Early Illinois Women

Vivian Harsh (1890-1960)

Vivian Harsh was the Chicago Public Library's first African American librarian. Under her direction, the Midwest's largest collection relating to African American history was developed.

Vivian Harsh was a native of Chicago, born in 1890. At age 19, Harsh began working for the Chicago Public Library. By 1924, Harsh was the Library's first black librarian. In 1932, the Library opened a new branch called the George Cleveland Hall Branch to serve the expanding south side black community. Vivian Harsh became the first head librarian of this new branch, and as such became the first African American woman to head a branch of the Chicago Public Library.

In her position as head of the new branch, Harsh gathered books, pamphlets and other documents about black history. Many African American writers, such as Richard Wright and Langston Hughes, donated books, manuscripts, and research to her rapidly growing collection. By Vivian's death in 1960, the Vivian G. Harsh Collection of Afro-American History and Literature contained more than 70,000 volumes. The Collection, the largest of its kind in the Midwest, continues to be available to researchers today at the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library on South Halsted in Chicago.


  1. http://www.chipublib.org/002branches/woodson/wnharsh.html

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