One of the most controversial figures in Illinois State Library history is Helene Rogers, who served as Assistant State Librarian from 1937 to 1954. Rogers is remembered by those who knew her as an extremely intelligent woman with an equally strong will.
Born to a working-class family on Springfield’s north side on March 23, 1904, her strong-minded nature was apparent even in her youth, according to one relation. Dissatisfied with her given name, Helen Marie Rogers, she changed it to Helene Horen Rogers, substituting her mother’s maiden name for her given middle name. 1
Rogers attended the University of Wisconsin and the North Illinois College of Optometry. She returned to Springfield, becoming an assistant at the city’s Lincoln Library from 1918 to 1922 before moving to Evanston. There, she headed the Evanston Public Library’s South Branch until 1937. 2
One of her last acts at Evanston was the 20th anniversary celebration of the South Branch, when she led the Evanston Township High School marching band down Chicago Avenue. By then, Rogers had achieved considerable recognition in Springfield. In 1935, she was one of the most vocal proponents of the passage of a library relief bill, which became known as the Library Relief Fund. She appeared before the Illinois legislature to argue for the bill’s merits and was subsequently named executive secretary of a six-person advisory committee charged with distributing the $600,000 in funds. 3
Her work with the Library Relief Fund earned her an appointment as supervisor of Library Divisions for the State Library in 1935. She was the first person to hold the position, which had been appropriated in 1921 but never filled. Rogers served as secretary of the National Association of State Libraries from 1937 to 1939 and as president of the organization from 1939 to 1941. A devout Catholic, she was also an active member of the Catholic Library Association, serving as vice president of the Illinois Unit in 1946-47 and president in 1947-48. Rogers is also credited with helping organize the Zonta Club, a group of professional women, in Springfield. In her later years, she also contributed articles to publications such as Collier’s National Encyclopedia and served as a consultant for Illinois entries in Compton’s Encyclopedia. 4
Rogers is also credited with inventing a contraption called the “Bookometer,” which served as a reference device. Patrons could press one of the Bookometer’s many buttons to find which books to read in any one of 15 fields. The Bookometer became a staple of State Library exhibits at the Illinois State Fair and not only was a fun promotion of reading, but also a reflection of Rogers’ sometimes showmanesque style. 5
On Feb. 14, 1942, Rogers married J. Walter Marquardt, an architect for the state of Illinois. Marquardt died on July 15, 1966, but throughout her married life Rogers was referred to by her maiden name, an unusual practice for the time. A tall woman with a large frame, a close relative remembers Rogers cutting a striking figure, accentuated by tasteful attire. She chose much of her wardrobe from Chicago’s Marshall Fields department store. Equally noticeable was Rogers’ strong personality; according to the relative, “when she walked into a room, she made her presence felt.” 6
Rogers’ health declined seriously in her later years, especially after a stroke during the State Library’s censorship crisis. She was left partially paralyzed and required assistance in walking for the rest of her life. Rogers spent her retirement in Springfield and was eventually diagnosed with breast cancer. Following a three-month hospital stay, she died on May 3, 1968, and is buried in Springfield’s Calvary Cemetery. 7
- Birth Records of St. Cabrini Church, Springfield, Ill.; Interview with Agnes Hembreiker, Sept. 25, 2008.
- Daily Northwestern Nov. 20, 1992; Illinois State Journal May 5, 1968; Illinois Libraries Sept. 1968, 725.
- Daily Northwestern Nov. 20, 1992; Illinois Libraries July 1935, 94-95, Sept. 1968, 725; Mark Sorensen, “The Illinois State Library: Extension, Reorganization, and Experimentation, 1921-1955,” 134.
- Sorenson 134; Illinois State Journal May 5, 1968; Illinois Libraries Sept. 1968, 725-726.
- Evanston News Index Nov. 15, 1939.
- Sangamon County, Ill. Death Records; Illinois Libraries March 1942, 38; Interview with Agnes Hembreiker, Sept. 25, 2008.
- Interview with Agnes Hembreiker, Sept. 25, 2008; Illinois Libraries Sept. 1968, 725; Illinois State Journal May 5, 1968.