Staff Losses: Tragedies and Ironies

From the mid-1950s until the 1970s, the State Library enjoyed a period of unprecedented growth and stability while earning a place of leadership and respect among state libraries. However, that period was also marked by illness and death of a number of its able administrators – many in their peak years. Assistant State Librarian Helene Rogers’ illness marked the beginning. On March 25, 1954 – two days after her 50th birthday – Rogers suffered a debilitating stroke in her office. She was stricken on the same day that a crucial meeting of the Illinois State Library Advisory Committee was to be held to address the book-banning controversy. The meeting was subsequently canceled. Rogers, who died on May 3, 1968, was affected by the stroke for the rest of her life and never again walked without difficulty. 1

Rogers was not the only high-ranking library employee to fall victim at a young age. On May 20, 1957, Eloise Kissinger, the head of the State Library’s Art Unit, died after a four-day hospital stay. She was 54 years old. On July 10 – less than two months later – Clara Curran, the Chief of Technical Services, died at age 50. On Jan. 8, 1963, library staffers were left to mourn the passing of Dorothy Bailey, the head of the Illinois Documents Unit, who was found dead in her home. The 63-year-old Bailey’s passing marked the third death of a State Library administrator in less than six years. 2

Around this same time, two State Librarians also died in office within a six-year span. On April 3, 1964, Secretary of State Charles Carpentier died at age 67 after 11 years in his position. His eventual successor, Paul Powell, died midway through his second term on Oct. 10, 1970, at age 68. The Secretary of State whose term separated the two was William H. Chamberlain, who had been appointed to fill the remaining nine months of Carpentier’s term. Chamberlain died at age 41 on Oct. 12, 1972, following a lengthy illness. 3

Powell’s death came only 10 days after the sudden death of former Deputy State Librarian de Lafayette Reid, who suffered a massive heart attack on Oct. 1, 1970. Ironically, Reid, 55, was in Springfield at the time of his death to attend a banquet honoring Powell. 4

Within memory of many State Library employees in the 1960s and 1970s was the June 28, 1944, death of Edward Hughes, another of the more influential State Librarians, who died at age 55. In all, six State Librarians have died in office: Horace Cooley (April 2, 1850); James Rose (May 29, 1912); Harry Woods (October 11, 1914, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound); Hughes; Carpentier; and Powell. 5

  1. Interview with Agnes Hembreiker, Sept. 25, 2008; Illinois State Journal May 4, 1968; Illinois State Library Advisory Committee Minutes, March 25, 1954.
  2. Illinois State Journal May, 21, 1957, July 10, 1957, Jan. 9, 1963.
  3. Howlett 140-151.
  4. Rockford Star Oct. 3, 1970; Northern Star Oct. 5, 1970.
  5. Howlett 62, 99, 110-111.