Early Illinois Women

Mahala Phelps (1845-1932), librarian

Miss Mahala Phelps

Macomb Library
(Carnegie building) [top],
Miss Phelps [rt],
Edith Whitson Trail, member original library board [lt]

Mahala Phelps served the Macomb community as a librarian for almost fifty years. During her half-century in the Macomb library, she influenced the reading materials for the young people of the community and supported their education.

Miss Phelps was born in Macomb in 1845 and was a life-long resident of the city. She began her career as a teacher. In 1881, community members established a public library. At age 36, Miss Phelps became the librarian, a role which she would continue for the next half-century.

The first library opened in 1882 in a back room over a jewelry store on the south side of the Macomb square. The library owned a few hundred books and was open just 2 days each week. In 1883, the library moved to an upstairs room in City Hall.

The generosity of Andrew Carnegie made it possible for the library to construct its own building. The Carnegie building opened on South Lafayette in 1904. The Macomb City Library still (1998) occupies the building. (An addition to the north side expands the original building.) Prior to the move in 1904, Miss Phelps had devised a cataloging system for the books. When the library moved to the new building, Miss Margaret Dunbar, librarian of the Western State Teachers College (now Western Illinois University), assisted in migrating the cataloging system to a standard system.

Miss Phelps continued as librarian until about 1928. Even in retirement, she maintained an active interest in the institution. Miss Phelps took great care in choosing the books available on the library shelves. During the early days, she read each book and only those books she approved were made available in the library. She paid particular attention to young readers and assisted many school children with their projects. Her influence was felt over several generations of Macomb residents.


  1. "Miss Phelps Funeral on Wednesday: Gave Life time of Service at Macomb Public Library", Macomb Daily Journal, Macomb, IL. Oct. 18, 1932.
  2. Crabb, Richard. "Macomb Library to Celebrate 48 Years of Service During the Coming Week", Peoria Star, Peoria, IL. Apr. 6, 1930.
  3. Hallwas, John E. (1990) "Women at Work", in Macomb: A Pictorial History, G. Bradley Publishing, Inc., St. Louis, MO.

Contributing Library:

Macomb Public Library, Macomb, Illinois

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