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California Library Hall of Fame: Mary Foy
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California Library Hall of Fame

Mary Foy (1862-1962)

In 1880, the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), established in 1872, consisted of three rooms rented above a saloon. Mary Foy, then 18 and a recent graduate of Los Angeles High School, applied for the job of chief librarian after her predecessor was dismissed from the position. Foy became LAPL’s first female chief librarian. Her duties included setting up a catalog system, keeping the library accounts, acting as hostess in the Ladies Reading Room, serving as referee for on-going chess games in the Newspaper Room, and settling bets made in the downstairs saloon on such questions as, ‘”Who wrote Webster’s Dictionary: Noah or Daniel?” Foy believed library services should be available to all people. Still, she was asked to resign in 1884 when the library board decided another woman was in need of the job more than Foy. In a parting letter to the local newspaper, she openly criticized the board for its lack of involvement and interest in the library. She also admonished readers to “let the office which prevents crime be at least as important in your eyes as the one which punishes.” After leaving LAPL, Foy became a teacher at Los Angeles High School and was active in the suffragette movement as well as the Democratic Party. In 1921, she campaigned for a bond measure to build the city’s first library facility. When she died in 1962, Central Library officials christened the Mary E. Foy California Room, now the Children’s Reading Room. The house in which she was born and lived is Los Angeles Historical Cultural Monument, No. 8.


Mary Foy was inducted into the California Library Hall of Fame in 2016. For more information about her, please see:

  • Debra Gold Hansen, Karen F. Gracy, and Sheri D. Irvin, “At the Pleasure of the Board: Women Librarians and the Los Angeles Public Library Board, 1880-1905.” Libraries & Culture (Fall 1999). 


Photo credit: Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library