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Anna "Nancy" Foster Allen
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Birth: Feb. 20, 1901
Death: Jul. 31, 1995

It seems strange to list her under her real name of Anna F. Allen. Few people would know to look for her under that name, because she was widely known as Nancy Allen.

Nancy was one of the rare folks who was smart and gracious too - sharp, sweet, and possessed of a wide body of knowledge. I always addressed her as "Mrs. Allen" though she was not by nature a formal person, just one deserving of respect. Though she was a member of my church, I truly got to know Mrs. Allen when I worked at the Lehigh County Historical Society, under her guidance and that of Monica Bugbee. Mrs. Allen's lovely white hair was always tamed by a slim ribbon, and her eyes sparkled, showing her quick wit before she opened her mouth. She's missed by many, for many good reasons. My dad, who worked with her on some committee at church, adored her intelligence and spirit.

In 1989, Nancy was among the recipients of the first Morning Call Community Spirit Awards. She won in the Arts and Humanities category, cited as: "Anna Foster Allen, 88, who processes emergency records at Allentown Hospital, which she has done for 24 years. A retiree of the Temple University Library, she spent 18 years as volunteer librarian for the Lehigh County Historical Society. She catalogs books at St. John's Lutheran Church and packs food at the Ecumenical Food Bank."


Nancy Allen started her career as a librarian at Muhlenberg College while an extension student there in the mid-1920s.

At 91, she's still at it -- now as the librarian at Luther Crest, the senior citizen complex in South Whitehall Township, where she has lived since 1984.

In between, she's done library work for Bryn Mawr College, Temple University, Lehigh County Historical Society and St. John's Lutheran Church in Allentown.

Nancy's real first name is Anna. But her mother "rechristened" her Nancy when she was ready for school. The mother feared schoolmates in their Irish neighborhood in Scranton would call her Annie, a name she didn't like. Nancy stuck.

The family had roots in Allentown. And after the death of Nancy's father in 1919, the family came here.

Nancy went to Muhlenberg under an extension school program that admitted women. Her brother was at Lehigh University.

"My brother flunked out. Lehigh gave him another chance. He flunked out again -- because it was more fun for him to watch the Hill-to-Hill Bridge being built than study."

At Muhlenberg, English Professor T.D. Simpson told Nancy he needed someone to run the library who didn't know much. It was his way of saying he didn't want a professional librarian -- and Nancy wasn't at the time.

She performed that work for two years while a student. The library was housed in a single room in the administration building.

She married physics prof C. Spencer Allen. "My story is I had to marry him to pass," she says.

Allen had TB. Despite treatment at Saranac, he died soon after their marriage.

Nancy went on to Drexel University for a library degree. "It was a B.A. then. It is now a master's. We got training to be head librarians, but we had to start at the bottom anyway."

She became assistant to the reference librarian at Bryn Mawr College in the early 1930s.

"I hated it," she says. "Bryn Mawr treated its head librarian like an upper class servant."

Under her immediate boss, five predecessors hadn't last a year. Nancy stayed 5-1/2 years. "I was there during the Depression, so I didn't get snooty about jobs."

Then she went to Temple University which had just built a new library in 1936. "They were human beings. You could talk to them," she says.

She was at Temple for 31 years, rising to the post of head of circulation in a library that had a million volumes.

That's where she adopted what she calls "my gimmick" -- a ribbon to hold her hair.

"The Temple Library had no air circulation except for a big fan. My hair was all over the place." So she went to a ribbon tied around the back of her head with a bow on top. "People don't know me unless I have that," she says.

Most of those years at Temple, she had a five-unit apartment building just a block from the library. She lived on the first floor.

But she kept one unit vacant -- the one right over her bedroom. "Temple students had no respect for sleep. They do their schoolwork until midnight and then they do their housework," she explains.

With retirement from Temple, she returned to Allentown.

Nancy had inherited a home in the 1950s in the West End from her grandfather's estate. She came up here weekends. Friends were here.

Nancy bought a home across from West Park and lived there 19 years.

She says the leadership of the Lehigh County Historical Society in the 1960s was "a bunch of stuffy old men." She credits Eleanor Leh with "putting a firecracker" under them. It led to Nancy's work for 20 years in cataloging the society's holdings.

She moved on to cataloging the library at St. John's Lutheran. "I've pretty well worked myself out of a job there. I'm down to going there once a month."

At Luther Crest, she's using the book allocation money to buy popular fiction in large print for its library -- which includes some of the steamier novels. "I had no knowledge of these before," she says.

And with a touch of indignation, she announces, "I have censors."

Someone is cutting pages out of books, she says. One resident threw a book in the trash without reimbursing the library. And another said she should be arrested for buying a Harold Robbins novel.

She says that when word got around the dining room about the Robbins book, one man who had never been in the library before showed up, walked around for awhile and finally asked for the volume.

"We're not 16. We can censor ourselves," Nancy says. "If you don't like a book, don't read it."


Anna F. Allen, 94, of Luther Crest, South Whitehall Township, a retired college and volunteer librarian, died Monday in Crest Hall of Luther Crest. She was the wife of the late Charles S. Allen.

She was a librarian at Temple University for 31 years until retiring in 1966. Previously, she was librarian at Bryn Mawr College in Delaware County.

In retirement, she was volunteer librarian at St. John's Lutheran Church, Allentown; Lehigh County Historical Society for 17 years until 1984, and at Luther Crest.

A 1927 graduate of Muhlenberg College, she recently received an Alumni Achievement Award from the college for her distinguished and exceptional service. She received a bachelor's of library science from Drexel Institute of Technology in 1931.

In 1989, she was one of the recipients of the first Morning Call Community Spirit Award, which honors volunteers who contribute their time to helping others. At that time, she was 24-year volunteer at the former Allentown Hospital, processing emergency records.

Born in West Pittston, Luzerne County, she was a daughter of the late Henry J. and Mary (Ainey) Foster.

She was a member of Christ Lutheran Church, Allentown.

There are no immediate survivors.

Memorial service: 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Crest Hall of Luther Crest. No calling hours. Arrangements, Stephens Funeral Home, Allentown.

Family links: 
  C. Spencer Allen (1898 - 1929)
Created by: sr/ks
Record added: Oct 05, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 42737627
Anna Nancy <i>Foster</i> Allen
Added by: sr/ks
Anna Nancy <i>Foster</i> Allen
Added by: sr/ks
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- sr/ks
 Added: Jan. 24, 2013

- nancy murray
 Added: Mar. 13, 2012

 Added: Oct. 15, 2011
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