By Dedra Cordle
It was the start of a new year and the world of education, entertainment and imagination were about to converge in a way that would impact the lives of those living in 1923 – and also for those in the generations that had yet to come.
In March, two young journalists by the name of Briton Hadden and Henry R. Luce wanted to bring news of current global events to the masses and founded a magazine called “Time.” It would go on to become one of the most influential publications ever created.
In April, brothers Albert, Harry, Jack and Sam Warner decided to enter the burgeoning movie studio business and took out a loan of $50,000 to get Warner Bros. Pictures off the ground. They started by producing silent films and then they revolutionized the industry with the introduction of “talkies” four years later.
In July, real estate developers Tracy E. Shoults and S.H. Woodruff commissioned contractors to build and erect a “Hollywoodland” sign above the hills of the Hollywood district in Los Angeles in order to promote the name of their new housing development. At the time, the promotional event was only intended to stay for a year and a half, but the rise of American cinema and its widespread visibility made it a treasured landmark and cultural icon that inspires individuals to this day to follow their dreams of stardom.
In September, the Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran published “The Prophet”, a book of prose poetry that is centered around an individual who shares wisdom about death, love, family and freedom. Receiving little fanfare at the time of its release, “The Prophet” would go on to become one of the most read books in history and influence novelists, musicians, and speechwriters for decades to come.
In early October, American astronomer Edwin Hubble and his colleague Henrietta Swan Leavitt would prove there were other galaxies outside of our own. In turn, this discovery allowed scientists and the scientifically curious to look at the night sky and wonder what else could be out there – and what other advances could be employed to further explore infinity and beyond.
In mid-October, siblings Roy O. and Walt Disney would form the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, the first-ever movie studio to use animated objects. They spent the first 15 years creating and producing short stories but moved into full-length animation with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” Eventually, the animation studio became a billion-dollar company that has a devoted following of children and adults who still clamor for their latest products.
In November, a group of citizens – widely believed to be women who were members of a local civic club – learned that their yearslong effort to bring a public library to their community in Grove City had been recognized by voters at the ballot box. The state would begin levying taxes to pay for the Jackson Township Public Library and decades later it would morph into the Southwest Public Libraries (SPL) – the second largest library system in Franklin County with a patronage of more than 140,000 lifelong learners.
Unlike so many of the individuals who have made an impact on the world through their advancements in education and their ability to enrich the imagination through entertainment mediums such as books, magazines and movies, the names of the women who were so integral to shaping the lives of those in their community and the lives of those in the present day community are unknown.
When the staff at SPL began to plan for the centennial celebration this year, it was their mission to uncover their names, their faces, their personal stories. They wanted the public to know who they were and they wanted the public to be able to meet their descendants and the festivities. Much to their dismay, however, the voracious researchers discovered they did not have much to go on.
“I think we reached out to every historical organization that we could think of and we still were never able to find out much about these women, these early pioneers and advocates for public libraries,” said Meredith Wickham, SPL director.
But what they did know – or what they were able to put together with what little information they had – they were able to share with the public who joined them to celebrate 100 years at the Grove City Library and the Westland Area Library on Nov. 4.
“I think it is really important that people know they existed, that they know these people are part of the reason why we have these grand libraries and centers of community today,” said Wickham. “We may not know who they are, but we can still share what we know and we can still honor their contributions by telling some of their story.”
Thirty-two years prior to the creation of the JTPL, there was a private club in Harsh’s Drug Store that had a small collection of books. For an annual fee of two dollars, members could borrow the material and come back to discuss what they had read. It was not in existence for long.
Several years later, the Women’s Civic Club of Grove City donated $63 to establish a free public reading room, which was located in First National Bank on the southeast corner of Broadway and Columbus Streets. It was a successful venture, and they wanted more.
They had heard of a nationwide movement to create free public libraries that were accessible to everyone and they wanted that for their community. They began canvassing, if you will, reaching out to their neighbors to talk about the mission of libraries, about the power of books and sharing knowledge, and what having a public library could do for the community. Then came the big ask: requesting that they literally buy into their vision of a public library funded by taxpayer dollars.
“It was a bold move and I am personally in awe of these women because I think if something doesn’t exist, if you haven’t seen it before and you have literally never witnessed it in your whole life in your community, how much harder it is to create that thing from scratch and convince all your neighbors to jump in with you,” said Wickham.
“And it was such a different world back then too, such a smaller community where most people didn’t have much money, but for them to all get together to launch this thing that became so huge is nothing short of amazing.”
Over the years, the JTPL would expand in size, patronage, and material collection. It would even have its first paid librarian in Irene Harper. In 1954, a new building would be erected on Park Street and it would be renamed the Grove City Public Library. In the following years, the Prairie Branch (later renamed the Westland Area Library) would open to serve the needs of those on the westside; a library in Harrisburg and Franklin Township would open and later close; levies would pass; levies would fail. In 2013, the SPL would join the Central Library Consortium which would allow its patrons to access over five million items.
By the end of 2023, the new Grove City Library would encompass more than 48,000 square feet of public service space and the WAL would encompass more than 25,000 square feet of public service space. Nearly all of that square footage was filled with patrons who came out to celebrate 100 years of service at their beloved library – and some were there who just wanted to access the books, computers, meeting rooms, and space for children and teenagers.
Among the revelers who were in attendance at the 1920s-themed centennial celebration that featured crafts, games, jazz bands and selfie stations was Sandy Reddig, a 25-year resident of Grove City. She said when she moved here from Bowling Green, one of the first things she did was go to the library to learn about the history of the area, about the attractions it offers, and what groups she could join to make new friends.
The library staff, she said, introduced her to many things she would come to love, including the existence of the Women’s Civic Club of Grove City for which she has been a member for the past 15 years.
Reddig said learning of the history of the early club members and their effort to bring a library to their community has been a “true inspiration.” She also said that it was an honor for the club to follow in their footsteps so that they can ensure that the public will be able to enjoy their libraries for the centuries to come.
“A library is just about the best thing in the world, in my opinion,” said Reddig. “It is such a pivotal community center and it doesn’t even serve beer and wine and food! It just plugs you into anything you may need and it is a place where you can form connections through the material or the people who come through its doors. It’s just the best place to be and I am so thankful for the people who voted to bring this library to the community 100 years ago and for those who continue to keep it alive with their support.”
As good parties often do, the centennial revelry will continue through the month with the SPL’s Centennial Anthology Writing and Art contest. Open to adults and youth ages 10 and up, submissions should relate to life in the local community, past and present, and will be judged blindly for inclusion in a print anthology to be published next spring. Cash prizes will be awarded for best in each age group in each category, plus two $500 grand prizes will be awarded, one for best in writing overall and one for best in art.
Digital submissions are open now through Nov. 27 and can be emailed to SPL Director Meredith Wickham at email@example.com. For full contest and submission details, visit swpl.org.