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  • Writer's pictureLocal History Collection

Mary Frances Pearsall Lynch: Bryant Library’s first paid librarian

Born in 1877 in the old Roslyn Hotel that stood on the southeast corner of East Broadway and Old Northern Boulevard, Mary Pearsall Lynch (1877-1943) was a lifelong resident of Roslyn Village and served as the Bryant Library’s first paid librarian. Her father, Jeremiah Pearsall, operated the hotel assisted by his wife, Katherine. Mary attended the Roslyn Village School as well as Friends Academy in Locust Valley. In 1900, she married Peter Lynch, Jr., the son of a local steamboat captain. Her only child, Peter Elmer Lynch, was born in 1901. 

General Service Administration record listing Mary Pearsall Lynch under Postmasters

Unlike many women of the time, Mary worked outside the home throughout her life. Before marriage, she was employed as a bookkeeper for the William Witte General Store on Skillman Street. Afterward, she worked with her husband in operating the Nassau House Hotel on School Street (now Old Northern Boulevard). When Peter died in 1916, Mary was appointed as Acting Postmaster of the Roslyn Post Office, serving in his stead between October 1916 and March 1917.

As a widow who needed to support herself and her young son, Mary learned the skills needed to become a private social secretary. In a hand-typed memoir housed in the Local History Collection, Peter Elmer Lynch recalled that “She taught herself how to type. She bought a second-hand typewriter….She learned shorthand, she became very proficient at it.” He went on to describe how she became social secretary to some of the area’s wealthy residents, writing “she eventually became social secretary for Ms. Benjamin Stern,...She did the same type of work for the Godwins,... for the Morgans, for the Jays.”

Mary Lynch in her passport photo

He also recalled that “Somewhere’s around 1923 my mother was appointed librarian. The Godwins at that time had pretty much control of the library, and I think that [it was] probably through her acquaintance with them.” Harold Godwin was the grandson of William Cullen Bryant, and was actively involved in the civic life of Roslyn. He was on the Board of Trustees of the Bryant Circulating Library Association, founded in 1878, and was also a member of the Roslyn Neighborhood Association Library Committee. At a time when both libraries were struggling to stay in operation, he advocated for combining the two libraries into one. Mary oversaw the consolidation of the two libraries when the agreement was finalized in December 1924, including arranging to move the Roslyn Neighborhood House (now the Valentine House Library Annex) to Bryant Hall.

According to Peter Elmer Lynch, Mary was dedicated to her job. He described the impact that she had on the Bryant Library, writing: 

“I don’t remember the hours. All I know is that when she took charge of the library they began to receive funds from somewhere, I think it was from the school, and they started to buy books and they put the library on a usable basis. And it grew quite rapidly. The use of the library grew to the extent that they had to engage an assistant librarian whose name was Catherine Zadrill; very nice young girl who lived up the East Turnpike.”

Passport pages with signature, occupation, and place of residency

In addition to being smart and organized, Mary was a progressive and adventurous woman. Although not professionally trained as a librarian, she was active in the New York Library Association. In 1929, she paid her way to attend the First World Congress of Libraries and Bibliography held in Rome, Italy. Sponsored by the newly formed International Federation of Library Associations, this gathering was attended by librarians representing library associations from 14 European countries and the United States. Her love of travel continued throughout her life and, after leaving the library, she traveled by bus around the United States and Canada. 

Mary Pearsall Lynch is buried in Roslyn Cemetery.


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