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Florence Powell was born on this date in 1897. She was a Black educator and the first Black woman to receive professional training in library science in the United States.
Born in Wilkinsburg, PA, Florence Virginia Proctor Florence Powell received her early education in local public schools. After both her parents died, Powell moved to Pittsburgh to live with her aunt. In 1915, she graduated from Fifth Avenue High School. She also received her Bachelor's degree in English from Oberlin College in 1919. Her first job was in St. Paul, MN, with the YWCA’s Colored girls’ section as a secretary.
After a year, she returned to Pittsburgh to work in her aunt’s beauty parlor. Her aspirations for employment in the Pittsburgh school system were discouraged because of racism but her fiancé, Charles, aware of her love of children and literature, introduced Powell to the idea of a career in library science.
After applying to the Carnegie Library School, she was admitted in 1922, and completed the course of study within one year. Unfortunately, because school officials were uncertain about placing the first Black graduate, Powell did not receive her diploma until several years later. Powell began her new career in 1923 at the New York Public Library, continuing there for four years.
Upon taking and passing the New York high school librarian exam, she was appointed librarian at the Seward High School in Brooklyn, remaining there until 1931. That same year she married her fiancé and moved to Jefferson City, MO, where her husband was president and she was called the “First Lady” of Lincoln University. The couple moved back east in 1938. Florence resumed her career, and Charles became chairman of the English department at Virginia Union University in Richmond.
She was also a librarian at Cardoza High School in Washington, D.C., until 1945. After an illness, she continued at Maggie L. Walker Senior High School. Florence Powell was widowed in 1974, and in 1991 she died in Richmond, VA.
Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York