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The Librarian who Launched a Generation


She was traveling west for her health and planned to stop over in Globe to visit a friend.Little did she realize when she stepped off the train that day into the bright Arizona sunlight that she was in fact stepping into her lifework and one might say upon reflection that it seemed almost destined.It all started in October of 1925, when four women, Mrs. N.D. Brayton, G.R.Reynolds, W.E. Christianson and E.W. Wright formed a corporation for the purpose conducting studies and activities along educational, charitable, social, and economic lines.

Its membership was made up of most of the prominent women in town at the time, and they soon raised enough money to buy a lot and build a a very fine building. However, over the next five years clouds of discontent developed among the members and the association soon dissolved. The building reverted to the bank with an outstanding note of ten thousand dollars.  It was at this point that Mrs. Bertha K. LaFleur stepped in with her own plan for the building. She enlisted the support of three friends; Eugenie Downy, Iris Copp and Anna Willis and together they bought the building at the top of Adonis Avenue and launched the Miami Free Library and Civic Organization on December 12, 1930. It was anything but an auspicious time to open such a venture.

Mrs. Cheeves in her favorite place, surround by kids, exploring the world beyond Miami.
Mrs. Cheves in her favorite place, surround by kids, exploring the world beyond Miami. Circa 1940’s. Photo courtesy of the Miami Public Library.


The country was heading into the Great Depression and the ladies enterprise started with very little money, not much in the way of reading materials and a part time Librarian. The prospects for success were slim to none, so when Mrs. La Fleur learned of the young woman visiting from Washington D.C. who had worked for the Library of Congress, she made it a point to introduce herself and inquire if the woman could be persuaded to stay awhile and run the “new library.”

It is hard to know exactly what Mrs. LaFleur said to Emily Cheves that day that made her give up her journey West and settle into a little mining community just as the effects of the Stock Market crash began to be felt by the people as far away as Miami, Arizona.

But whatever it was, it was enough to persuade Mrs. Emily Cheves to accept a position.

It was in September of 1931 that Emily Cheves took over the direction of the new library. What she found was nothing like what she had known in Washington. Instead of books sitting in pristine rows, perched upon hardwood shelving and graced by light flowing in through 20ft windows, she took charge of 4 kitchen tables and just enough books to fill two small alcoves in the entryway.

As part of her agreement with the Miami Free Library and Civic Organization, a small space within the library was converted to her living quarters. Mrs. Cheves would make the library her home in more ways than one over the course of her long tenure, but the first order of business in 1931 was simply to keep the library open on a regular basis.

Since there were no funds for lights, the library opened promptly at 10 am and closed in the late afternoon when there was no longer enough sun to illuminate the pages.Yet, even this little bit provided a valuable service to the community; not the least was to offer much needed space to warm up and pass the long days of many who were suffering in the hard times and were without money or a job.

With little money to go on herself, Mrs. Cheves procured newspapers and magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Look and Life. She would eventually bind these together by years and they would later provide college students with a wealth of archives from those years. (Much later, in another time, all of these archived treasures were unceremoniously dumped at the landfill.)MrsCheeves  2481

As the year 1931 moved to a close, Mrs. Cheves become aware of a family of children living across the street from the library. She discovered they had lost both parents and their guardian was less than the stellar person the mother had envisioned for her children’s’ future. Instead he used their inheritance for his own pursuits of whiskey and gambling, leaving the children to fend for themselves.

So on that Christmas morning in 1931, Mrs. Cheves crossed the street and left a basket at their front door. A few days later all the children appeared in mass at the library to express their gratitude and the brief exchange began a friendship which would last their lifetimes. Mrs. Cheves took a special interest in the children’s early development and over the years gave each one encouragement, guidance and direction.

And when it came time, she always acted in their best interest. Having encouraged two of the sisters to go to nursing school, she was dismayed to find that the funds set up for their schooling had been sorely used up over the years by the guardian and that there was now only enough money left from the trust fund to send one sister to school – not both. Once she heard this, she invited her friend Tom O’Brien, then Vice-president and general manager of the Inspiration Consolidated Copper Company to the library to “take refreshments.”  She was aware that he knew one of the girls as she had dated the son of one of the Inspiration Hill families. By the time he had finished his refreshments, Mrs. Cheves had his commitment to underwrite the educational expenses of both girls.

She later arranged for the youngest boy to attend the Jesuit Boarding School and remained a part of the children’s lives as they went on to marry, have successful careers and begin raising children of their own. She was beacon to which they all looked and the next generation has often reflected on what their parents lives would have been like had not that guardian Angel crossed the street that Christmas morning in 1931.

Steel Magnolias & Cactus Blossoms….

As years passed, it could be said that although the South might have its Steel Magnolias, this small mining camp struggling to survive the Depression was about to meet a couple of Steel Cactus Blossoms who could give those Magnolias a run for their money. With a small tidy sum of her own capital,  it was Mrs. La Fleur with dogged determination and Mrs. Cheves with kid glove diplomacy which won over both the the locals and community and statewide leaders. Together they insured that the Miami Free Library continued to grow and thrive, even in bad times.


Photo courtesy of the Miami Memorial Library and today's Librarian, Delvan Hayward who discovered a box of old photos from the Cheeves' Era
Photo courtesy of the Miami Memorial Library and today’s Librarian, Delvan Hayward who discovered a box of old photos from the Cheeves’ Era

Then in 1938, seven years after the women got the doors opened on a new library, they paid off their mortgage. It had been a long haul but the library was becoming an integral part of the community. The war years were to bring the end of the Depression and a new attitude toward higher education with the introduction of the GI Bill. In 1962 the Federal Library and Construction Act was passed. It’s primary aim was to provide funding for under-served and/or disadvantaged communities in need of library services.  While it did bring some financial relief to small libraries like the Miami’s, it was incumbent upon local librarians to constantly find ways to run their programs and meet demands. Mrs. Cheves was, by this time a master at the art of creative engagement.

Something that took little money, but a good dose of imagination and ingenuity, was her arrangement of the Library. The center was dedicated to the children of Miami. She laid out a large glass table filled with sea shells from the East coast, and hung a cross bow and buffalo head on the wall above. She would fill the room with her collection of dolls from all over the world, and within this magical space children of all ages found it to be “the most enchanted place in town surpassed perhaps only by the Grant(d) Theater on Saturday afternoons.”

MrsCheeves  2482
Librarian, Delvan Heyward reviews a book selection with John Michael.

It was a space which jump started more than one child’s imagination as they became a knight of the round table, a pirate sailing on his ship upon the high seas or even a great buffalo hunter.

For Mrs. Cheves this was always the most beloved part of the library as she would always engage children in conversation about the surroundings and would then retrieve a book from the book shelves and press it into their hands and young mind would start to grow and blossom.

When the schools’ secondary curriculum moved more toward college preparatory, this space was needed for the high school students as they did research for reports and term papers. Mrs. Cheves took it upon herself to start, what would become one of the most successful fundraising drive ever to be undertaken; to build a new children’s room at the rear of the library. People from all walks of life got behind the effort. The Unions donated the man power and everyone who was asked to buy a block for the wall did so. The big window at the rear of the room was also a memorial donation.

When it was pointed out that this new room would take up most of her beautiful garden. She just smiled and said, “I will now have an even better garden,” referring to the children whose minds would blossom in the new edition.

As Emily Cheves was nearing retirement, she was called upon by Polly Rosenbaum of the Arizona Legislature who was a champion of education and libraries in particular. She had been fighting for ten long years to improve the library system in the State and to get additional monies. When it was clear that the State was to go on a county based system, Rosenbaum enlisted Cheves help in steering the new county library to Miami. Both women had bent the ear of many a powerful figure over the years and garnered respect in many quarters of the State. So it is no surprise that Miami was chosen as the home of the new Gila County Library.



Today the legacy continues through the efforts of the current librarian, Delvan Hayward. One only need watch her and one is reminded of Emily Cheves. Recently a group of young people were attending a program and there were several children getting out of hand. A mother who was somewhat embarrassed told Delvan she would take them and leave. Delvan, instead, put her arm around the woman’s shoulder and assured her that all the children needed to participate in the program and said they should stay.


It was just like watching Mrs. Cheves.

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About John Benson

John Michael Benson retired from Magma Mining in 2002. He grew up in Miami where his father was the head of Inspiration Copper Mine. He is a a consummate story teller and historian.

One comment

  1. anthoney brewer

    I would like to be a part of this site,I live in Claypool.

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