One for the books



1957_0714_foy_pix July 14, 1957
Los Angeles

At 95, Mary Foy has the formula for longevity: Watch your health, keep mentally active and be Irish. 

The Times catches up with Foy and her "double cousin," Ella Foy O'Gorman, as the women celebrate their 95th birthdays in the home they share at 1706 S. Menlo Ave.

Foy is of special significance because she became the city's first librarian–in 1879–and where would we researchers be without librarians?

Born on July 13, 1862, Foy was the first of 10 children, The Times said in 1933, the daughter of Samuel Calvert Foy, a saddlemaker, and Lucinda Macy, who learned the alphabet while crossing the country to Los Angeles in a covered wagon in 1850. Foy was born in the family home at Macy and Main streets. Her family moved to 7th Street and Figueroa about 1904, then moved again to San Rafael Heights in Pasadena.

Foy was the sole employee of the library when it was above a saloon at Main and Temple streets, at a monthly salary of $74 ($1,512.56 USD 2006). "Miss Foy once recalled that patrons of the saloon often came to her and her books to settle their arguments," The Times said in her 1962 obituary.

Five years after graduating from Los Angeles High School, she returned as a teacher and became the principal before resigning in 1901 to fight for women's suffrage. She also attended law school. A lifelong Democrat, Foy served as a national committeewoman to the Democratic National Convention in 1919 and ran for Congress in 1934. She helped found the pioneer organization that became the First Century Families of California and was active in the Native Daughters of the Golden West.

For her, the most interesting time in local history was 1867 to 1876, when "Los Angeles awoke from being a sleepy pueblo and began to grow into a modern American city," The Times said.

At 95, she and her cousin were "smart as paint and wise as serpents," living in a home full of books, manuscripts and artifacts of the past, The Times said. "The orderly little house is neat and workmanlike, with a marked mental aura. The cousins betray a persisting love of adornment with their bright dresses with pleated ruffles at the necklines, strands of pearls and brooches."

As for never marrying, Foy said: "I wasn't prejudiced against it" (one story, in fact noted that she was "much too pretty to be a bluestocking"). "I was too busy to think of it."



In the 1940s, she led the unsuccessful fight to preserve the 1873 Los Angeles High School on Fort Moore Hill, which was demolished in 1949 to make way for the Hollywood Freeway. The redwood building was too expensive to move, the group decided. The wrecking company planned to cut part of the building into sections to be sold as storerooms.

Foy died Feb. 18, 1962, and was buried at Evergreen Cemetery after lying in state at City Hall. She was the oldest living graduate of Los Angeles High School.

I'll leave you with two memorable quotes:

When asked about their social lives, Foy and O'Gorman said they went out occasionally even at the age of 95, "However our constant companion is right in this house. It is the dictionary," they said.

"I've lived through dozens of depressions," Foy said in 1933. "Whenever the rains failed we had 'em for one thing. Californians have faced disaster too often to be scared about this one. We always bounce back."

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About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1957, books, Cemeteries, City Hall and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to One for the books

  1. Bruce says:

    Foy’s house at 7th and Figueroa was on the site of what is now the Wiilshire Grand hotel. Here are three historical photographs of the site:

    –If you’ll take a close look, you’ll notice that I said her family lived there. I believe she had moved out at that point.
    Thanks for reading!


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