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Tue, 07.14.1931

Harriette Gillem Robinet, Biologist and Author born

Harriette Gillem Robinet

*Harriette Gillem Robinet was born on this date in 1931.  She is a Black research biologist, professor, and author.

Born in Washington D.C., Harriette Gillem spent her childhood summers in Arlington, Virginia; the daughter of Richard Avitus (a teacher) and Martha (a teacher; maiden name, Gray) Gillem. Her mother's father had been an enslaved person under General Robert E. Lee.

Gillem graduated from College of New Rochelle, B.S., 1953; Catholic University of America, M.S., 1957, Ph.D., 1963. She married McLouis Joseph Robinet (a health physicist) on August 6, 1960; they had six children: Stephen, Philip, Rita, Jonathan, Marsha, and Linda. Robinet worked as a bacteriologist at the Children's Hospital, Washington, DC, 1953–54. At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC, medical bacteriologist, 1954–57, and a research bacteriologist, 1958–60. Xavier University, New Orleans, LA, biology instructor, 1957–58. Author, 1962–. Her military service included: U.S. Army, Quartermaster Corps, civilian food bacteriologist, 1960–1961.

Moving to Chicago, Illinois, she and her husband were active in the 20th-century American Civil Rights and fair housing movements. They were among the first African American families to purchase a home in Oak Park with a conventional mortgage—and without using a "straw" buyer. For the 50th anniversary of the passage of Oak Park's Fair Housing Ordinance, they donated two original signs during early fair housing marches to the Oak Park River Forest Museum. 

She published her first of several children's books, Jane and the Marigold, in 1976. As an author, she has many honors: Friends of American Writers Award, 1991, for Children of the Fire; Carl Sandburg Award, 1997, for Washington City is Burning; Midland Authors Award, 1998, for The Twins, the Pirates, and the Battle of New Orleans; Scott O'Dell Award for children's historical fiction, 1999, for Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule; Jane Addams Honor Book designation, 2001, for Walking to the Bus-Rider Blues.

A Roman Catholic, she is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Society of Midland Authors, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the National Writers Union. Her hobbies include pets, bird watching, growing plants, reading, camping, knitting, crocheting, and sketching.

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