Sam Walter Foss: SPL Librarian, Journalist, and Poet

Sam Walter Foss portrait

We have had some amazing library staff over the years. One of our more famous staff members is librarian Sam Walter Foss.

Sam Walter Foss was born in Candia, New Hampshire in 1858 to Dyer and Polly Foss. Sam spent his childhood helping with his father’s farm and would later attend Portsmouth High School. After graduating, Foss would go on to attend Brown University in 1878 where he was known as the Class Poet. After graduating college in 1882, he began work as a journalist. With the help of a partner, Foss was able to revive the Lynn Saturday Union. He would later buy out his partner to become the editor and sole proprietor of the paper. During his time at the paper, Foss had his own funny column and would also contribute jokes and poems to other newspapers. He would later leave the Lynn Saturday Union to become an editorial writer at both The Yankee Blade and The Boston Globe.

Songs of War and Peace by Sam Walter FossFoss began his career as a librarian with the Somerville Public Library in 1898 and served until his death in 1911. Foss had a love for the library and wanted to help it grow and thrive in the city. Under his leadership, the library added both a reference room and children’s room, and the circulation numbers almost tripled within seven years. According to a Somerville Journal article, “The Somerville library has become one of the twenty-one large libraries of the country, and in point of circulation is the second library of New England, exceeded only by the great public library of Boston”. Foss was a beloved librarian and his death was felt by all in the library. The Trustees of the library would go on to form a committee for a memorial of Foss, which is still in our library to this day. When walking out of Wellington Hall, you will see a bronze memorial of Foss on the landing between the first and second floors.

In addition to his work as a journalist and a librarian, Foss enjoyed writing poetry. He would go on to publish five collections of poetry: Back Country Poems, Whiffs from Wild Meadows, Dreams in Homespun, Songs of War and Peace, and Songs of the Average Man. We have copies of Foss’s poetry collections available in our local history room, and you can also view digital copies online at HathiTrust. Our favorite poem of his happens to be “The Song of the Library Staff”!

Serene amid the tumult for new novels manifold,

For new novels out this afternoon but thirty minutes old;

Calm and cool amid the tumult see the Desk Attendant stand

With contentment on her features and a date-stamp in her hand.

"The Song of the Library Staff" by Sam Walter Foss


“Somerville’s Strong Men. No. 41.: As A Poet, Newspaper Man, and Librarian, Sam Walter Foss Has Won a Wide Reputation for the Excellence of His Literary Efforts.” Somerville Journal. March 3, 1911.

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