Friday Club and the Creation of the Library

THE PENFIELD FRIDAY CLUB was formed by nine women who first met in 1939 as a social and literary group. The club was the nucleus of the group which met in 1941 to form the Penfield Free Library.

CHARTER MEMBERS of The Penfield Friday Club were: Eloise Baker, Doris Baldwin, Ruth Bassage, Geraldine Clark, Laura Danforth, Elvie DeGolier, Dorothy Haupt, Mildred Stillman, and Mary Wilbur. 

Due to the lack of a twentieth century Penfield newspaper prior to 1949, there are no newspaper accounts to tell the whole story, but there are Friday Club meeting minutes, a recorded dialogue, and the Town Historian’s records. 

In 1974, Town Historian Katherine W. Thompson wrote, “World War II and the rationing of gas and restriction of travel triggered a germ of an idea in a group of civic-minded women who called themselves The Friday Club, named for their meeting day. They were interested in establishing a cultural institution that would benefit the entire town. The Friday Club started in November of 1938 when 7 women gathered with Mrs. Fred Wilbur on South Five Mile Line Road to read and give papers on literary subjects.” 

The Friday Club members met weekly in the homes of members for the purpose of promoting interest in higher education, reviewing current books, and discussing current events. Officers were elected and by-laws were established. The traditions of the hostess serving refreshments at each meeting, and the ladies bringing their husbands to the Christmas luncheon, continue to this day. Back then, annual dues were $.50. 

On February 23, 1940 The Friday Club minutes indicate, “Someone mentioned the need of a library in Penfield. A discussion followed and the thought prevailed that our club might be the nucleus for the project.” There were 15 members present at the meeting. In 1941, thirteen members of The Friday Club visited Dr. John Lowe, head of the Rochester Public Library, for advice on how to establish a library. Utilizing the advice given by Dr. Lowe, The Friday Club members organized a meeting at the Penfield Town Hall for the purpose of creating a public library for the Town of Penfield. 

THE GRAND OPENING of the Penfield Library was held February 25, 1942 in a tiny house on Liberty Street. 

The Penfield Friday Club was the catalyst for the formation of the Penfield Library Association. At a meeting attended by about 150 people on November 12, 1941 at the Penfield Town Hall, a Board of Directors and officers were elected and the Penfield Library was born. The Board consisted of Mrs. Vernon Clark, Mrs. Fred Wilbur, Robert Thompson, Mrs. Schuyler Baldwin, William Foster, Mrs. Arthur Harris, and Warren Cannon. It should be noted that four of the seven directors were women, and all four were members of The Friday Club. As of 1941, the estimated population of Penfield was 3800. 

An article written by Mrs. Irene Schnorr in the February 24, 1950 issue of the East Rochester Herald describes different ways funds were raised and books were collected for a library by The Friday Club members. To paraphrase, Mr. and Mrs. Erwin Porter opened their beautiful home on Penfield Road for a tea at which each person brought a book; another tea was given by Mr. and Mrs. Fred Wilbur; a play by the Hilton Players, and several Strawberry Festivals and baked food sales all added to the growing funds. The Friday Club members also canvassed their neighborhoods and Penfield businesses for funds and for books to support the library. 

The collection of books was stored in the Wilbur residence on South Road (South Five Mile Line Road), where the living room was reputedly covered with books for the library. When a vacant house owned by Henry Koehler on Liberty Street became available to rent at $10.00 per month, the collection of books found a home. Members of The Friday Club painted the tiny house, and hauled the small collection of about 500 books and the bookcases they had gathered to that first Penfield Library location. Members of the Library Association built bookshelves and installed electricity. Membership cards were printed. Note: The tiny house described still exists at 811 Liberty Street, although it is now painted bright yellow, and does not look the same as shown in the colored rendering on this bulletin board. 

The Penfield Library on Liberty Street was opened to the public on January 25, 1942. Irene Schnorr’s article recounts, “A tiny pot-bellied stove furnished the heat. Coal had to be carried up steep stairs and through a trap door at the top. This door had to be raised and lowered after each pail of coal was brought up. On the days the library was open, the workers would kindle a fresh fire, often necessitating many attempts, …” One account tells about a meeting at which Mary Wilbur was sitting on a chair, and one chair leg fell through the rickety library floor. The historian’s records indicate, from Mary Wilbur’s reminiscences that “After two years, war years when appliances were scarce, a demonstration oil space heater was found-the only one in Rochester-and the physical comfort of the librarians was greatly improved.” The treasured oil heater was used for twelve years. Many volunteers, including Mary Wilbur, who served unpaid as librarian for ten years, staffed the library. Mrs. Wilbur and many of the other volunteers were members of The Friday Club. The library was open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 2-4 and 7-9. 

BY 1944 the Penfield Library had outgrown the Liberty Street house and a new location was needed. One South road became the second library location. 

During the first two years of the library’s existence, in the years 1942 and 1943, about 2500 books circulated each year. As the number of books increased, more space was needed, and a larger building was sought. 

The second library location was at the SE corner of Penfield Road and South Road, (now Five Mile line Road) in what was known as the Becker Building. Wanda Wadeikis, a long-time resident of Penfield, and a member of The Friday Club, remembers the library being located on the first floor at the rear of the building in the space now occupied by Divine Hair at 2118 Five Mile line Road. 

Irene Schnorr’s article describes what happened on the last Friday evening of January 1944 at about 9:30 P.M., ” …the librarian, Mrs. Fred (Mary) Wilbur, and the second assistant, her husband, were seen pushing a wheelbarrow down the road in which was placed the oil-burning heater, as they moved it from Liberty Street to No. 1 South Road.” The next day, many volunteers with cars and a refuse collectors truck, moved the books and furnishings to what was to be the second location for The Penfield library. The librarians were faced with sorting all the books that had been deposited “in no regular manner”. 

The Town Historian, Kay Thompson, noted that, ” …In due time order was restored and (the library) opened again for service under the watchful eye of Mary Wilbur and some twenty volunteers. Any person in the Town was eligible to draw out up to four books at a time. Children under 14 had to have the written permission of their parents. Fines for overdue books were two cents per day that the library was open.” 

The No.1 South Road building was used for two years, and then due to increased population and the establishment of a drug store in the same building, it was necessary for the library to find a new, third location. 

IN 1946  the Penfield Free Library moved to its third location in the Haskell Building at 1837 Penfield Road. 

After two years at One South Road, the library relocated in 1946 to the front room of the Haskell Building at 1837 Penfield Road. For many years, this building housed Flower City Cleaners, but it is now the location of Guida’s Pizzaria. In an undated but documented reminiscence among members of The Friday Club many years ago, Doris Baldwin was quoted as saying, “And Mary Haskell didn’t like to have them meet too much there, because she used the front room of the building in the summer. So we had to sort of smooth her down a little bit.” For obvious reasons, The Friday Club members noted,” …we were not there long. Just long enough to be moved.” But Doris Baldwin noted that “wherever we went the library thrived …we kept accumulating better books.” 

Historian Kay Thompson’s records cite a February 24,1950 East Rochester Herald article: “Again the carpenter and painter friends were busy remodeling the old shelves for the new location. When they opened again it was found that nearly half of their patrons were coming from outside the “village” area and that nearly half of the circulation was in children’s and young people’s books.” 

The March 24, 1949 Fairport Herald noted, “…by 1948 an additional room plus a toilet were acquired. Circulation by the end of 1949 was up to 7,660 volumes. Financing this growing operation involved a change from the solicitation of memberships. A provisional charter was granted to the library by the state in 1945 and with that came a grant for $100 to be used for books.” The article describes how an appeal to the Community Chest resulted in ” …nearly complete support from that source.” The library staff, including Mary Wilbur, the librarian, continued to be unpaid volunteers. “In 1949 a group of junior librarians was formed and two desks were necessary to handle the flow of books in and out. Friday afternoons were added to the schedule which (had been until then) Tuesdays and Saturdays, 3-5 and 7-9. 

“Mary Wilbur’s account of the library indicates, “A full charter had been granted to the library by the state in 1949.” 

IN MARCH OF 1950 the library moved to its fourth location, the basement of the old town hall. 

The historian’s records indicate, “As the Community Chest dwindled in effectiveness an appeal was made to the Town Board for support.” The Town offered, rent free, the basement of the old Town Hall, located at 2131 Five Mile Line Road. “There was no suitable floor there, so two boys dug out the area. A masonite board floor was laid, the heater was transferred once again, shelving rebuilt and replenished, and again under the watchful eyes of and patient care of Mary and Fred Wilbur the books were packed up and moved. On May 25, 1950 the library opened again, this time on a 15 hour a week schedule.” 

In March of 1950, “Ruth Braman was engaged as librarian, temporarily.” In Mary Wilbur’s account, Mrs. Ruth Braman became managing librarian, but volunteers continued to “take care of circulation”. Carolyn Wise, who served as a library clerk, and her husband Chuck, who was treasurer of the Friends of the Library for many years, remember “Ruthie Braman” fondly; “She was very friendly and able to appropriately use her talent.” “When you went to the library, she would hold the babies while you got the books.” Janet Collinge, continuing to quote Carolyn Wise, wrote in the April , 1991 issue of the community section of a newspaper, “Children ‘were made to feel welcome at the library. We even had a cat that would go to sleep on the shelves in the children’s section.” 

On June 20, 1952, the Penfield Library became the first suburban library in the county to join the Monroe County Library system. That same month, Mrs. Edith Harris, a former teacher and librarian in the Penfield Central School, became the first full time, salaried librarian. The hiring of Mrs. Harris ended the totally volunteer status of the Penfield Library. The librarian’s salary was a major monetary consideration requiring The -Friday Club to return to solicitation of funds to support the library. The historian’s records show that donations of $1800 were raised by The Friday Club in 1954. Mrs. Harris resigned in December, 1956, and Ruth Braman returned as full time librarian, serving until 1975.  

On December 31, 1952, in the Monroe County Library System Annual Report, “the record showed Penfield Free Library with 935 registered borrowers, 4,816 total holdings, and a circulation of 8,634.” 

From the historian’s records, “Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur’s decade of selfless devotion to the library and their physical involvement in each of the four moves was recognized at a tea in the library in 1952. Because of their vision and effort the small library had grown from a cultural luxury to a necessary institution in the eyes of the people of Penfield.” 

From an “undated clipping” we are told that Mary Wilbur had been asked what she wanted most for the library. Her reply was security, in the form of adequate support and a librarian thoroughly familiar with all the material at hand. Since 1958 the Town of Penfield has provided the library with its main financial support. By 1959 circulation had grown to 54,493. Mary Wilbur and other members of The Friday Club had finally achieved their goal of establishing a financially secure and adequately staffed library to serve the Penfield community. 

More History of the Penfield Public Library 

When the Penfield Town Hall moved to its present location on Atlantic Avenue in 1966, the Library took over all the space in the Old Town Hall, and the basement became the Children’s library. In 1975 Marcia Ferguson became Librarian, and library circulation exceeded 150,000. On September 22, 1978, New York State chartered the Penfield Library as a public library and in the same year, the Penfield Town Board took over full responsibility for appointing members of the Board of Trustees, and for funding of the library. In 1979 Carolyn Smith became the Library Director. On September 14, 1985, the library moved to its present location on Baird Road, and the Ruth Braman Room was dedicated. 

It should also be noted that in the mid-1970’s the Friends of the Penfield Library was formed and its annual book sale continues to be a major fund raiser for today’s Penfield Public Library. Janet Collinge’s 1991 article indicates that in 1985 the new library moved to its present Baird Road location. “Community groups, Friends of the Library and residents loaded up school buses with books to help with the move from the old Town Hall.” Fred Wilbur’s wheelbarrow was no longer needed.  

When Ruth Braman retired as librarian director in 1975, Marcia Ferguson took her place. In 1979 Carolyn Smith became library director, and library circulation reached 166,155 that year. Mary Maley became library director in 2001, and Bernadette Brinkman has been the library director since 2009. 

By September of 1985 the library had moved to the renovated Baird Road School. In 1989 circulation had grown to 293,650. By 2009, circulation had reached 689,511. 

The Friday Club continues to meet, and continues to support the library through financial donations and the purchase of books contributed to the library in memory of its former members. Members of The Friday Club are proud of the history of their organization, their past fund-raising and ongoing contributions to the Penfield Library, and their role in providing volunteer librarians and staff during the critical early years of the library. 

MARY WILBUR, first Penfield Librarian and a charter member of the Friday Club, , was the outstanding individual who provided the inspiration to create a library in the Town of Penfield. Not only did she serve as the volunteer, unpaid librarian for the first ten years the library existed, but she, her husband Fred, and The Friday Club members led the efforts to staff and raise funds to support the infant library. Whenever the library changed location in those early years, Mary and Fred and other members of The Friday Club could be seen carrying books across the roads at the Four Corners. Fred used his wheelbarrow. 

From the historian’s records, “Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur’s decade of selfless devotion to the library and their physical involvement in each of the four moves was recognized at a tea in the library in 1952. Because of their vision and effort the small library had grown from a cultural luxury to a necessary institution in the eyes of the people of Penfield.”