Martha Agnes Gover Bradford, a retired school librarian whose caring and thoughtful nature endeared her to several generations of Baltimore public school students, died Wednesday of progressive supranuclear palsy at Manor Care Health Services in Roland Park. She was 74.
Mrs. Bradford began her career in the late 1940s and was the first librarian at Cherry Hill Junior High School when it opened in the 1950s. For more than 15 years, Mrs. Bradford saw to the literary needs of the students at Calverton Junior High School. She retired in 1992.
A small, well-dressed woman who loved books and children equally, Mrs. Bradford treated the children with a mother's love and thought nothing of keeping the school library open until 4 p.m. or later, to accommodate students selecting books or reading.
"She presented the library as a place that was really important and welcoming. She told great stories and was able to whet [students'] appetites for reading and books," said Delores Jessup, a colleague and friend for more than 40 years. "She could propel her voice into the farthest corner of the library and they knew she was in charge."
Mrs. Jessup, a retired English teacher, described her friend as a "highly intelligent woman" who was "never condescending to the children."
Born Martha Gover, the daughter of a farmer and a teacher, Mrs. Bradford was reared on a dairy farm near Jarrettsville.
"We used to have to walk three miles to the one-room colored schoolhouse," said her sister, Edna A. Ruff of Baltimore, who said her sister had been an avid reader since childhood.
"The lady next door, a white woman, was always giving us books to read," Mrs. Ruff said. "We knew that we lived in a separate world, but the neighbors were polite to us and we were polite to them."
Mrs. Bradford was a 1942 graduate of Dunbar High School, where she was valedictorian of her class, and earned her bachelor's degree from Morgan State College in 1946.
Mrs. Bradford, one of many black residents who were forced to study for master's degrees out of state because of Maryland's segregation laws, studied at Columbia University in New York for her master's degree in library science, which she was awarded in the early 1950s.
She was an active member of Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church and was a member of many committees, including the United Methodist Women and the Naylor Hughes Fellowship and History Committee.
She was a life member of Delta Sigma Theta Baltimore Alumnae Chapter and had served as president of the organization. She was also a member of the National Council of Negro Women, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Friends of the Enoch Pratt Free Library and Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development.
Services will be held at 10: 30 a.m. tomorrow at Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church, 1206 Etting St., Baltimore.
In addition to her sister, Mrs. Bradford is survived by a brother, William F. Gover of Forest Hill; a cousin, Alonzo Bowen of Tampa, Fla.; and many nieces and nephews.