Leading Lady: Miss Wilson Makes a Library
It’s hard to imagine Western without the Mabel Zoe Wilson Library. Its elegant, Italianate brick façade has graced the south end of the green swathe in front of Old Main since 1928. But when the famously feisty, determined woman for whom the building is now named first set foot on campus, there was no separate structure serving as a library, and there was barely a library collection at all.
“There just wasn’t a library,” Mabel Zoe Wilson was to exclaim many years later, recalling her reaction on February 1, 1902, her first day on the job. On the uppermost floor of the institution’s only building at the time (now Old Main), she saw a few reference books, a great pile of disorganized magazines shoved into a corner, and perhaps 400 to 500 additional books. A sheaf of bills from book firms and some lists of items to be ordered constituted the official records.
For the next 43 years, Mabel Zoe Wilson made it her life’s work to wrest a functioning, well stocked, superbly organized academic library from virtually nothing. “Her dedication to one library was total,” remarked a colleague, and her leadership nothing short of remarkable in the face of significant challenges as Western grew and as its mission and purpose evolved throughout the first half of the 20th century.
Born in 1878 in Athens, Ohio, Mabel Zoe Wilson was not trained as a librarian; rather, her degree from Athens’ Ohio University, earned in 1900, resulted from a course of study that included Greek, political economy, and rhetoric.