Ideson, Jones, and Bush: The Library Legacy Block of Downtown Houston

The three namesakes of the Central Houston Public Library block, Julia Ideson, Jesse H. Jones, and Barbara Bush, have legacies that span a century, a multitude of industries, reaching into communities, and enriching the lives of families and children everywhere.

While each of them grew up in different towns, they each have been interwoven into delivering the mission of our Houston Public Library. And beyond all shadow of a doubt, these individuals came to Houston and made an astounding impact on the city and nation in their time.

Texas Living

Born on July 15, 1880, Julia Ideson came to Houston from Hastings, Nebraska at the age of twelve. As the daughter of a bookstore owner, she became naturally inclined to reading. After graduating from Houston High School in 1899, she attended the University of Texas at Austin to study library science. During her attendance, she worked as an assistant library cataloger for the school, a member of the Ashbel literary society, and the associate editor of the UT literary magazine.

Jesse Holman Jones, born the son of a tobacco merchant and farmer in Tennessee on April 5, 1874 . At the age of 14, he left school after the 8th grade, to manage his father’s tobacco warehouse. At 19 he went to Dallas to help his uncle run a lumberyard. After the death of his uncle, Jones moved to Houston in 1989 and established his own lumber business in 1902, the South Texas Lumber Company, and began the new concepts of building affordable houses by offering 20-year mortgages and building the city’s first skyscrapers.

Barbara Bush, born on June 8, 1925 as Barbara Pierce, grew up in Rye, New York, attending the public school, Rye Country Day School, and Ashley Hall, a South Carolina boarding school. While enrolled in Ashley Hall, Pierce met George H.W. Bush, and married in 1945 while George was on Navy leave. George and Barbara Bush heard of the new booming oil industry down south, and left for Odessa, Texas right after the birth of their first child, George. Mrs. Bush had another son, Jeb, and lost her daughter, Robin, in 1953. She would eventually have two more boys and another daughter, Marvin, Neil, and Doro, and moved her family to Houston after Doro’s birth.

Committed to Community

Bush, Jones, and Ideson all committed themselves to strengthening communities through the active funding of public buildings and programs as well as the promotion of literacy and education.

Noted as the first public librarian of Houston, Julia Ideson drastically expanded the library system of Texas while serving on the Texas Library Association as secretary and president and vice president of the American Library Association. She also took an intensive role in gathering financing for Carnegie Colored Library, which opened in 1913 and was Houston’s first public library of which black patrons were allowed access. Beyond library associations, Ideson was also involved in voting rights associations, included being a member of the Women’s Political Union, and in 1915 she spoke at the first open-air women suffrage rally and voiced that, “women will never obtain necessary reforms unless they have the right to vote.” Ideson was also integral in creating open, welcoming and well lit spaces, including the vision for the opening of the new Central Library building in 1926, and purchasing the Library’s first bookmobile that held 2000 volumes of books. The Central Library, erected in 1926 was later named in her honor in 1951 and is now home to the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, which is recognized as “one of the most comprehensive urban history archives in the United States” according to Texas State Historical Association.

Jesse H. Jones pioneered business and commercialism in Houston, building up most of the city as we know it financially. Jones expanded the economy of Houston and modernized Texas industries. He helped fund universities, libraries, radio stations, and hundreds of downtown buildings.  He’d go on to purchase half of the Houston Chronicle in 1908, and the other half in 1926. Jones became the first chairman of the Houston Harbor Board, raising money by selling $1,250,000 in bonds for the Houston ship channel’s operations. The channel is now one of the busiest waterways in the US. Jones also became the Director of General Military Relief for the Red Cross in World War I, and worked on the board for the Reconstruction Finance Corporation during the Great Depression. In 1947 Jones returned to Houston, and began to focus on philanthropy with his wife, Mary Gibbs Jones, running the Houston Endowment that he and Mary had established in 1937. The foundation still runs today, granting about $75 million annually to hundreds of individuals and organizations around the city, from scholarship initiatives to theater grants.

And lastly, the First Lady of Literacy herself, Barbara Bush. In addition to her volunteer work at United Way and Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital, she has worked vigorously for nearly thirty years to enhance both child and adult literacy in America. Since even before she was the first lady, Bush was tackling the issue head-on. In 1989, she established the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. Bush played an integral role in the National Literacy Act of 1991, which aimed to enhance the literacy and basic skills of adults and to strengthen and coordinate adult literacy programs. Bush advocated for universal literacy, and continues to, in the form of support for schools, libraries, and other institutions. Her novel titled Millie’s Book, based on the point of view of the Bush family dog raised nearly $1 million for the cause. The foundation continues to improve society through projects such as mentoring programs and book donations. In Bush’s own hometown, right here in Houston, The Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation was established in 2013 by Neil and Maria Bush, and has provided incredible opportunities for the growth of Houston Public Library programming and is addressing the literacy crisis in Houston by creating and supporting programming, engaging volunteers and fostering collaborations.

One Block. Three Leaders. One Mission.

Jones, Ideson, and Bush were each, in their own right, a servant of the people of Houston and America. The downtown works are named with the promise of remembering their lifetimes.

The Historic Julia Ideson Building, a Houston landmark, preserves, locates and provides evidence of Houston’s History to researchers, students and visitors through its Houston Metropolitan Research Center. The Julia Ideson Building is also home to breathtaking views, the Tudor Gallery, the serene and inspiring Reading Room, exceptional collections and resources, travelling exhibits, and is one of Houston’s top event spaces.

The Central Library in the Jesse H. Jones Building established in 1976, is a contemporary, futuristic, granite, 6-story building. It is home to the library’s administrative offices, vast Children and Teen’s gaming, technology and reading areas, workforce solutions,  computer classes, citizenship classes, passport services — to name a few! —  and multilingual programming, books and resources for all ages, individuals from all industries and hobbies, nationalities and beyond.

he Barbara Bush Literacy Plaza  set to open in Fall of 2018, will be a vibrant and versatile space in the heart of Houston, nestled in between the Ideson and Jones Buildings, with an art lawn, reading gardens, a performance stage and places to dine and gather. The plaza will be yet another shining hallmark of Houston life.  It will be home to annual HPL events like Books Alive! HPL’s Annual Children’s Celebration, cultural celebrations like LibroFEST and International Literacy Festival. It will be a place where programming will go outside library walls and into the life and heart of Downtown Houston.

These spaces honor the past, the present and the future of Houston on the same block, serving Houston and visitors alike with a wealth and array of resources, experiences and programming, right across the heart of Houston, at City Hall. These spaces will continue to serve the people just as they did in their name, reminding generations to come that these legacies that lived years, decades, even centuries before them, cared about them, their success and well-being.  Just as the library does. And maybe, just maybe, these spaces will inspire the future generations of Library Leaders.

Photo Credits: Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation,  David Valdez – Library of Congress, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Lauren Griffith and Associates


By: Jeylan Jones

Summer Administrative Intern

Jeylan Jones is a student of the Houston School for the Performing and Visual Arts and is focusing on his gift and love of Creative Writing. Jeylan enjoys play-writing, fiction-writing, nonfiction-writing and poetry – any kind of writing is alright by Jeylan!

Oak Forest Neighborhood Library was a big part of Jeylan’s childhood. He’d go to performances and played board games — luckily they had every book series he had ever looked for! Jeylan has quickly become a part of the Foundation team and his quick word-smithing, uncanny ability to research and go the extra mile has provided immense support to our team this summer.