In the early 20th century the Crestwood neighborhood was physically separated from the rest of Yonkers and its resources, including the downtown branch of the Yonkers Public Library. Miles of vacant land and inadequate transportation made the existing library highly inaccessible.1 By 1920, almost 40 years after the original branch of the Library was established, requests for a local branch of the library in Crestwood had been largely ignored.
On January 25th, 1921 Belle Healey invited a group of women to meet at her home in order to organize the Crestwood Women’s Club. A central goal of the Club would be to establish a free library in Crestwood. On February 8th, a Library Committee was formed consisting of Lou Willson, Margaret Cardwell, Sarah Cameron, Mary Ogle, Jean Speckel, and Elsie Bristol, with Willson as the chairman. Together the Library Committee decided that the Crestwood branch should be under community direction, and set up a Library Association centered around the Crestwood Women’s Club in order to receive a charter and annual grants from the State of New York. From this point forward, the original six members of the Library Committee became trustees. By April, the Library Association had secured a spare room at Public School 15 to be used until a different location could be secured. On May 31st, the Library was granted a five year provisional charter by the state, and on July 8th the Crestwood Library opened with a collection of 800 books and Belle Healey as the first volunteer librarian.
Throughout the following years the Library Association mostly concerned themselves with fundraising activities. On June 3, 1922 Jean Speckel and her husband Gustave hosted a “Rainbow Bazaar” at their home, featuring a variety of booths, refreshments, and entertainers, raising around $2,500 for the Library’s building fund.2 On June 17, the Crestwood Women’s Club held another fundraiser, this time in the form of a lawn party at Public School 16.3 For several years, Crestwood residents’ social life revolved around library fundraisers. Cake sales, card games, and lawn parties not only provided entertainment for residents, but raised thousands of dollars for the library.4
On May 22nd, 1924 the Library Board of Trustees authorized Joshua M. Fiero Jr. to bid up to $3,500 on a plot of land on the corner of Thompson Street and Chittenden Avenue to house a permanent library building.5 The land was purchased for $1,200, and by October the City Architect had approved plans for the building. In January 1925, the Mayor of Yonkers stated that building construction would start in March and that the City would contribute up to $20,000. In reality, building construction wouldn’t start until the end of the year, as ground was broken on December 22nd. On September 15th, 1926 the Library Association handed jurisdiction over the Library building to the City, and at a dedication ceremony on October 16th the Library Association and the Board of Trustees were dissolved as the Library came under the City’s full direction.
It is important to note the role of local women in the creation of the Crestwood Library. In a time where women had just gained the right to vote and still couldn’t open a bank account without their husband’s signature, these women’s involvement in their community’s affairs is doubly impressive.6
Sarah Cameron was one of the initial six members of the Library Committee of the Crestwood Women’s Club that formed in 1921 during the initial push for a library, and later joined the Library Committee.7 In 1926 she served as the secretary for the library following its opening.8
Outside of her dedication to the Library, Cameron was an active member of the local Republican Party, even serving as County Committeewoman for the First Election District in the early 1920s.9 At the same time, she was part of the Committee of One Hundred of the Westchester County Educational Conference, serving on the Committee on Better Organization of Regular Schools and the Committee on High School Education.10 Cameron was also a member of the Federated Parent-Teachers Association.11 In 1924 Cameron was elected to be the Woman Superintendent of the Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church’s Sunday school program, and was involved in the Women’s Home and Foreign Missionary Societies.12 Cameron was also involved in the League of Women Voters.13 In 1926 she served as president of the Crestwood Women’s Club, and as vice president in1929.14 In 1927 Cameron was accepted as a committee member for the Yonkers Visiting Nurses Association.15 Also in 1927, she became the head of the Parliamentary Law educational branch of the Crestwood Women’s Club.16 She was also a member of the Crestwood branch of the American Red Cross.17
Starting in 1921, Lou Willson served as the chairman of the initial Library Committee, and was responsible for much of the back-and-forth communication between the Library Committee and State and City agencies.18 Willson was also the president of the Library Association, and in the 1930s she served as Crestwood’s librarian.19
Like Sarah Cameron, Willson was involved in the Women’s Home and Foreign Missionary Societies of the Asbury Methodist Church.20 In 1928, Willson was elected president of the Crestwood Women’s Club and made plans to use her new position to create a local Post Office, establish a community chest, and reorganize the Girl Scout troop.21 As president, she also cosponsored the creation of a Junior League of the Women’s Club.22
In a way, Belle Healey could be considered the initiator of the effort to build a library in Crestwood.23 She organized the Crestwood Women’s Club and subsequent Library Committee in her own home on January 25th, 1921.24 Though she was not initially a member of the Library Committee, she was the first volunteer librarian when the Library was housed at Public School 15. Newspaper articles indicate that by 1926, Healey had joined the Library Committee, and by 1927 she was specifically on the book committee.25 Outside of her involvement in the Library, an article in the Yonkers Herald from May 23, 1928 suggests that Healey had been president of the Crestwood Women’s Club at some point between 1921 and 1928.26 She also cosponsored the Junior League of the Crestwood Women’s Club alongside Lou Willson, and in 1929 she was elected as the Women’s Club’s Library Trustee.27 Healey was also active in the “Household Arts Group” of the Club, directing the “English Group.”28
Though she was not initially a member of the effort to establish a library in Crestwood, Jane Cole was referenced as a member of the Library Committee in a 1926 article in the Yonkers Herald.29 Cole was also an active member of the Crestwood community outside of her work for the Library. In 1924 she served as the scout commissioner for the Crestwood-Tuckahoe Girl Scout Council.30 Like Sarah Cameron and Lou Willson, Cole was an active member of the Home and Foreign Missionary Societies of the Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church, becoming its president by 1934.31 In 1930 Cole had been elected president of the Ladies’ Aid Society of the same church.32 Like Sarah Cameron, she was active in the local Republican Party, specifically in the “dramatic group” in 1928, and in the Westchester County Women’s Republican Club in 1930.33 As a member of the Crestwood Women’s Club, she assisted in Lou Willson’s 1928 project to revive the Crestwood Girl Scout troop.34 In 1929 she was active in the Club’s “Household Arts Group,” and in 1930 she was the chairman of the “hostess committee.”35 In 1932 she became the chairman of the Club’s “American Home Group.”36
Jean Speckel was one of the initial six members of the Library Committee.37 She and her husband hosted the “Rainbow Bazaar” at their home in 1922 to raise money for the library building, and in 1927, she became the treasurer of the Library Committee38
Margaret Cardwell was also a member of the original 1921 Library Committee.39 In a 1926 article in the Yonkers Herald, she was listed as the secretary for the Committee, and a 1927 article states that she was the treasurer from July 1921 to the end of 1926.40
Elsie Bristol was also on the original six-person Library Committee, however by November 1923 her name no longer appeared on the list of Committee members.41 Instead of Bristol, lists of Committee members from this point on include Mrs. Elsa F. Jordan.42 Mary Ogle was also a member of the original Committee.43
These women’s legacies live on today, as the Crestwood Library still operates out of the location on the corner of Thompson Street and Chittenden Avenue, providing library resources, programming and a spirit of community for the area.44
This article was researched and written by Laurel Collins, CLIP intern at Yonkers Riverfront Library, a rising sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College.
1 Harriet S. Gordon, “History of the Crestwood Branch of the Yonkers Public Library,” (master’s thesis, Graduate Library School of Long Island University, 1969), 11-18.
2 “Get $2,500 for Crestwood Library at Pleasing Bazaar,” Yonkers Statesman and Yonkers Daily News (Yonkers, NY), Jun. 5, 1922, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/675970587.
3 “Crestwood Library Fund Fete, Tonight,” Yonkers Herald (Yonkers, NY), Jun. 17, 1922, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676544071.
4 Harriet S. Gordon, 19-20.
5 Harriet S. Gordon, 25-29.
6 Jamela Adam, “When Could Women Open A Bank Account,” fact checked by Elizabeth Aldrich, Forbes Advisor, Forbes, Mar. 20, 2023, https://www.forbes.com/advisor/banking/when-could-women-open-a-bank-account/#:~:text=It%20wasn't%20until%201974, a%20signature%20from%20their%20husbands..
7 Harriet S. Gordon, 12. Sarah Cameron is often referred to as Mrs. William D. Cameron. 8 “Library Roof is Trustee Charge,” Yonkers Herald (Yonkers, NY), Apr. 17, 1926, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676815753.
9 “Republicans Of Eleventh Meet To Secure Harmony,” Yonkers Statesman and Yonkers Daily News (Yonkers, NY), Jun. 16, 1922, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/675973004.
10 “Educational Congress Now Organized,” Port Chester Daily Item (Port Chester, NY), Mar. 27, 1922. https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/713978120.
11 “Conference On Friday,” Yonkers Statesman and Yonkers Daily News (Yonkers, NY), Nov. 22, 1922. https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/675967161.
12 “Sunday School Board At Crestwood Elects,” Yonkers Herald (Yonkers, NY), Mar. 20, 1924. https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676626740; “Crestwood Mission Circle’s Election,” Yonkers Herald (Yonkers, NY), Nov. 19, 1924, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676821066.
13 “League of Women Voters To Convene on May 7,” Yonkers Statesman and Yonkers Daily News (Yonkers, NY), Apr. 3, 1924, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676169139.
14 “Crestwood Opens Its New Library With Ceremonies,” Yonkers Statesman (Yonkers, NY), Oct. 18, 1926, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676127685; “Mrs. Willson Chosen To Head Crestwood Organization Again,” Yonkers Statesman (Yonkers, NY), May 23, 1929, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676170269.
15 “Visiting Nurses’ Society Meeting,” Yonkers Herald (Yonkers, NY), Apr. 5, 1927, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676656041.
16 “Woman’s Club To Form Branches,” Yonkers Herald (Yonkers, NY), Oct. 1, 1927, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676816996.
17 “No. East Yonkers,” Yonkers Herald (Yonkers, NY), Oct. 22, 1927, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676822478.
18 Harriet S. Gordon, 14-22. Lou Willson is often referred to as Mrs. Myron J. Willson.
19 “Work Starts Today On New Crestwood Library,” Yonkers Statesman (Yonkers, NY), Dec. 21, 1925. https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676033696; “Many Recent Books Added To Shelves Of Crestwood’s Library,” Herald Statesman (Yonkers, NY), Nov. 19, 1935, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/677033851.
20 “Crestwood Mission Circle’s Election.”
21 “Crestwood Woman’s Club Holds Annual Election And Plans Extensive Program For Coming Year,” Yonkers Herald (Yonkers, NY), May 23, 1928, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676666357.
22 “Crestwood Juniors To Meet Thursday,” Yonkers Statesman (Yonkers, NY), Jun. 22, 1928, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676124853.
23 Belle Healey is often referred to as Mrs. Horace Healey.
24 Harriet S. Gordon, 12-17.
25 “Library Roof Is Trustee Charge”; “Crestwood Committee Reports On The History And Activity Of The Library,” Yonkers Herald
(Yonkers, NY), Oct. 13, 1927, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676819991.
26 “Crestwood Woman’s Club Holds Annual Election And Plans Extensive Program For Coming Year.”
27 “Crestwood Juniors To Meet Thursday”; “Mrs. Willson Chosen To Head Crestwood Organization Again.”
28 “Household Arts Meeting,” Yonkers Statesman (Yonkers, NY), Nov. 5, 1929, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676129913.
29 “Library Roof Is Trustee Charge.” Jane Cole is often referred to as Mrs. C. Ray Cole.
30 “Personal Mention,” Yonkers Herald (Yonkers, NY), Jan. 19, 1924, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676623934.
31 “Asbury Centenary,” Herald Statesman (Yonkers, NY), Sep. 19, 1934, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/677056973. 32 “Mrs. C. Ray Cole Aid Society President,” Yonkers Herald (Yonkers, NY), Jun. 4, 1930, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/677046807.
33“No. East Yonkers,” Yonkers Herald (Yonkers, NY), Jun. 22, 1928, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676669466; “G.O.P. Women At Luncheon in N.Y.,” Yonkers Herald (Yonkers, NY), May 20, 1930, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/677045562. 34 “No. East Yonkers,” Yonkers Herald (Yonkers, NY), Jun. 6, 1928, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676668363.
35 “Household Arts Meeting.”; “Officers of Crestwood Woman’s Club,” Yonkers Statesman (Yonkers, NY), Mar. 27, 1930,
36 “Crestwood Groups,” Herald Statesman (Yonkers, NY), Oct. 8, 1932, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/677033557.
37 Harriet S. Gordon, 12. Jean Speckel is often referred to as Mrs. Gustave Speckel.
38 “Get $2,500 for Crestwood Library at Pleasing Bazaar;” “Crestwood Committee Reports On The History And Activity Of The Library.”
39 Harriet S. Gordon, 12. Margaret Cardwell is often referred to as Mrs. George A. Cardwell.
40 “Library Roof Is Trustee Charge.”; “Crestwood Committee Reports On The History And Activity Of The Library.” Elsie Bristol is often referred to as Mrs. I. B. Bristol.
41 Harriet S. Gordon, 12; “Crestwood Library Association Meets,” Yonkers Herald (Yonkers, NY), Nov. 13, 1923, https://yplonsite.newspapers.com/image/676657012.
42 Mrs. Elsa F. Jordan’s first name is unknown.
43 Mary Ogle is often referred to as Mrs. George H. Ogle.
44 “Crestwood Library,” Yonkers Public Library, accessed Jul. 17, 2023, https://www.ypl.org/crestwood-library.