Vivian G. Harsh

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Vivian G. Harsh
Vivian Harsh 1919 (cropped).tif
Vivian Harsh greeting returning World War I troops
OccupationLibrarian edit this on wikidata

Vivian G. Harsh (May 27, 1890 – August 17, 1960) was an American librarian. On February 26, 1924, she became the Chicago Public Library system's first black librarian.


Harsh first began working for the Chicago Public Library as a junior clerk in 1909 after graduating high school.[1] She later went on to graduate from Simmons College Library School in Boston. She was named director of the new George Cleveland Hall branch in 1932. Harsh's goal for Hall Library when she became director was to have it serve as a community gathering space and to provide educational outreach opportunities. As a librarian, she was passionate about collecting works about African Americans and she traveled extensively throughout the South finding books to add to her collection.[2] She assembled the "Special Negro Collection" at the library, which drew a large number of diverse readers and researchers to the library.

Additionally, in her role as the director of Hall Library, Harsh organized community programs such as black history clubs, literary study clubs, a literature forum, art exhibits, storytelling sessions, drama clubs, a senior citizen’s group, and debates, all with the assistance of black children's librarian Charlemae Hill Rollins. The literature forum Harsh created met twice a month and provided community members a place to come and listen to book reviews or lectures given by fellow community members. Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, Arna Bontemps, Horace Clayton, and Margaret Walker were among the people who participated in these forums.[3] The Hall Library's role as a meeting place for African-American thinkers and activists had a profound impact on the surrounding Bronzeville neighborhood in Chicago in the 1930s and 1940s.

Harsh retired as director of Hall Library in 1958 and died on August 17, 1960.

Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature[edit]

The collection Harsh started has been renamed the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature and is now located at the Woodson Regional Library just east of Beverly, Chicago.[4] Today, the Harsh collection contains rare books, current and historical periodicals, microfilm collections, and archival document collections. The holdings include: the Timuel D. Black Papers, the Richard Wright (author) Papers, and the Patricia Lidell Researchers Archives, among other African-American activists, authors, educators, and organizations with ties to the city of Chicago.[5] The Harsh also regularly exhibits items of particular interest. Recent exhibits include selections from the Timuel D. Black Papers and the Reverend Addie Wyatt Papers.


  1. ^ Burt, L. (2009). "Vivian Harsh, adult education, and the library's role as community center." Libraries and the Cultural Record, 44(2), 234(22).
  2. ^ Knupfer, A. M. (2006). The Chicago Black Renaissance and Women's Activism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  3. ^ "Vivian Gordon Harsh (1890-1960)", in Dictionary of American Library Biography: Second Supplement. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, 2003, p. 129.
  4. ^ Vivian G. Harsh research collection of Afro-American history and literature. Woodson Regional - Chicago Public Library.
  5. ^ Chicago Public Libraries. "Archival Collections."

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