Mary E. Frayser

Estelline Paxton Walker*

The South Carolina Library Association is honored to present to librarian and library trustees of the American Library Association, Mary E. Frayser, chairman of the South Carolina State Library Board and outstanding library trustee in South Carolina. Mary E. Frayser has made conspicuous contribution to library development in South Carolina. It is largely due to her efforts that today thirty-two of South Carolina's forty-six counties have county-wide library service, that a state library extension agency has been established to promote library development, and that South Carolina has excellent library laws.

Mary E. Frayser is a Virginian who came to South Carolina in 1912 to work with the extension service of Winthrop College. Her first job was to promote community improvement in rural and mill village communities. One of the greatest needs she discovered was for books and reading materials. Books and magazines were all but nonexistent in most homes she visited and in others the supply was far from adequate. Realizing that any program for general adult education and community recreation necessitated reading and the ready availability of reading material, she set herself the goal of public library service for every citizen of the state.

When Miss Frayser began her work in South Carolina, there was not a public library in the state worthy of the name. Charleston and a few other cities had subscription libraries from which, upon the payment of an annual fee, the patron could borrow books. A few reading rooms had been established and were being operated by the club women of the state, but they were far from being real libraries. Miss Frayser seized upon this interest in libraries shown by the women's clubs and, using their interest and her own position in the various clubs, went to work for a state-wide system of libraries. Her goal was fourfold: a state bill permitting taxation for the support of public libraries, a library association, the creation of a state library agency, and the development of state-wide library service.

The passage in 1915 of a bill to permit taxation for the support of public libraries was the first step toward the realization of Miss Frayser's library plans. She had begun work in 1913 on the commission bill and for fifteen years worked actively through her club affiliations for the passage of the bill. There was not a woman's club in the state and few men's clubs which did not have libraries on their legislative program. For years she served as library and education chairman in the South Carolina Federation of Women's Clubs, the State Congress of Parents and Teachers, the State Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, the American Home Economics Association, the South Carolina Home Economics Association, and the South Carolina Division of the American Association of University Women. Miss Frayser saw to it that libraries came first in every club program for civic improvement.

In 1928, as the result of a survey made by Miss Frayser, Clemson College published the pamphlet, The Use of Leisure in Eight South Carolina Counties. The lack and the need of reading material which this study revealed was instrumental in arousing the interest of the legislature and resulted in the passage of a bill establishing the state library board as an extension agency, but with no provision for support. Miss Frayser became a member of the first state library board and, through her efforts and the efforts of other board members, one thousand dollars was raised which was generously matched by the Rosenwald Foundation. From 1929 until 1932 the board was able to employ a trained library field worker, but in 1933, due to the general depression, funds were cut off. The work of the field agent and of the board resulted in the publication of a research bulletin by the experiment station of Clemson College entitled The Libraries of South Carolina. This bulletin emphasized the lack of libraries and the reading needs of the entire state and aroused so much public interest that a meeting of leading citizens was called by the president of Clemson College to discuss South Carolina's library needs and to plan methods of meeting them. The meeting resulted in the formation of the citizen's library association of which Mary E. Frayser became vice president.

Campaign During Depression

During the lean years of the depression, Miss Frayser continued her campaign for free public libraries through her chairmanships in various organizations and through the citizen's library association of which she eventually became president. The W.P.A. program seemed to offer an opportunity for library development, and three days after the director of women's work was appointed to South Carolina, Miss Frayser had appealed to her for a state library program in W.P.A. The eventual establishment of a library division of W.P.A. gave tremendous impetus to library work in the state.

In 1936 the State Library Bill of 1929 was revised and the revision passed by the state legislature. Two years later Miss Frayser managed to secure one thousand dollars from the state and Helen Gordon Stewart was brought to the state for five months of survey and recommendation.

When notice was received that the W.P.A. would go out of existence in the spring of 1943, Miss Frayser immediately planned to salvage the library progress made under W.P.A. by securing a state appropriation for the work of the state library board. She enlisted the help of every organization in the state and through a vigorous campaign managed to an emergency appropriation of three thousand dollars to operate the state board from April until July 1943 when the legislature's appropriation of fifteen thousand dollars would become available. Since that date the appropriation for the state library board has been increased annually. This year (1947) the legislature more than doubled the previous amounts.

Miss Frayser would be the last person in the state to say that hers has be a one-man job. She has the interested cooperation of a large group of organizations and friends of libraries, but hers have been the drive, the unflagging enthusiasm, and the determination that have made the library program of South Carolina a reality. The thirty-two county libraries, the city and town libraries of the state, the school library program, and the state library board owe their existence in a large part to her untiring work.

* Miss Walker is at present executive secretary of the South Carolina State Library Board. She served five years with the Army library service, four years as post librarian at Fort Jackson, S.C., and one year as materials-supply librarian for the army library program in Europe. She went to the Army from the Lawson McGhee Library in Knoxville, Tenn., where she was the head of the county department. She is a graduate of he University of Tennessee and of the Emory University Library School.

Permission granted by the American Library Association, Copyright 1947 from ALA Bulletin.