I had already been working here at OWL for a couple of years when my grandmother said to me “You know, your grandfather’s cousin Mary used to be the president of that library.” I had never known Mary Brewster because she passed away just before I was born. I knew that my grandpa grew up partly in Litchfield and lived in the Eli Smith House (which is now the Cramer & Anderson building).
My grandparents have old footage taken by my great-grandfather Oswald Brewster in 1928 which I recently converted to DVD. I watched it for the first time the other day and it was so much fun to see my grandpa as a little boy and to see how much my mom looks like my great-grandma. When I was watching it I saw a short clip of three people and I was so excited to find out that one of them was Mary Brewster! I thought you might enjoy seeing it, especially if you knew her way back when.
This silent video clip is from Christmas 1928 in Litchfield. The first house you see is the Eli Smith House (the 19th century veranda was removed at some point). The older woman who comes out of the house I believe is Frances Brewster, my great-great grandmother who was incidentally also an author of a few books. The 4 people who come out of the building are Rev. William J. Brewster (Mary’s father), my great-grandmother Elizabeth, and Mary & Josephine Brewster. The camera also pans the Litchfield Green.
(Click on the arrow button to play the clip).
Mary Bunce Brewster was born in 1889 in the Dakota Territory. She graduated Smith College in the class of 1910. She was on the staff of the American Library in Paris for 2 years, then served as head of the reference section of New York State Library until she retired in 1945.
She was elected President of the Wolcott and Litchfield Circulating Library in 1950. According to A History of the Oliver Wolcott Library by Elizabeth H. Swift (R974.61 S) during Mary Brewster’s term of 17 years the Library went through many changes. One of her chief concerns was that the Library should be a more vital part of the community. She started a campaign of newspaper publicity and adult education classes. There was a great increase of the use of the reading rooms in 1953 and in 1954 the library had its very first Summer Reading Program. During this time the library also started its inter-library loan program and in 1962 started to issue patrons library cards to check out books. All of these programs we still use today.
Probably the biggest accomplishment of the Library during Miss Brewster’s term was the move in 1966 from the Noyes Memorial Building to our current location. The library raised $250,000 to have the addition put on to the Oliver Wolcott Jr. house. This was when the name was changed to Oliver Wolcott Library. Just before the end of Miss Brewster’s term in May 1967 OWL expanded its hours to staying open late two nights a week until 8 p.m. In June 1967 Miss Brewster was elected President Emeritus but continued to be a part of the ongoing growth and improvement of OWL.
She also prepared, along with her brother James, the new edition of the Brewster Genealogy of the 10th to 12th generation. She did a lot of research on our common ancestors and I am grateful to her for giving our family those fun stories.
She died in 1977, 5 months before I was born. She was buried in the East Cemetery, as well as my great-grandparents. My mother remembers her as kind and gracious to everyone. Even though I never met her I feel a special connection to Mary through OWL and I’m sure she would be pleased to know that OWL has become what she hoped it would be–a vital part of the Litchfield community.
Mary Brewster wrote a book in our collection entitled St. Michael’s Parish, Litchfield, CT, a biography of a parish and of many who have served it. 974.61 BRE.
Hazel Remembers Her Years at the Oliver Wolcott Library: This is an interview Ann Marie recorded with Hazel Perret, who worked with Mary and talks about memories she has of that time. It is in the reference section with all of the other Oral Histories. For this week, Friday, March 27th, through Thursday, April 2nd it will be on the blog display table.
Jesse Lee Harmon is the bookkeeper/library assistant at OWL and is currently humming the song Cowboy Take me Away by the Dixie Chicks…
p.s. Thank you to the Litchfield Historical Society for helping with my research.