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Edith M. Clark


For nearly 36 years, Edith Montcalm Clark served as Director of Rowan Public Library.  A native of Salisbury, N.C., she was the daughter of Edith Oldham Clark and Dr. Byron Clark, minister at Salisbury's First Presbyterian Church. Clark was the last child born in Salisbury's old Presbyterian manse, known as the Maxwell Chambers house. At 15 she was a member of the first graduating class at Boyden High School (1926). She planned to attend Woman's College in Greensboro, N.C., but money was a problem. The Rotary Club stepped in with a small scholarship, and the Presbyterian Church did the same, awarding her its first scholarship to a girl. Clark also worked. She read to a blind professor, handled the college switchboard, and worked in the library. That last part-time job led to a lifetime. Soon she was adding library classes to her history degree program, classwork that would be recognized later with a Master's degree in Library Science from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Following graduation, she took a job with the Charlotte library. This was during the depths of the Great Depression and there were cutbacks (the staff went from 28 to 4); as the last hired, she was the first fired. Clark took a job briefly as a school librarian in Kannapolis until a teaching job in Salisbury became available. Her father had died, and her mother needed her at home. Clark took up the chalk in Salisbury's old Frank B. John school where she was also in charge of the school library. In addition to her teaching and library duties, she was expected to supervise the rest of the libraries in the city school system and, since her classroom was on the cafeteria side of the school, she was given charge of the food facilities, as well. She later laughed, "I could buy vegetables out of the window of my class and slip out the side door to supervise the other libraries and then slip back in again."

In order to get her teaching certificate, Clark took coursework at Catawba College the summer following her year at Frank B. John. Her teacher for the course got sick, and Edith ended up teaching the class that she previously had been taking. This confused the state department of education to no end. The officials there couldn't figure what sort of teaching certificate to give her, so they solved the problem by granting her the last lifetime teaching certificate ever issued. Still, Edith didn't care for the classroom; she wanted back in the library full time.

Years before, Clark's father (in a round about way) had laid the groundwork for his daughter's exit from the schoolhouse. When a military school folded in town after a brief time, leaving only its large, Georgian building, Rev. Clark and a few other ministers attempted to reinvigorate a Salisbury tradition, a girls' school. The resulting Salisbury Normal and Industrial School for Girls was not successful and it, too, soon closed. Catawba College quickly was approached to fill the empty halls and it accepted, but that left Miss Adelaide Bennett who had come down from Massachusetts to teach at the Girls School without employment. With encouragement from Rev. Clark, Miss Bennett took over running the town library from Mrs. Mamie Linton. (The library was then housed in the former County Courthouse, dubbed the Community Building. Mrs. Linton had shared space with the police station and, when all the policemen were out on calls, she answered their phone.) When Miss Bennett left the library in 1936, Edith was "loaned" from the school system to replace her.

Edith Clark then made a library. She cleared a closet and made it into a processing room; with the help of Mrs. Bruce Wentz, she catalogued the library's book collection; created a clippings files; and planned and presented the library's programming. All the while, she encouraged and managed the library's physical growth. Books spread down the Community Building's hallways and piled high in its rooms. She even changed the library's name to Rowan from Salisbury and promoted branches in other communities in the county: first Spencer, then China Grove, Faith, Landis, and Rockwell. She oversaw the addition of films, pamphlet files, records, and documents. And she brought the bookmobile to Rowan.

Probably no other facet of library service got more attention from the public than did the bookmobile. Clark had borrowed a bookmobile from the state for demonstration purposes before World War II and the county was set to purchase this library on wheels when the war came along. Overnight, there were other uses for heavy chassis. Edith Clark finally got her bookmobile after the war, and Rowan County got Summer Reading Programs delivered to rural communities, Bookmobile Clubs, and, even, Summer Fun films projected inside the darkened confines of the rolling book stacks.

When the Community Building could no longer hold the books, she pressed for her own building--and got it. The campaign for the new library building began when Mrs. Burton Craige donated her family's home place and $150,000. For the rest, Edith Clark went on a speaking spree. She talked to every civic group in the county and some outside, and the new library was built in 1951.

Her pet project, however, was the library's History Room. When Mrs. Mary Louise Gaskill "Mamie" McCubbins died, her research notes, collected over more than fifty years, came to the library at Miss Clark's suggestion, and the History Room was born. The McCubbins Collection was soon followed by Dr. Walter W. Smith's personal collection of genealogical materials dealing with Rowan settlers who headed west. As visitors came to work among these records, they left copies of their own materials, and the History Room, like the library, grew. The crowning achievement to the History Room while it was under Clark's wing was the addition of the Archibald Henderson materials. Henderson, a native of Salisbury, was a longtime professor of Mathematics at the University of North Carolina and an accomplished scholar, if somewhat eclectic in his choice of research subjects. In addition to mathematics, he studied drama and history. He was also a collector. A portion of the materials that he collected and/or wrote were given to the History Room.

Edith Clark suffered her first heart attack while sitting at her desk at the library. The second came while she was unloading books from the bookdrop. Her doctor told her that she needed to retire, and she did in 1972 after 36 years of service. Even in retirement, she continued to come into the library to volunteer for special duties, especially those in the History Room.

In 1988, yet another "new" Rowan Public Library was built, one for which she had been lobbying since 1961, and the History Room in this new space was named for her.

Edith Clark died March 11, 1994.