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Tue, 05.27.1890

Vivian G. Harsh, Historian born

Vivian G. Harsh

Vivian Harsh was born on this date in 1890. She was a Black librarian, historian, and administrator.

She was born in Chicago, IL, the daughter of Fenton W. Harsh and Maria L Drake Harsh.  Both her parents were graduates of Fisk University. As she grew up, she heard stories about the old Black settlers of the “Windy City.” 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 Jr.

Assisted by Black children's librarian Charlemae Hill Rollins, the collection became an extraordinary meeting place that helped develop the work of many Black thinkers in the "Bronzeville" era of the 1930s and 1940s. She retired in 1958. As a Black bibliophile and collector, she made an important contribution to saving African American history.  Her achievements complement the work of Arthur Schomburg, Jesse Moorland, and others.

She never married and had no children. Vivian Harsh died on August 17, 1960.

Reference Library of Black America Volumes 1 through 5
Edited by Mpho Mabunda
Copyright 1998, Gale Research, Detroit, MI

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