Bluffs and Piasa Bird, 2016

Charles Gravius Memorial Library

November 17, 2016

Last modified: February 5, 2019

The Charles Gravius Memorial Library in Marine, Illinois, located on 202 E. Silver St., provides local residents with a free public library ranging from books for children and adults to local history books. Open two days a week, Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings, it is a non-tax funded, volunteer-run library. This building has a rich history dating back to women’s suffrage, progressing with the town and its needs throughout the twentieth-century.

Photograph of the one-story Charles Gravius Memorial Library in 2016

The Charles Gravius Memorial Library, 2016
Photo by Jessica Mills

The building was originally built in 1910 as a chapter house for the American Woman’s League (AWL).  Of the 258 chapters created for the AWL, only 39 buildings were constructed before 1911 when Edward Lewis, the founder of the AWL and publisher of women’s magazines, developed money problems. The intended purpose of the organization was to provide a space for social, educational, and culture activities that promoted women’s suffrage.1 Madison County was in a unique location because the AWL originated in St. Louis, Missouri, resulting in Marine, Alton, and Edwardsville gaining knowledge of the AWL and building their chapter houses quickly. While many houses were built in Missouri, the closeness of St. Louis, especially with train access, made constructing chapter houses quick and less expensive.  There were five classes of chapter houses erected:2

Class Total Cost Population Number of Paid Members Required Lot Size
Class I $1,200 500-1,500 30 50×100
Class II $2,500 1,500-3,000 60 50×100
Class III $4,000 3,000-5,000 100 60×100
Class IV $5,000 5,000-10,000 140 75×100
Class V $7,300 10,000-15,000 200 100×100

The different chapters depended on the town’s population and how many members of the AWL the town had. The larger the town the bigger the chapter house was built to accommodate a larger population. Edwardsville, a Class II Chapter House, was built in 1909 along with Alton, a Class III Chapter House, and Marine followed in 1910.3

Marine was a Class I house, which was the smallest membership. The Jeffress Chapter of Marine was named after A.W. Jeffress, who donated land for the building.4 Members of this chapter included:

President: Mrs. J.R. Farthing

First Vice President: Miss Maria Keller

Second Vice President: Mrs. E. Shepherd

Treasurer: Mrs. Mary E. Richardson

Secretary: Miss Marie Zimmerman5

Other members included: Mrs. Wm. Pence, Miss Katie Deibert, Mrs. L.C. Heim, Miss Mary Rawlings, Miss Kate Parker, Mrs. M. Brooks, Miss Caroline Deibert, Miss Fern Shepard, Miss Verona Weber, Miss Catherine Hentis6

The AWL borrowed their organization colors from the British suffrage movement of purple and white because their vibrancy made them easy to recognize.7 The buildings were based on a Prairie School design with Mission furnishings. Art was also a main part of the AWL, so the building came with a kiln to encourage ceramic pottery.8

After the American Woman’s League disbanded in 1912 when Edward Lewis’ publication empire failed due to financial problems, the League continued working for their right to vote.9  In 1935, the Works Progress Administration, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, transformed the chapter house into a library. After the leader of the library Charles Gravius died in 1938, his sister Emilia Gravius donated the building and funds to maintain it as a library.10

By 1975 Emilia Gravius’s donation was running out and the community kept the library open through various projects until Miss Ella Henze endowed the library, allowing it to remain open.11 The building was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1980 after it was remodeled with updated modern technologies such as plumbing, indoor electrical heating, and lighting.12 The library hosted various events throughout its history, from 4-H meetings to school band practices.

Marker on the Charles Gravius Memorial Library. It reads, This property has been listed in the national register of historical places by the untied states department of the interior, established 1911

National Register of Historical Places Marker on the Charles Gravius Memorial Library, 2016
Photo by Jessica Mills

Endnotes   [ + ]

1. Pauline Meyer, Keep Your Face to the Sunshine: A Lost History in the Chapter of Woman Suffrage. (Edwardsville, Illinois: Alcott Press, 1980). 8.
2. Graph taken from Meyer, 8.
3. Meyer, 21-24.
4. Meyer, 23.
5. American Woman’s League Chapter House, Marine, Illinois. 2003. Lewis Photograph Collection, University City Public Library, accessed December 28, 2016.
6. Meyer, 23; Earl E. Shepard, D.D.S., Marine, Illinois: An Historical Review, 1975, 52.
7. “Symbolic Suffrage Colors.” National Women’s History Museum. 2007, accessed December 28, 2016.
8. “Gravius Memioral Library.” Marine Historical Society. 2011, accessed December 28, 2016.
9. Mary Henderson Gass, “The American Woman’s League,” Preservation Issues 5, no. 2 (1995), accessed December 28, 2016.
10. Meyer, 24; Shepard, 35; Ronald W. Loos, A Walk Through Marine, From the Past to the Present: A History of Marine and Marine Township, Madison County State of Illinois, 1813-1988, June 1988, 277.
11. Meyer, 24.
12. “Gravius Memioral Library.”
Cite this article: Jessica Mills, "Charles Gravius Memorial Library," Madison Historical: The Online Encyclopedia and Digital Archive for Madison County, Illinois, last modified February 5, 2019,
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