This term paper on book collector Olive Percival was written by UCLA master's student Ingrid Johnson, while participating in IS281 in Spring 2004. (Note: endnotes may not appear on all browsers.)



            I wish to thank the following individuals who have so cheerfully assisted me with this project: Charlotte Brown, for her interest and many suggestions; Russell Johnson, for a most illuminating conversation about the joys of cataloging the Children's Book Collection and for further ideas to pursue; Dr. Mary Niles Maack, for encouragement and guidance; Jeff Rankin, for all his assistance in the Special Collections Reading Room; and Daniel Slive, for setting me on the path to Olive Percival.


Book Collector Extraordinaire:

The Life and Times of Olive Percival

       Slowly we went uphill, a serene ascension among fine trees, blossoming terraces and

marble monuments. No matter though the scene be benign, even blessed, it was hard to

    be at ease, knowing that Olive's ashes were in the front seat..

       But the box was in my hands and suddenly it was full of meaning, and as a dry thing   

    may catch fire, it had caught life. Here was Miss Percival, personage, sought out,

    hostess and collector, distinguished, of whom everyone said, 'Yes, indeed. I know her.

    She was an important, an illustrious woman.' I slipped the box into the aperture. Timid

    again as I was at fifteen I played the only role that came naturally to me. 'Goodbye,

    Miss Percival,' I said politely. 'Thank you very much, Miss Percival.' That was all.

    Desperately I could think of no prayer, no psalm. 'Thank you, Miss Percival,' I

    repeated, pleadingly.

        As I stood up I saw with amazement and pleasure that the headstone on the next

    grave bore the name of Alla Nazimova, the famous Polish tragedienne..And again I

    addressed Miss Percival. 'You will have good company,' I said. And I added, as I

     turned to go, 'Both of you will have good company.'




            Throughout her life, Olive Percival commanded the same kind of respect and admiration that Hildegarde Flanner exhibited as she performed this final act of friendship. In My Late Miss Percival: A Different Image , Flanner travels even further into the past to illustrate how Percival was regarded in her time:

       It was in 1915 in Los Angeles that I first met Miss Olive Percival. More properly, let

    me say, I had the honor to be presented. She was a prominent figure in Southern

    California , a well-known hostess, a collector of books and art. . . . Her library of

    children's books was one of the best in America . . . .In the midst of her scrupulously

    filed and arranged ten thousand books she was a very important person, intellectually

    and socially, at a time in the history of Los Angeles when such possessions as hers

    represented conspicuous achievement and impeccable position. Again let me say, I had

    the honor to be presented.

Olive Percival, as a richly complex woman, is a fascinating study. Outwardly, she exhibited extreme self-confidence and success. Inwardly, self-doubt and, sometimes, self-pity clouded her thoughts. Because she was very open with her feelings in the diaries that she kept for over thirty years, this tension is clearly revealed. A thorough study of this tension and how it affected Olive Percival in her life is beyond the scope of this paper. It will be considered, however, as it relates to the development of Olive Percival, the book collector, which is the focus of this paper. Inescapably, Olive the book collector was influenced by Olive the person. This paper will attempt to portray who Olive Percival was as well as what her life was like in Pasadena in the early twentieth century of Southern California . In addition, this paper will attempt to illustrate how the social, political, and artistic flavors of the day may have also influenced her as a book collector.


Biographical Sketch

            Olive May Graves Percival was born July 1, 1868 in Sheffield , Illinois . She was the daughter of John Howard Percival and Helen Mason Percival, and the great-great-granddaughter of Levi Robinson, who, as a soldier with the rank of private, served in the Revolutionary War and later died in Lee , Massachusetts . Through this lineage, Olive Percival was accorded membership in the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She had two siblings: an older brother, Leo, and a younger sister, Edna. According to the 1870 federal census, her father, John Howard Percival, was a farmhand living with or near his parents in Concord , Illinois , married to Helen and father to Leo, age five. The 1880 census lists only Helen Percival, Olive, and Edna. Olive's "father died when she was ten, and for the next fifty years her closest companion was her strong-willed and often sharp-tongued mother, Helen Mason Percival." Her sister died at the age of seventeen in 1893, and Leo appeared to be uninvolved with the family.

            Olive Percival's childhood was not an idyllic one. In January 1907, she confided to her diary that "I dare not believe in Fate - but why should I not, when ever since achild of eight I've struggled against an unhappy environment and association - and in vain?" And in July 1911, as her mother prepared to marry "Mr. M," Olive wrote: "I am getting much interested in Mother's plans but not to the extent of eating my dinners in her new home and playing her new piano for her and for 'him!' I know I ought - but I am always reminded of my badly treated Father - and resent even the innocent usurper of his place." Thus, even into her forties, Olive appeared to retain a sharp bitterness regarding that early part of her life back in Illinois . However, an entry in 1896 indicates that Olive held some early memories that were very dear to her: "My first Sunday School days were in Newburg, Ohio - when I was about three. . . . I have few pleasant memories of childhood so it is a great pleasure to dream over this pleasant, restful one of going to church."

            As a young adult, Olive traveled with her mother and sister to seek a new life in Los Angeles . In the last decade before the turn of the century, Los Angeles had grown by leaps and bounds, invigorated by the great hotel construction boom that occurred in the 1880s, and by the price wars waged by the Santa Fe and the Southern Pacific Railroads. More than 130,000 new residents were in place in Southern California by 1890, with Los Angeles itself boasting a total population of 50,000 by 1889.   Importation of water from Owens Valley in 1913 ensured that the growing population could be supported by the available resources.

Before 1890, Southern California was not only sparsely populated, it was also a "literary wasteland." But at the turn of the century and into the first few decades of the twentieth century, individuals such as Charles Fletcher Lummis, George Wharton James, Henry Edwards Huntington, and William Andrews Clark provided the vision to

establish the Los Angeles area as a center for books and intellectual pursuit. Madeleine Stern describes the rise of the booksellers of Los Angeles as "the phenomenon within the phenomenon," and relates as follows: "Surely the exterior climate of the City of the Angels has had some effect upon the interior climate of bibliopolic Angelinos. Similarly, the presence in their midst of that unparalleled cinematic outpost known as Hollywood helped influence if it did not shape some aspect of bookselling history in Southern California ."

            A brief biography of Olive Percival in Los Angeles A to Z describes her as an:  

    . . . Illinois-born member of the turn-of-the-century 'Arroyo culture.' She came to Los

    Angeles in 1887, living with her mother in Garvanza (now Highland Park ) in a cottage

    called Down-hyl Claim. Her home was open to painters, sculptors, writers, and

    bibliophiles. Percival's major interests were writing poetry, collecting books, and

    gardening. She wrote and illustrated The Children's Garden Book . Despite her

    identification with the Arroyo, she was outside of the circle of Charles F. Lummis, the

    doyen of the Arroyo culture, whom she dismissed as a 'poseur.' An ardent feminist,

    Percival held memberships in the Los Angeles Women's Athletic Club, the Friday

    Morning Club, and Daughters of the American Revolution.

            The Progressive movement assumed a prominence in Southern California in the early 1900s. Suggestions for reforming Los Angeles were provided by such individuals as Dana Bartlett, a minister hailing from Maine , in his book The Better City published in 1907. Kevin Starr states that this book was "partially a daydream" but the "mere fact that Los Angeles could inspire such high-minded dreams, however, underscores the visionary and reformist energies at work in the City of the Angels in the early 1900s." The FridayMorning Club, led by a "tireless feminist" from the East, Caroline Maria Seymour Severance, provides another example of the progressive movement in Los Angeles . The members of this club "campaigned for better kindergartens, helped to establish training for teachers, increased involvement of women in educational programs, improved treatment of juvenile offenders, and better housing for working women."

            Thus, at the turn of the century, Olive May Graves Percival became very involved in the energy of the Progressive movement. As a resident of the Arroyo Seco area of Pasadena , she was part of the "Arroyo Culture," which Starr defines as a Southern California "variation" of The Arts and Crafts Movement. In addition, individuals such as Charles Fletcher Lummis, who also lived in the Arroyo, promoted many young writers and helped shape a new literary culture. In Material Dreams: Southern California Through the 1920s, Kevin Starr continues with the evolution of the book and literary culture which began to flourish in Southern California , citing such visionary book collectors as Henry Edwards Huntington, William Andrews Clark, and Estelle Doheny.

            The atmosphere was certainly conducive to concentrating on the finer things of life such as collecting books, beautifying one's home and garden, and working to help others in the reformation movement that was so prevalent in California . Perhaps as a response to this atmosphere, and to a deep longing for beauty and order, Olive Percival surrounded herself with just that, both in her home and in her garden. An undated, typed manuscript written by Olive Percival and titled "The Down-hyl Claim (The House)" extols the merits of surrounding oneself with articles of "good taste" in one's home:

    Possibly, when every woman shall begin to demand that every item of furniture in her

    house, whether for the kitchen or the drawing-room, shall be in good taste (that is:

    well designed, well made and as beautiful as possible); when she shall perceive such

    things are as important to the art of living everyday life as are the dicta of milliners,

    dressmakers, manicures, then shall Art become a vital and a joyous thing, ever present

    in the life of the people. . . . Sometime we shall perceive the need of a fitting

    background for everyday life and be willing to devote as much time to the intelligent

    arrangement and management of the place we call home as is given without a protest

    to bridge or the last best-seller or embroidery or the planning of some self adornment.

            Olive Percival began her business career on June 22, 1891 . Her diary entry for that day reads: "Today I began in Mr. G.F. McLellan's fire insurance office, 147 S. Broadway. All longhand work. Mr. Mead recommended me. I pray God I will do

satisfactory work." She later went to work for Home Insurance Company and continued with them until her retirement in 1929 after thirty years of service. In a letter addressed to "Margaret," she wrote of her impending retirement. She was proud of the negotiations she instigated with the Home Insurance Company that she felt would result in her obtaining one of the first pensions awarded to a woman in that company. She also admitted that she "hated [the] routine" of work. This particular sentiment was echoed throughout the pages of her diaries. She wrote earlier in 1907: "I am sick of effort and I am sick of hoping. Nothing but Insurance, Insurance, Insurance!"

            Olive Percival was a firm proponent of keeping active. She admitted in a diary entry of 1922, "It is impossible for me to sit in my chair and fold my hands idly, like-a-lady! I have to be busy." The collection of ephemera found in her personal papers reveals such a person. Lovely cut-paper designs, articles about gardening, children's book catalogs, and business cards from art shops and curio stores are all evidence of a woman who was interested in the rich offerings of life and one who always kept her mind busy, even if her body was not. She wrote four books in her lifetime, and many articles, though she was not always successfully published. Two books were published posthumously.

            According to her diary, she spent a great part of her life writing and trying to write. Disconsolately she wrote in 1907: "I am about resolved to give up the idea of writing. It is ten years, eleven years, since I began to try - . . . . If God had meant me to write, He would have given me some time therefore. By kicking against the pricks of circumstances - ever since I can remember, I am now tired out, ready for the peace and inaction of the grave."

            It is likely that she was personally touched by the contents of the many newspaper and magazine clippings included in her personal papers. A poignant little essay entitled "Sunday - A Memory" may have caught her eye because it contained the elements of beauty, nostalgia, and the love of books. It also may have represented to Olive Percival the happy childhood that she had never known: "After dinner, while mother napped and father watched the littlest baby, the departure to far, far magic lands through the newest book that was always reserved for Sunday. . . . And then father's dear lap where one felt so safe from all the vague disturbing world, and the special Sunday bedtime story, a story generally about what Daddy did when he was little." The importance of this small essay seems to be accentuated by the great care she took to mount the article artistically on thin parchment paper surrounded by a decoratively-cut edged border.

            Olive lived for much of her adult life with her mother, who is described by Hildegarde Flanner, as "a charming picture, but one could count on something else besides. She had a smart tongue and a sense of the absurd." Olive remained single, though she was courted by various young men, and according to Flanner, "in her youth she had a lover. He died and all her life she remained faithful to him." She had many friends and was quite well-known socially in Pasadena . She was also a significant figure in early Southern California history. Olive Percival was listed as an active member of the Friday Morning Club in their 1925-1926 annual report.

            When Olive Percival died on February 19, 1945 a few months after suffering a stroke in the garden of her home, the Down-hyl Claim, notices of the auction of her estate appeared at least three times in the August 5, 1945 issue of the Los Angeles Times . One such notice raved: "Conceded to be one of the most Comprehensive and Diversified Private Collections From the Estate of Olive Percival."   Another described Olive Percival as a "Collector of Note." In earlier years, Percival, a lover of beauty, nature, and books, had admitted, "But nevertheless I shall never be able to live without Things! I take immeasurable strength, joy from the beauty of environment. Nature alone is not enough. I want Nature plus the products of refined, informed civilizations." Lawrence Clark Powell paid tribute to her after she died:

        In spite of an income limited to her clerk's earnings and from the occasional sale of

    articles, this woman, whose name was Olive Percival, collected beautiful things so

    assiduously that, after her death, it took an appraiser two weeks to inventory the

    contents of her cottage. . . . What a pity that she lacked the wealth and the leisure of a

    Huntington or a Morgan.



Searching for the "Real" Olive Percival

            These are some of the facts of the life of Olive Percival. They are important to know because they help to establish her as a person who actually existed, one who was very involved with the business world, the literary world, and the social world. However, the facts alone do not reveal the true Olive Percival. What were her dreams, her desires, and her fears? What impelled her to rise early every weekday morning, to catch the streetcar to the insurance company where she worked for over thirty years, even though she hated the drudgery of it? What prompted her to write articles of social protest, and labor, year after year, on small books of verse? Why did she collect such a variety of things including the ten thousand books that she possessed at the time of her death in 1945? Why did she specifically collect children's books of the 18 th and 19 th centuries?

            Perhaps these answers may be found in the twenty-three diaries that she left. It is possible that some of the questions may be left unanswered. How can one truly know the mind and heart of another person? Many clues may exist in Olive Percival's journals, but even then, thoughts and feelings can change from day to day. Further complicating understanding are the gaps in time which fragment the record of her life. In addition, any conclusions drawn from Olive Percival's writings about the "real" Olive Percival are inherently shadowed by the reader's own biases and beliefs. Thus, the biographer must strive to overcome these "barriers" to truth and, in so doing, offer the most accurate representation possible.

Olive Percival and Her Bibliophilic Passion

          I have earned some extra money this week and am going to treat myself to a book -  

         When I go into a book store these days, my heart beats wildly, my cheeks burn and I

    hardly breathe until I am outside again. But I can seldom buy. Books are an especial

    temptation these days. So much attention is paid to the covers and illustrations.

       How splendid a thing it would be to have one thousand dollars to buy books with! Ah!

    me! - January 1896


       My book debts overwhelm me and I am busy making Sunday newspaper potboilers. I  

    wonder if I can ever stop buying books, especially old ones or sumptious new ones? - May 1907


       Have been up late 3 or 4 nights, reading most delightful Book Catalogues. - June 1943

So eloquently spoken, these words reveal the long-lasting affection that Olive Percival held for books and for the collecting of them. She was an enthusiastic collector of many different interests, but it is in the book collecting where the side of Olive Percival, not easily seen by her peers, is revealed It is interesting to note that women book collectors were not common in Percival's lifetime. Mary Hyde Eccles, "one of the world's great living collectors," states the probable reason for this: "The answer is obvious: a serious collector on any scale must have three advantages: considerable resources, education, and freedom. Until recently, only a handful of women have had all three, but times are changing!" Times were definitely changing during Olive Percival's life. She was part of the generation of women who gained the right to vote early in the twentieth century. As mentioned earlier, she was awarded one of the first pensions given to a woman by the Home Insurance Company when she retired. However, she was not a wealthy woman. In 1909, her annual salary was $1,700. Upon retirement, her annual pension was $150 a month. Many times, she confided her financial woes to her diary: "I'm so depressed about my great need of money. . . that I'm going to look over all my old Curtis flowerprints. Their quaint beauty will help a lot!" Olive Percival did not have a tremendous amount of discretionary income, but what she did have, she spent on items of beauty and enduring value, including the wonderful assemblage of children's books that she collected.

            Why do bibliophiles collect books? Lawrence Clark Powell writes in his delightful book, The Alchemy of Books : "Books are my life, books are my love. . . As my life waxes and wanes, I find myself drawn more and more to certain things which have assumed the power of magic symbols, and by contact with them I derive joy and strength which sustain me in the daily depletions suffered from routine. . . . books are to me the best of all symbols, the realest of all reality." Statements such as this provide some insight into the motivation behind individuals like Olive Percival, who collected over ten thousand volumes during her lifetime.

            Walter Benjamin suggests yet another answer to the question. "Have the bibliophiles ever been invited to reflect on their own activities? How interesting the replies would be - the honest ones, at least! For only the uninitiated outsider could imagine that there is nothing worth hiding or glossing over here. Arrogance, loneliness, bitterness - these are the dark sides of many a highly educated and contented collector."

            Somewhere between these two theories may lie the reasons why Olive Percival collected her books. From her own words, it is clear that books were extremely important to Percival. Yet, she often experienced internal conflict brought on by the fact that purchasing the books meant sacrificing elsewhere. Consider the following: The Down-hyl Claim did not have electricity and when it was available at the site, Olive Percival felt it was too dangerous to install. The only heating was "stingily, if at all, supplied by a gas in the kitchen for cooking, but I don't know." Whether Olive Percival was content with this arrangement, or if it was simply one of the sacrifices that she made to buy books and other collectibles, it is yet unclear. Olive Percival also longed to travel, especially to Japan and China , and often wrote in her diaries of the tension presented by the wish to travel and the desire to buy books. "I must stop reading the London book catalogues," she wrote in 1907, "and save a little money! At least enough for a little rest next year."

            It appears that she also may have periodically reflected on the books that she had acquired; evidently some of them did not quite meet with her approval as she had purchased them sight unseen: "Some more old books from London this week - Cruikshanks and jest-books. The 18 th C. books are too horribly coarse - I must burn some of those which I have acquired, ordering by catalogue. Were such books found by my executor, how low-minded a person I would appear." Whether she actually carried through with her threat, we may never know.

            One particularly self-reflective day, Olive wrote:

    People still tell me I am 'enthusiastically alive' - but it is a pretence. The enthusiasm

    of Youth went with my ambitions - all ground to dust by the [?] Business Grind of

    these many years! And I dare not even yet rebel, except in my heart. It will all be over

    and done with soon and no one will care that I had to consume a little life in 'making a

    living' for my Mother and myself, when I yearned, so long, To see, To Be - - - and to

    Write! It has never seemed fair to me that all the family-burdens should have been

    mine and so I sometimes exult in cheating 'Fate' (or whatever it be) by squandering

    money on myself, in the way of Books and Japanese Art! I daresay it is much the same

    sort of sin as getting drunk, in order to forget.

These words of pain are in sharp contrast to another entry just two months earlier. Olive had just finished varnishing over four hundred books, apparently a process she used to preserve them. It was one of the hottest summers on record and the work made the day even more unbearable. "As I sat in my room, in Grandmother's chair, the books in heaps all about me, I suddenly laughed like a lunatic and asked Mother to come and behold a 'living-picture,' a design for a frontispiece for 'The Book-lover's Magazine.' She was properly shocked as I had on nothing but my eye-glasses. I am sure I looked like some of the French book-plates I've seen. How directly do our morals and sense of propriety depend upon the climate!" This sense of humor and lightness of heart are intermixed with Olive Percival's pensive days; fortunately, she was able to experience lighter moments along with the dark.

            From diary entries such as those presented above, one can gain some understanding why Olive Percival collected books as well as art and the myriad other items that she so loved. To some extent, the question of why she collected children's books, new and old, still remains. There is a clue in her entry of September 18, 1907 : "I think I am through with, for a time, my little study of Comparative Literature. . . . I am perhaps most interested in the 18 th Century Novel, in its many phases, and in the origin and development of juvenile literature." Olive Percival does not elaborate on why she was most interested in juvenile literature. One can only make assumptions based upon whatever knowledge and understanding of Olive Percival he or she possesses. Perhaps, Olive Percival was living the childhood that she never really had through the collection of children's books that she amassed. Perhaps, the books were a source of pleasant nostalgia for her. In any case, the books appeared to fascinate her. Robert Hertel wrote in Remembering Childhood : "As she collected and read juvenila, Miss Percival assiduously studied the history of children's literature, with the result that the flyleaf papers of many books contain valuable historical and bibliographical data."            

            The following vignette illustrates the importance of these small books to her. The context of this remembrance is a very rainy year and the possibility of the Down-hyl Claim being flooded: "Olive Percival, after surveying her home and its contents, many of them irreplaceable and of historic or other important value, took two baskets. One she filled with the sweet, guileless illustrated books of Kate Greenaway, the other she filled with a mother cat and her kittens. Then Miss Percival sat down to wait for whatever signal she had arranged to expect."

            Her last diary entries are from 1943. She wrote often of the war, about rations, lack of stockings, a gift from a Japanese friend interred at Manzanar. She was still actively involved with friends, visiting back and forth. She also enjoyed her garden even though she was beginning to feel her age: "Perfect summer days! I water the front garden, the primroses, the geranium plot and little else! Since I am such an aged person, I am trying to conserve strength - Busy every minute but yet so little done." But she seemed reconciled to her life as she reflected "Nothing happens - and I am glad."



The Olive Percival Collection of Children's Books

            Frederick Joseph Harvey Darton, great-great-grandson of the Quaker William Darton, "founder of an historic children's publishing-house," published a juvenile bibliography in 1914 titled the Cambridge History of English Literature . According to Robert Hertel, one of the first scholars to work with the Olive Percival Collection soon after acquisition, this list may have been used by Percival as a buying guide because many of the books listed were in her collection. Darton wrote:

       Roughly speaking, under its terms, there were no children's books in England before

    the seventeenth century, and very few even then. There were plenty of schoolbooks

    and guides to conduct, but none which would openly allow a child to enjoy himself

    with no thought of duty nor fear of wrong. Children's books did not stand out by

    themselves as a clear but subordinate branch of English literature until the middle of

    the eighteenth century. . . .Because an arbitrary date is a convenience, and for no other

    reason, I will say that that commencement took place in 1744, when John Newbery,

    the most authentic founder of this traffic in minor literature, published his first

    children's book.

            It seems appropriate that the story of the acquisition of Olive Percival's children's books is a serendipitous one. The acquisition of the collection took an interesting turn in 1946. Soon after Percival's death, Ernest Dawson, whose bookstore Olive Percival had often visited, purchased the entire ten thousand book collection from her estate for the sum of $5,000. Lawrence Clark Powell, then University Librarian at UCLA, and making his own weekly visit to Dawson 's Book Shop, was offered the Olive Percival Collection of 19 th century English and American children's books for $1,000." Even though receiving a bid of $3,000 for the "Percival juveniles" from Dr. Rosenbach, who ".scouted and purchased for Huntington .," Dawson wanted the books to go to his son's "alma mater," UCLA. As Powell relates the story in Fortune and Friendship , Dawson emphasized the "bargain" that Powell was getting. "He was right. It was a bargain. The Percival juveniles formed the base on which we built our UCLA's now large and distinguished collection of children's books." Further illustrating the importance of this particular collection to the literary world, a small article in the Los Angeles Times dated February 8, 1946 stated:

       If you want to see what great-great-great-grandmother read as a child, go to the Los

    Angeles campus of the University of California , where more than 500 volumes

    representing the reading tastes of British and American youngsters for hundreds of

    years have gone on display.

        Dr. Lawrence Clark Powell, librarian, said that these children's books, recently

    acquired from the estate of the late Olive Percival of Los Angeles , represent one of the

    finest collections in the world.


            The original collection purchased in 1946 consisted of 527 titles. Publication dates ranged from 1707 to 1914 "which in itself is symbolic of the change from children's literature from the stripped, terse lesson-books to the imaginative beauty of fairy tales." Judith St. John describes specifically the transformation that occurred at the end of the nineteenth century: "Forward-looking publishers produced books in the 1840s and 50s that set free the minds and imaginations of children who grew up to create in the last four decades of the century what has been termed the 'Golden Age of Children's Literature.'"

            A majority of the items (nearly 75 percent) in the original collection were British publications, approximately ranging from 1790-1840. Approximately 20 percent of the original collection consisted of "chapbooks." Moses defines chapbooks as "specimens of the popular literature which was [ sic ] formerly circulated by itinerant dealers or chapmen, consisting chiefly of small pamphlets of popular tales, etc." He further states: "Undoubtedly the roots of juvenile literature are firmly twined about these penny sheets. Their circulation is a matter that brings the social student in touch with the middle-class life."

            Chapbooks are just one example of the many different publications found in the Olive Percival Collection of Children's Books. The author had an opportunity to view just a small sampling. It was an amazing privilege to personally hold and survey these volumes. One especially poignant moment came when looking at The Daisy, or, Cautionary Stories in Verse by Mrs. Turner, published 1899-1900. History came alive when viewing Olive Percival's comment at the end of the book, added in her fine hand: "Chronic anxiety marked the early part of this (19 th ) century in evangelical circles. The Daisy is a good example of this series." And then, the discovery of a small dried flower, now faded yellow brown, still pressed between the pages dramatically evoked an image of Olive Percival, perhaps sitting in her garden, reading, and taking the time to try to preserve one of her beautiful flowers. Another lovely book was Kate Greenaway's Painting Book , published approximately 1884. Again, this elicited an image of Miss Percival, waiting with her two baskets for the flood to arrive, one filled with kittens and one filled with Kate Greenaway books. Finally, a small book, Abridgement of Murray's English Grammar , published circa 1848, included Olive Percival's inscription: "Old South Church Bookshop, Boston , November, 1903." What a wonderful way to mark one's journey through life with these kinds of notes in books that have been purchased along the way.

            Hertel very eloquently summarized the enormous contribution that this wonderful collection of children's books has made to the understanding of the development of children's literature in the 18 th and 19 th centuries:

       A brief summary of this collection cannot do justice to the infinite variety of

    publications for children, nor touch fully on the manifold aspects of the life and

    thought of the times in which they were written. It should be evident that this

    collection will contribute to a fuller understanding of the relation between all literature

    and the thought of its time, and a kinder estimate of the work of many minor writers

    who gave impetus to the development of a separate literature for children, which, in

    this atomic century, is beginning to be recognized on an equal level with adult


            And in Olive Percival's words, "What the criticism of the child of the year 2005 shall be in regard to the books which to us seem perfect, both in conception and execution, is one of Time's many enigmas."




            Seemingly as full of contradictions as any human being, the study of Olive Percival as a person and as a book collector presents a wonderful opportunity for intellectual research. Multi-faceted and multi-talented, Olive Percival still remains an enigma in some ways. As a "socialite," she was acquainted with well-known personages. Her diary entry of February 16, 1906 references lunch with "Miss Shedlock (of London )." On a trip back to New England in 1903/1904, she met Jack London in San Francisco. "Nice af. [ sic ] Boy! Soft flannel shirt - curls - Wanted to talk socialism - I wanted to talk Chinese Bowls, as I had been in cellars of Chinatown all afternoon.."

            As a feminist, she campaigned for female suffrage, penning articles that appeared in the Los Angeles Times . One such article, titled "Would Woman's Vote Suppress Anarchy?", appeared in the October 16, 1910 issue as she responded to the dynamiting of The Times Building:

       If ever we needed the full representation of the whole people in government affairs,

    that need is terribly emphasized by this distressing occurrence.

       As for equal suffrage, I have never in my life heard one sane argument against it. I

    think the only argument that men who are opposed to the measure have ever advanced

    in justification of their unfair and un-American position, is that they do not want

    women to lose their delicacy and charm by rough contact with matters political. This is

    not 'sentiment' but sentimentality. . . . There is no sense or intelligence about it.

    Women must live in the world as truly as men and in many instances they are as well

    equipped for the actualities of life as men. . . .

       If there is to be anything democratic or republican about the government of America ,

    that independence must be based upon the liberty of all of its citizens. . . . When half of

    the people of any country are disenfranchised, that country has no freedom. We

    pretend to be progressive and we boast our splendid republicanism, but our republic is

    more despotic than any monarchy unless all who are taxed have a voice in the control

    of public affairs.

            In counterpoint to a cheerful, successful exterior, in her private life, Olive Percival was beset by self-doubt, self-criticism, and sometimes self-pity. But it is at these moments that what may possibly be the "true" Olive Percival is revealed. As she neared her fortieth birthday in 1908, she penned the following:  

     These dreary days, as I near my 40 th birthday and consider the number of bright

    dreams I have futilely abolished, I find it more and more difficult not to pity myself. So

    when I am tempted I immerse myself in hard work; that failing, I buy a book; send

    some friend a little present; write somebody the cheeriest possible letter; read Kenneth

    Grahame's 'Golden Age'; or try to write a poem! Compromises! . . .

       . . . People say I am smart, clever - even a genius - but I know I am simple-minded!

    A child! If I were one-half as smart as reputed, I would write verse or a novel that

    would lift me above this soul-benumbing routine. . . . I suppose I am apt to get bitter

    each summer, when the world is full of college women graduates and those who are

    going abroad. Mere envy!

       My own star is particularly ungenerous, - Cheating me of a carefree childhood,

    denying me both girlhood and a college education. Then I had to give up marriage and

    motherhood (and how I do love children - almost anybody's!) - because - And now it

    is getting too late to travel with comfort, for I have touches of rheumatism. . . . But I

    vow I shall see Japan and China and the Taj if I have to wait until I am a ghost!

       What have I, but a wearied soul and an over-active mind, to show that I have endured

    life for forty years! I feel more bitter. . . until I look at my poor, ragged garden in the

    moonlight and until I look at my books! Then I quarrel with no plan, divine nor mortal,

    for my soul is at peace!


Hildegarde Flanner. Different Images: Portraits of Remembered People . Santa Barbara , CA : John Daniel Publisher, 1987, 93, 94.

Ibid, 73.

Some sources have indicated that Olive Percival's date of birth is actually 1869, see, for example, Los Angeles A to Z and Jane Apostol. Olive Percival Los Angeles Author and Bibliophile . However, in a diary entry dated 22 May - 1908, Olive Percival indicated otherwise: "These dreary days, as I near my 40 th birthday." In addition, the 1880 United States Federal Census lists her age in 1880 as 12 and estimated birth year as 1868., 1870 and 1880 United States Federal Census, accessed 19 May 2004 , 12 June 2004 .

For some reason, Olive Percival is not listed on this census form.

Jane Apostol. Olive Percival Los Angeles Author and Bibliphile . Occasional Papers 7, Department of Special Collections, University Research Library, University of California , Los Angeles , 1992, 1.

Ibid, 1.

Diary of Olive Percival, January 22, 1907 . Percival (Olive) Papers, Department of Special Collections, Young Research Library, University of Los Angeles . All diary citations, unless otherwise noted, are from material held at UCLA. These diaries are typescripts (some hand-written) of the originals held at the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino , California .

Diary, July 14, 1911 .

Diary, May 17, 1896 .

Kevin Starr. Inventing the Dream: California Through the Progressive Era . New York : Oxford University Press, 1985, 49, 71-72)

Ibid, 31.

Madeleine B. Stern. Antiquarian Bookselling in the United States : A History From the

  Origins to the 1940s . Westport , Connecticut : Greenwood Press, 1985, 151.

Leonard Pitt and Dale Pitt. Los Angeles A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the City and County . Berkeley , California : University of California Press, 1997, 388.

Ibid, 248.

Ibid, 219.

Ibid, 162.

Kevin Starr. Inventing the Dream: California Through the Progressive Era . New York : Oxford University Press, 1985, 107.

Undated, typed manuscript written by Olive Percival and titled "The Down-hyl Claim (The House.) In the upper right hand corner of the first page is typed the following: Olive Percival 906 Hibernian Bldg Los Angeles.

Diary, June 22, 1891 .

Letter from Olive Percival to "Margaret", Box 1 , Folder 3.

Diary, January 22, 1907 .

Diary, March 11, 1922 .

Diary, August 2, 1907 .

"Sunday - A Memory", an essay from Percival (Olive) Papers, Box 26 , approximate date 1925.

Hildegarde Flanner. Different Images: Portraits of Remembered People . Santa Barbara , CA : John Daniel Publisher, 1987, 85.

Ibid, 75.

The Friday Morning Club, Los Angeles , California . (Yearbook 1925-1926).  

Los Angeles Times, August 5, 1945 , pg. 12.

Ibid, August 5, 1945 , pg. 11.

Diary, July 25, 1911 .

Lawrence Clark Powell. The Alchemy of Books and Other Essays and Addresses on Books and Writers . Los Angeles : Ward Ritchie Press, 1954, 142-143.

Diary, January 28, 1896 .

Diary, May 22, 1907 .

Diary, June 8, 1943 .

Mary Hyde Eccles. 1990 Address. Quoted in Nicholas A. Basbanes. A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books . New York : Henry Holt and Company, 1995, 31.

Diary, April 20, 1930 .

Lawrence Clark Powell. The Alchemy of Books and Other Essays and Addresses on Books and Writers . Los Angeles : Ward Ritchie Press, 1954, 20, 21.

Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings Volume 1: 1913-1926 . Ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge , Massachusetts : The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996, 406.

Hildegarde Flanner. Different Images: Portraits of Remembered People . Santa Barbara , CA : John Daniel Publisher, 1987, 78.

Diary, April 7, 1907 .

Diary, June 14, 1906 .

Diary, September 6, 1907 .

Diary, July 8, 1907 .

The question still remains in the mind of the author. The answer may lie in the many diary entries the author was not able to read in the time available.

Diary, September 18. 1907.

Robert R. Hertel. "Remembering Childhood." Library Journal 78.1 (1953), 24. "Behind the Story: The Olive Percival Collection had been bought sight unseen by the U.C.L.A. Library and placed without further research in a rare books cage. In the spring of 1947 English graduate student Hertel was scheduled for a bibliography course. His professor, Hugh Dick, remembered the unexplored Collection, suggested that Hertel meet the course requirements by unearthing the rare and unusual items. Mr Hertel writes: 'I worked on the Collection a day a week during the spring semester. It entailed a minute examination of more than 500 titles, checking for rarity against Gumuchian and Rosenbach, searching for the pseudonyma and anonyma, checking the English Catalogue, LC, and British Museum catalogs for first editions . . . and reading all available histories of children's literature.'" (p. 31)

Hildegarde Flanner. Different Images: Portraits of Remembered People . Santa Barbara , CA : John Daniel Publisher, 1987, 84-85.

Diary, July 20, 1943 .

Diary, June 5, 1943 .

F. J. Harvey Darton. Children's Books in England . 3 rd ed. Cambridge : Cambridge

  University Press, 1982. (First published 1932.), ix.

Robert R. Hertel. "Remembering Childhood." Library Journal 78.1 (1953), 31.

Ibid, 1.

Hildegarde Flanner. Different Images: Portraits of Remembered People . Santa Barbara , CA : John Daniel Publisher, 1987, 90-91. Flanner expresses outrage at this small outlay: "it is incredible and shameful that her very fine library of ten thousand volumes was purchased by Dawson of Los Angeles for only $5000."

Lawrence Clark Powell. Fortune & Friendship: An Autobiography by Lawrence Clark Powell , New York/London: R. R. Bowker Company, 1968, 120.

Kevin Starr. Material Dreams: Southern California Through the 1920s. New York : Oxford

University Press, 1990, 334-335.

Lawrence Clark Powell. Fortune & Friendship: An Autobiography by Lawrence Clark Powell , New York/London: R. R. Bowker Company, 1968, 121.

Los Angeles Times , February 8, 1946 . pg. A12.

Robert R. Hertel. "Remembering Childhood." Library Journal 78.1 (1953), 24-25.

Judith St. John. "The Publishing of Children's Books in Victoria 's Day." Book Selling and Book Buying: Aspects of the Nineteenth-Century British and North American Book Trade . Richard G. Landon, ed. Chicago : American Library Association, 1978, 17.

Ibid, 25.

Montrose J. Moses. Children's Books and Reading . New York : Mitchell Kennerley, 190, 25.

Ibid, 30.

The full title is Abridgement of Murray 's English Grammar With an Appendix, Containing Exercises in Orthography, in Parsing, in Syntax, and in Punctuation !

Robert R. Hertel. "Remembering Childhood." Library Journal 78.1 (1953), 30.

Typed manuscript written by Olive Percival and titled "Children's Books of 1805." In the upper right hand corner of the first page is typed the following: "The Friday Morning Club 24 November, 1905."

Diary, February 16, 1906 . Marie Shedlock was a very well-known storyteller who wrote The Art of the Storyteller .

From "Friday Morning Club 'For Memory Sketches', Biographical Trivia", 1918: The reference to Jack London is dated 8/1903 S.F., Box 27 , Folder 1, Percival (Olive) Papers.

Los Angeles Times , October 14, 1910 .

Diary, May 22, 1908 .



Primary Sources

Darton, F. J. Harvey. Children's Books in England . 3 rd ed. Cambridge : Cambridge

     University Press, 1982. (First published 1932.)


Flanner, Hildegarde. Different Images: Portraits of Remembered People . Santa Barbara ,

     California : J. Daniel, 1987.


The Friday Morning Club, Los Angeles , California . (Yearbook 1925-1926).


Los Angeles Times , various issues


Moses, Montrose J. Children's Books and Reading . New York : Mitchell Kennerley,



Olive Percival Papers (Collection 119). Department of Special Collections, University

     Research Library, University of California , Los Angeles .


Secondary Sources, available from ; Internet; accessed 19 May 2004 , 12 June 2004 .

Apostol, Jane. Olive Percival, Los Angeles Author and Bibliophile . Los Angeles : Department of Special Collections, University Research Library, University of California , 1992.

Arellanes, Audrey Spencer, ed. Bookplates in the News, 1970-1985 . Detroit , Michigan : Gale Research Company-Book Tower ,

Benjamin, Walter. Selected Writings Volume 1: 1913-1926 . Ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge , Massachusetts : The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996.

Bingham, Jane and Grayce Scholt. Fifteen Centuries of Children's Literature: An Annotated Chronology of British and American Works in Historical Context . Westport , Connecticut : Greenwood Press, 1980.

Di Biase, Linda Popp. "Forgotten Woman of the Arroyo: Olive Percival." Southern California Quarterly , 66 (1984): 207-219.

Eccles, Mary Hyde. 1990 Address. Quoted in Basbanes, Nicholas A.. A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books . New York : Henry Holt and Company, 1995.

Guide to the Department of Special Collections . Los Angeles : University Research Library, University of California , Los Angeles , 1998.

Hertel, Robert R. "Remembering Childhood." Library Journal 78.1 (1953): 23-31.

Larsen, John C. ed. Researcher's Guide to Archives and Regional History Sources . The Center for the Book, Library of Congress; Hamden , Connecticut : Shoestring Press, Inc.-Library Professional Publications, 1988.

Muir, Percy. English Children's Books: 1600 to 1900 . New York : Frederick A. Praeger, 1954.

Olive Percival Calendar 1990 . Weather Bird Press, 1989.

The Olive Percival Collection of Children's Books , unnamed author. From Olive Percival Papers (Collection 119). Department of Special Collections, University Research Library, University of California , Los Angeles . Contemporary date.

Pitt, Leonard and Dale Pitt. Los Angeles A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the City and County . Berkeley , California : University of California Press, 1997.

Powell, Lawrence Clark . The Alchemy of Books and Other Essays and Addresses on Books and Writers . Los Angeles : Ward Ritchie Press, 1954.

_____. Fortune and Friendship: An Autobiography by Lawrence Clark Powell . New York : R. R. Bowker Company, 1968.

_____. A Passion for Books . London : Constable, 1959.

St. John, Judith. "The Publishing of Children's Books in Victoria 's Day." Book Selling and Book Buying: Aspects of the Nineteenth-Century British and North American Book Trade . Richard G. Landon, ed. Chicago : American Library Association, 1978.

Schaaf, Miv. "Percival: A Woman Ahead of Her Time." Los Angeles Times . Part V. Wednesday, March 27, 1985 .

Smith, Wilbur Jordan. UCLA'S Trove of Rare Children's Books . Los Angeles, Department of Special Collections, University of California Library, Los Angeles, 1976.

Starr, Kevin. Inventing the Dream: California Through the Progressive Era . New York : Oxford University Press, 1985.

_____. Material Dreams: Southern California Through the 1920s . New York : Oxford University Press, 1990.

Stern, Madeleine B. Antiquarian Bookselling in the United States : A History From the Origins to the 1940s . Westport , Connecticut : Greenwood Press, 1985.


Appendix A

Scope Statement

            Olive Percival was born on July 1, 1868 in a log cabin in Sheffield , Illinois . She was an enthusiastic collector with many different interests. Her collection of early English and American books for children is housed at the Department of Special Collections, Young Research Library at the University of California , Los Angeles . The original collection consisted of 527 titles and 540 items, such as correspondence, photographs, and scrapbooks. She died on February 19, 1945 after suffering a stroke in the garden of her home, the Down-hyl Claim in the Arroyo Seco area of Pasadena .

            Olive Percival was a single woman who worked for thirty years for The Home Insurance Company in Los Angeles , a job which apparently she felt was pure drudgery but it paid the bills. She lived with her mother and lovingly cared for her and their garden. From the clippings I have viewed thus far, she also loved to read the newspaper and clip articles that seemed to touch her personally in some way. She had many friends and was quite well-known socially in Pasadena . She was also a significant figure in early Southern California history. Olive Percival was very involved with her community as well as being a collector and author of four books. She was listed as an active member in the 1925-1926 annual report of The Friday Morning Club in Los Angeles . This club worked for cultural, social, and civic reform.

              The Olive Percival collection is a significant contribution to the ability of researchers to study how children's literature of the 19 th century reflected the lives of children during that time, and also how children's literature may have, in turn,   affected

the lives of children in that same era. Percival's collection is an integral part of the Children's Book Collection at UCLA which is recognized as among the top six collections in the United States . Because of the importance of this collection to research, I will focus my paper on Olive Percival as a book collector and her contributions in that area. I plan to limit the paper to that period of her life when she was actively collecting augmented with some background information about her childhood and young adulthood.


Appendix B


July 1, 1868 : Olive May Graves Percival is born in Sheffield , Illinois

1877: Arrives in Southern California

1891: Begins insurance career

1901: Mexico City , an Idler's Note-Book published

March 18, 1904 : Gives talk at Friday Morning Club; subject: In Pursuit of the Antique in Modern New England (extols the virtues of old books

November 24, 1905 : Gives talk at Friday Morning Club; subject: Children's Books of 1805

1909: Her annual salary: $1,700/year at Home Insurance Company

1911: Leaf-Shadows and Rose-Drift, Being Little Songs from a Los Angeles Garden published

1929: Retires from Home Insurance Company

April 29, 1942 : House of Field Book Publishers giving consideration to "manuscript," asks for Olive Percival's reply

February 19, 1945 : Olive Percival dies in Pasadena , California

1946: Yellowing Ivy published

1947: Our Old-Fashioned Flowers published

Appendix C

Research Questions

1) How did Olive Percival's young life and upbringing influence her passion for collecting and especially book collecting?

2) I noticed in one of the descriptions found in the finding aid for her collection that she wanted bookshelves for 10,000 books. Her children's book collection was not that large. What other types of books did she collect?

3) Why did Olive Percival collect children's books? As far as I can tell, she had very few relatives and I have not yet read about nieces or nephews. What was it about children's books that drew her?

4) The article in the small pamphlet, UCLA'S Trove of Rare Children's Books , implies that Olive Percival may have focused her children's book collection on information found in F. J. Darton's Children's Books in England . This book was published in 1932. When

did Olive actually start collecting and what other sources did she use to guide her?

5) What was she like? Was she serious, funny, eccentric? She sounds like a fascinating woman and I am anxious to learn more about her.

6) What is the context of Olive Percival's life in southern California and did this shape her as a person in any way?