To celebrate Black History Month, we’re spotlighting a Chicago Black history maker every week. This week’s history maker is Vivian Harsh, Chicago’s first Black librarian.
Harsh was born in Chicago in 1890. She attended Wendell Phillips High School, where she joined the history club and grew her love for history and books. After graduating, she began her career with the Chicago Public Library in 1909. Harsh worked her way up to becoming head librarian of the George Cleveland Hall Branch in Bronzeville.
As Chicago’s Urban Historian Shermann “Dilla” Thomas points out, Harsh collected materials to build one of the largest collections of Black literature and history in the U.S.
“We consider Vivian Harsh a very important historian, though she never wrote a word, what she did was she collected very important books, newspaper articles,” Thomas said. “She collected a lot of those documents, church minted meetings we still have today at the Carter G. Woodson library at the Vivian Harsh collection, and so she helps us with historical research and maintaining and understanding our history.”
Harsh died in 1960. Her collection, the Vivian G Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, can be found at the Woodson Library in Washington Heights.