After processing the papers of Margie May Helm (1894-1991) in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, we have learned a great deal about the woman who played important roles in building both the campus library system and the Bowling Green Public Library.
A native of Auburn, Kentucky, Margie Helm moved to Bowling Green as a teenager and was valedictorian of the first graduating class (1912) of Bowling Green High School. She received her library training at New York’s Pratt Institute and later earned a master’s degree from the University of Chicago. She joined WKU in 1920 and retired from her post as Director of Library Services in 1965. Today, the Margie Helm Library, the Margie Helm Award, the Margie Helm Library Fund, and the Rodes-Helm Lecture Series remind us of the contributions of Miss Margie and her family to quality education at WKU.
“Aunt Margie,” remembered her niece Jane (Helm) Baker, “had three great loves in life: Family, the church, and Western.” Indeed, her papers document not just her closeness to her parents, her three brothers and their families, but her spirituality (she was the first woman elder of the Bowling Green Presbyterian Church) and her heritage. Research and correspondence traces Margie’s descent from no fewer than 8 Revolutionary War patriots, a lineage that made her a high draft pick for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Colonial Dames of America.
The keepsakes in her papers also show us a more personal side of Miss Margie: the wisp of blonde hair clipped from her 22-month-old head; poems and party favors; and photos of her adored fox terriers “Peter,” “Jiggs” and “Topsy.” We also find her “notes to self” in which she contemplates the ingredients of a life well lived. “While I was out walking with Jiggs tonight,” she scribbled on a piece of paper in 1941, “I decided that these were the essentials for happiness: 1. A clear conscience; 2. A desire to do something for other people; 3. A lively interest in something and at least some opportunity to develop it.”
After her death in 1991, her niece found this advice from Miss Margie, written on a small slip of paper:
1. The golden rule.
2. Make things simple and harmonious.
3. Don’t be sensitive. People are not thinking about you.