Ruth Gordon (1933-2016)

by david on 31 July 2016

Today I mark with sadness the passing of Ruth Gordon, from whom I learned most of what I know about Paul Elder. Ruth’s 1977 Ph.D. thesis, Paul Elder: Bookseller-Publisher (1897-1917): A Bay Area Reflection, from my alma mater of UC Berkeley, was never far from my side during my initial years of research. Indeed, I can reach over and pick it up from where I sit. To my lasting regret, we met only once, in January 2004 at the opening of my Paul Elder exhibition at the San Francisco Public Library. I am indebted to Ruth, for without her work, neither that exhibition nor this very website would have ever happened. May Ruth’s memory be a blessing.

Below I have included the obituary which appeared in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.

Ruth I. Gordon, teacher, librarian, writer, and fierce supporter of civil liberties, died at her home in Cloverdale, California on Monday, July 18, attended by her wife Viki Marugg and dear friend Linda Perkins. Ruth was a strong advocate of library services to children in schools and in the community, and was a valued colleague and mentor to librarians throughout the United States.

Ruth was born on May 13, 1933 in Chicago, the daughter of Samuel M. and Charlotte Gordon, and the sister to Robert B. Gordon, M.D. Her family moved to Forest Hills, Queens, New York where she attended grammar school at PS 144 and graduated from Forest Hills High School.

She received her A.B. from Tufts University, her M.A. from Brown University, her Masters of Library Science from University of California, Berkeley, and her PhD from Berkeley. Her research culminated in her thesis “Paul Elder: Bookseller-Publisher (1897-1917): A Bay Area Reflection.” She was very proud of her academic success, and was forever known as Dr. Ruth.

Her teaching career spanned from the Portola Valley (California) School District to the Aviano (Italy) Dependents School (USAF). Returning to California, Ruth pursued her graduate studies at Cal while she served as a lecturer and director of practicum at the University of San Francisco. During this time, she was a National Defense Education Act scholar.

Her library career brought her to serve students in rural areas of northern California: Lassen County, Cloverdale, and Petaluma. She served as a consultant for several library projects and as the managing editor of Critical Reviewing UnLtd.

She was concerned about each child with whom she worked. She knew that reading and libraries could be a place of refuge for those whose lives were chaotic and a gateway to the wider world for those whose geography or circumstances were limited. She had high standards, both for herself and for her colleagues and supervisors and would not be silent if she felt that library services were not fully supported.

Ruth held numerous positions within the American Library Association, the Association for Library Services to Children, the Notable Children’s Books committee, the John Newbery Award Committee, and the Association of Children’s Librarians of Northern California.

Her professional work and her association work were marked by her persistent advocacy for quality services for children. She was a strong proponent of the maxim “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable” and her comments, both at the microphone and in print reflected this drive.

Her role in bringing the bigotry within the Boy Scouts of America to the forefront of America’s social conscience through the power of the library associations was her proudest achievement in many years of activism.

As an author and editor, she enjoyed great success with poetry and prose. Many of her books are standard titles for teen readers. Ruth enjoyed a collegial relationship with Charlotte Zolotow, her editor at HarperCollins and with the legendary publicist Bill Morris.

Ruth was an active hiker and loved exploring the areas around her homes in Cloverdale and the Sea Ranch. She was often seen with her camera around her neck, as she enjoyed photography. Once a season ticket holder, Ruth was a passionate but critical fan of the Oakland Athletics. Her home garden was a delight and guests were treated to meals with produce and fruits that came from the backyard. Often, they left Cloverdale with a bag of citrus from Ruth’s trees.

Ruth was predeceased by her parents, Samuel M. and Charlotte Gordon; and by her brother, Robert B. Gordon, M.D., and her sister-in-law Lois Gordon. Ruth is survived by her beloved wife Victoria Marugg, her nieces Janet Booth, Gail Kavaler, and Robin Strawbridge and five grandnieces and grandnephews. Ruth’s memories will be a comfort to her family and a blessing to those whose lives she touched over a 60 year career. – See more at legacy.com.

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Errors of Thought

by david on 13 April 2016

Title page of "Errors of Thought"

Title page of “Errors of Thought”

This book is surely the strangest that Paul Elder ever published. It is the antithesis of the attractive, well-printed, easily-read giftable volume that was the Elder specialty. Without a doubt a vanity publication, Errors of Thought in Science, Religion and Social Life (1911) is a long, rambling, incoherent screed on education, science, history, religion, and politics. It’s also poorly typeset, printed on coated stock, and published without a stiff binding. Two states have been seen, the second including an errata page which is just as incomprehensible as the main text. Indeed, it is difficult to understand why Paul Elder was willing to put his name on this bizarre book. And who was the author, identified only as “St. George”?

The story of St. George begins with George Hugo Malter (1852-1927) who immigrated to the United States from Silesia (then in Germany, now part of Poland) in 1866. Malter made his way to California and became a mining engineer, but by 1879 he had abandoned engineering to become a grape grower and winemaker. He proved a successful vintner, and by 1900 Malter owned one of the largest vineyards in California at over 2000 acres. He was a member of the Bohemian Club and the owner of the Emerald, a well-known yacht. The village around his home base in Fresno County was named Maltermoro (today a residential neighborhood of Fresno known as Sunnyside).

The winery’s main brand was called “St. George,” and it specialized in aperitif and dessert wines: Pale Dry Sherry, Dry Sherry, Sherry, and Mellow Sherry; Ruby Port and Tawny Port; Golden Muscat and Muscatel; Madeira and Grenache; Tokay, White Port, and Angelica.

In 1904, Malter married Mabel P. Richardson (b. ca. 1884), a California native. He was 52, she was about 20; it was the first marriage for both of them. Their son George Jr. (1906-1979) would eventually take the reins of the winery. It is the 27-year-old Mabel who is the author of our book. Sadly, I know nothing else about Mabel, although it’s now clear where she found her pseudonym. In 1914, Mabel wrote another eccentric book, The World Process, this time self-published by the “St. George Publishing Company.”

Prohibition was not kind to the St. George winery. By the time Malter died in 1928, all that was left was a small acreage and the manor house. The winery limped along until 1942, when it was purchased by the the Eastern wine enterprise L. N. Renault & Sons.

 

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The Universal Order

19 March 2016

Friederika Quitman was born in 1844 at Monmouth, her family’s mansion in Natchez, Mississippi. She was the youngest daughter of General John A. Quitman and Eliza Turner Quitman, both of whom died when she was a teenager. She and her siblings inherited the estate, but it was attacked in 1862 by Union forces and the furnishings were […]

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Sonnets of Spinsterhood

21 February 2016

In 1915, the poet Snow Langley was 36 years old and unmarried: a “spinster” in the thankfully now-obsolete parlance. Spinning wool was typically the job of unmarried women, and spinster was used in legal documents as early as the 1600s to denote an unmarried woman who was likely to stay that way. One might think, then, […]

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PPIE Ephemera

14 February 2016

In addition to his books, Paul Elder & Co. produced a large amount of ephemera: greeting cards, postcards, catalogs, bookmarks, etc. Here is a small sampling of ephemera featuring the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

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The Fourth-Dimensional Reaches of the Exposition

7 February 2016

In the 19th century, mathematicians such as Lagrange and Hamilton began exploring fourth dimensional space. In his 1888 book A New Era of Thought, mathematician and science fiction author Charles Howard Hinton coined the term tesseract for the fourth-dimensional analog of a three-dimensional cube. (The term was famously borrowed in 1963 by Madeleine L’Engle in A Wrinkle In Time.) […]

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Holland — An Historical Essay

1 February 2016

From what source did the forefathers of modern America acquire the high ideals of government and right living that made the American Republic first a possibility, and finally a proved realization? … One nation, and one only, in the whole of Western Europe, at the time of the founding of the New England Colonies, embodied […]

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Little Bronze Playfellows

24 January 2016

In Little Bronze Playfellows (1915), author Stella Perry creates fanciful children’s stories based on several of the bronze statues of children scattered about the grounds of the Palace of Fine Arts. It is one of a dozen books issued by Paul Elder during 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The bronze boys and girls are all gamboling about while perfectly naked. […]

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The Sculpture and Mural Decorations of the Exposition

19 January 2016

As with the other three books in Paul Elder’s quartet of formal books on the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, The Sculpture and Mural Decorations of the Exposition (1915) consists primarily of tipped-in photographs with accompanying descriptive text. A. Stirling Calder, the “Acting Chief of Sculpture of the Exposition,” has name is on the cover, but his contribution consists […]

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The Architecture and Landscape Gardening of the Exposition

9 January 2016

Visitors to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition could not help but be awestruck by the monumental scale of the buildings. It was a Fair of Superlatives: the grounds covered 635 acres, the Palace of Horticulture was the largest dome then in existence (larger than St. Peter’s in Rome), the Tower of Jewels rose 435 feet high–forty-three stories! The Architecture and […]

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