Once Upon a Time

Public library flourished under devoted leader's care

This photo shows the interior of the Quincy Public Library in the 1890s, not long after it was built at Fourth and Maine. Margaret Ringier was appointed deputy librarian in 1896. The woman is not identified. | Photo courtesy of The Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County
Posted: Jun. 24, 2018 1:00 am Updated: Jun. 24, 2018 2:00 am

Margaret Ringier, head librarian at the Quincy Public Library, confronted her tobacco-chewing patrons.

She posted signs around the library on Nov. 9, 1921, declaring: "Warning--No Spitting! Fine $2 to $20."

Tobacco-chewers reading in the library found themselves without a place to spit, choosing to either expel their juices on the floor or behind the radiator.

While there were few main culprits, their habit was a disturbance to other patrons and detrimental to the building. She gave her patrons the options of abstaining from chewing tobacco while in the building, abstaining from spitting inside the library if they did chew, or to be hauled into court and penalized for committing a nuisance in a public place.

Ringier had been working at the library for almost 30 years at this point, and her name was closely linked with the excellent reputation and success of the library. This story is just one example of her commitment to a comfortable and clean space.

Margaret Ringier was born Feb. 21, 1866, in Quincy, to her Swedish father, Oscar Ringier, and her German mother, Wilhelmina. Her family grew up in a house on the south side of Quincy, with Margaret receiving her early education in the Quincy public schools and private tutoring in literature and languages.

Ringier went on to complete library training at the University of Illinois and University of Minnesota. She was reported to be a fine scholar in German and in French as well as English.

In 1892, Margaret joined the staff of the library. She was listed as an assistant in 1895 library reports.

The Quincy Public Library was initially known as the Quincy Free Public Library and Reading Room. On March 5, 1841, a group of men met in an office of the old courthouse to discuss organizing the Quincy Library Association. Maj. J.H. Holton presided over the meeting and Lorenzo Bull was secretary. A five-member committee was created to draft a constitution and bylaws, which were adopted March 13, 1841. On March 20, officers were elected: E.J. Phillips, president; Dr. J.N. Ralston, vice president; Lorenzo Bull, secretary; C.M. Woods, treasurer; and Andrew Johnson, W.H. Taylor, J.R. Randolph, N. Summers and Joseph Lyman, directors. The association also was granted a charter of incorporation at this meeting under Illinois state law.

The library had a slow because it lacked funding. A system of subscriptions and donations was set up to encourage residents to participate in the library, helping expand the collection to 735 books by Dec. 6, 1841.

In January 1878, a public reading room was discussed by the Red Ribbon Club of Quincy, and in September, when the local club was transformed into a new association, it also established a free reading room for Quincy.

In March 1879, the Free Reading Room moved to the Rogers Building on the southeast corner of Sixth and Vermont. In May, the Quincy Library's property was transferred to the Free Reading Room, allowing the circulating library to be open for subscribers each weekday for the first time. Lucy Keyes Rutherford was appointed librarian.

In the late 1880s a fund drive raised $20,000. This allowed the library to be open to the entire population instead of 300 subscribers.

On March 14, 1887, a committee was established to consider building a library. The committee proposed that the Quincy Library and Free Reading Room buy property and build a structure on the condition that the city agree by ordinance to appropriate not less than $5,000 annually toward the maintenance of the combined Library and Reading Room.

The city agreed, and the committee proceeded with the plans. It received property with an estimated value of $12,000 on the southwest corner of Fourth and Maine as a donation.

Citizen contributions to the building fund brought the property and fund value to over $40,000. The property was then leased to the city of Quincy for a 99-year term.

The Quincy Public Library was built during 1888-89 at a cost of $45,000. The building had space for 20,000 volumes and allowed for expansion up to 60,000 volumes.

After moving the collections and furniture from both the Quincy Library and the Free Reading Room Association, the library was ready to open June 24, 1889.

The library continued to grow after this, with citizens donating various collections over the years.

In 1896, Margaret Ringier was appointed deputy librarian. She was especially helpful in classifying the large amount of German works because of her fluency in the language. In 1902, she was appointed head librarian after the retirement of Elizabeth Wales.

Under the direction of Ringier, the Quincy Library flourished, becoming one of the finest in the state and containing 57,000 volumes in 1939. The efforts of Quincy's devoted librarian did not go unnoticed, as she was the first Quincy woman to be included in the Women's Who's Who in America.

Margaret Ringier died Aug. 6, 1939, after a six-month illness, in her home at 612 S. Sixth. She left a 37-year legacy at the Quincy Free Library.

While her final illness had confined Ringier to home much of the time, she continued to complete her duties as librarian up to her death.

One of her last official acts as librarian was the completion of the monthly report on the library's activities. Her obituary in The Quincy Herald-Whig reported: "In fact, it can easily be said that Miss Ringier's knowledge of books exceeded that of any other Quincyan and that her fund of general knowledge seemed inexhaustible." Ringier took her job seriously, with the paper reporting that while her illness kept her home, she had seen that library bills due Aug. 1 had already been paid and all library affairs were in order at the time of her death. Ringier is buried in Woodland Cemetery.


Melissa DeVerger is a librarian and a Quincy native with an interest in history.



1930 United States Federal Census. Digital images. http://ancestry.com.


Deck, Judy Joyce. "History of the Quincy Free Public Library and Reading Room," Quincy, Ill., 1841-1930. University of Missouri-Columbia, 1974.


"Library Board's Annual Meeting." The Quincy Daily Journal, Aug. 12, 1896, p. 7.


"Margaret Ringier Dead in her Home Sunday Morning." The Quincy Herald-Whig, Aug. 7, 1939, p. 10.


Nelson, Iris. " ‘A Cozy Temple of Knowledge' Located in the Center of Quincy." Quincy Herald Whig, Sept. 6, 2012.


"No Change in the Force." The Quincy Daily Journal, July 11, 1895, p. 7.


"Tobacco Chewers Will Have to Do Reading at Home." The Quincy Daily Herald, Nov. 10, 1921, p. 14.


U.S. Find a Grave Index, 1600s-current. Digital images. http://ancestry.com.


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