September 6, 1919
Several hours spent reading Holly Leaves at the Frances Howard Goldwyn branch led to another sad discovery. Mrs. Jones, who was a widow, and her son Tom fled their burning home on December 31, 1920. They only had the clothes on their back and were able to save their dog and automobile.
Mrs. Jones returned to the Hollywood branch again and again after recuperating from the latest spell of bad luck, until late 1926 when she transferred down to Central Library to manage the Lecture and Exhibit Room. By that point, she had missed months of work over the previous seven years due to illness. The Library Board of Commissioners, citing Mrs. Jones' ill-health, felt it was best to place someone else in her position at Hollywood, which by then was the largest and busiest branch in the system. In November 1926 the Hollywood community hosted a dinner and program for Mrs. Jones to show their appreciation. She only worked briefly at Central before she had to retire due to her health. Sadly, Eleanor Brodie Jones passed away September 19, 1929, at the age of 57 and is buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in an unmarked wall crypt.
Eleanor Brodie Jones is just one of many, many librarians that contribute to Los Angeles and deserve thanks. She was part of the Hollywood community and the Los Angeles Public Library benefited from her growth with the city, and the industry, of Hollywood. From the early days when artist Paul de Longpre's studio and rose garden were the main reasons people visited Hollywood through the early 1920s when floodgates of film hopefuls flocked to Hollywood and Vine, Mrs. Jones was a fixture. She should be more widely known.
Sources: Board of Library Commissioners Reports (thanks to librarian Sheryn Morris for her help with these), Circular of Information (Training School of the Los Angeles Public Library), Clubwoman, Holly Leaves (thanks to librarian Jeff Sargent for letting me peruse these on short notice), Library Journal, Los Angeles Herald (historical articles are available via Access Newspapers with your Library card), Los Angeles Public Library Annual Reports (available on Tessa's California Index), and the Los Angeles Times (historical articles are available via ProQuest with your Library card).