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Thu, 05.25.1905

Dorothy Porter Wesley, Librarian, and Writer born

Dorothy Wesley

On this date in 1905, Dorothy Porter Wesley was born. She was a Black writer and librarian.

Dorothy Burnett was from Warrenton, VA, the oldest of four children and the daughter of a doctor. The family was raised in Montclair, N.J., where the children attended public schools. After high school, she enrolled at the Minor Normal School in Washington, D.C.  In 1926, she transferred to Howard University, then to Columbia University, intent on becoming a librarian.  A 1928 graduate of Howard University, Porter was the first Black woman to be awarded a master's degree in library science from Columbia University in 1932.

With the appointment to her first job in research, a new era began for the Jesse Moorland collection in 1930, and continued when the Moorland Foundation was established as a research library.  Over the next 43 years, Dorothy Burnett Porter devoted herself to developing a modern research library to serve the needs of the Howard University community, as well as an international community of scholars.  She improved the classification scheme, making it more suitable for a special research collection, and developed a wide variety of research tools and authoritative bibliographies based on her vast knowledge in the field that would become known as Black studies.  She augmented the collection's holdings, and the opening of the Founder's Library in 1939 made substantial expansion possible.

In 1946, upon the advice of Wesley, Howard University purchased the nearly 5,000 volume Negro Authors Collection from Arthur Spingarn, and the Moorland Foundation became known as the Moorland-Spingarn Research Library. In 1958, the library purchased Spingarn’s Negro Music Collection, the largest in the world at the time.  Having created an invaluable collection where scholars and authors the world over interested in African American history have engaged in research, Wesley retired from Howard in 1973.  For her years of service, the university named the library reading room the “Dorothy B. Porter Reading Room.”

She kept busy during her years after retirement, active in research, writing, and publishing several books including Afro Braziliana: A Working Bibliography (1978). She married Charles H. Wesley in 1979. Dorothy Wesley received many honors and awards for her extensive work in documenting and collecting African American history, Among them, the Charles Frankel Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1994.  Failing health caused her to move from her home of over 70 years in Washington, D.C., to Fort Lauderdale, FL. Dorothy B. Wesley died of cancer in 1995 at the age of 91.

To Become a Librarian


The biographical dictionary of Black Americans
by Rachel Krantz and Elizabeth A. Ryan
Copyright 1992, Facts on File, New York, NY
ISBN 0-8160-2324-7

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