Vivian Gordon Harsh

Vivian Gordon Harsh (1890-1960) was born in Chicago, the daughter of Fisk University graduates. After earning an undergraduate degree in library sciences from Simmons College in Boston, she continued her studies at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Library Science.

With 20 years of service and considered one of the best librarians in Chicago, Harsh was named the head librarian at the Grover Cleveland Hall Branch of the Chicago Public Library in the Bronzeville neighborhood in January 1932.  With her appointment, she became the first Black head librarian in the city. With her tenure coinciding with Chicago’s Black Renaissance, Harsh created a “Special Negro Collection” at the library featuring rare books, pamphlets and materials that documented the African American experience. That collection became a world-renowned resource for residents and scholars and the library became a meeting place for promising young Black writers, artists and activists.

Why this stop? The Harold Washington Library did not exist during Harsh’s lifetime but it seemed only right that this stop at Chicago’s main library to be named after her.

Learn about Vivian Gordon Harsh and the impact of the Hall Branch Library in this short video.

Connect — The “Special Negro Collection” was renamed the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection and is now housed at the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library on the far South Side. Make a visit!

Photo Source: Chicago Public Library, George Cleveland Hall Branch Archives