Vivian G. Harsh was the first African American to head a branch of the Chicago Public Library. (Google Images)
Vivian G. Harsh was the first African American to head a branch of the Chicago Public Library. (Google Images)

VIVIAN G. HARSH, Bibliophile

“As a Black bibliophile and collector, Vivian Harsh’s achievements compliment the work of Arthur Schomburg, Jesse Moorland, and others.” — Reference Library of Black America Volumes 1 through 5
  Edited by Mpho Mabunda

Vivian Harsh was born on May 27, 1890. She was an African American librarian, historian, and administrator, who made an important contribution to saving African American history.

Harsh was born in Chicago, IL, the daughter of Fenton W. Harsh and Maria L. Drake Harsh. After graduating from Wendell Phillips High School in 1909, Harsh began working for the only employer she would ever have, the Chicago Public Library. In 1921, she graduated from the Simmons College Library School in Boston and in February 1924, Harsh became the first Black librarian in the Chicago Public Library system.

She was instrumental in convincing Julius Rosenwald to donate land for the George Cleveland Hall branch library in 1932. Because of this, Harsh was named its first head librarian. She immediately began establishing a “Special Negro Collection” which became an integral part of the branch’s community service. While developing this collection as a research and programming center for Chicago’s community of Black scholars and activists, Harsh won the support and assistance of such leaders and writers as Richard Wright, Arna Bontemps, Langston Hughes, and Horace Cayton.

The collection Harsh started has been renamed the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature and is now located at the Woodson Regional Library in Chicago.

Learn more about Vivian G. Harsh at the Vivian G. Harsh Society.

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