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Chicago Public Library, George Cleveland Hall Branch Archives

Identifier: harsh-1932-01

Scope and Contents

The Archves are divided into 2 Super Series. Super Series 1 contains the Hall Branch Archives and documents the library’s history from its opening day in 1932 up to the relocation of the special Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection to Carter G. Woodson Regional Library in 1975. Researchers should consult the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection Archives for documentation of the collection’s history after its move to Woodson Library. Researchers also should note that some of the materials included in Super Series I were added during work on the 75th Anniversary Exhibit of George Cleveland Hall Branch Library in 2007. The files contain adminstrative files, manuscripts, correspondence, programs and flyers, photographs and memorabilia.

Super Series 2 contains the Hall Branch Vertical Files. This series comprises an important part of the “Special Negro Collection” established by Vivian Harsh. Recognizing that African American history and culture books were either rarely published or hard to find, Harsh sought to create an extraordinary collection of books, newspaper and periodical clippings, pamphlets, and other printed materials on the African American experience in Chicago in particular and throughout the United States and the Diaspora in general. As a general rule, in case of damaged and/or lost newspaper and periodical clippings, clippings have been photocopied and/or a copy has been obtained via Proquest database.


  • 1930-1975.


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions; portions of the archives are digitized and are available in the George Cleveland Hall Branch Digital Collection and the Chicago Renaissance Digital Collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection 

Biographical / Historical

The George Cleveland Hall Branch Archives contain materials related to the operation of Chicago Public Library’s Hall Branch, opened in 1932. The branch is named after prominent African American physician, activist and leader George Cleveland Hall (1864-1930) and serves the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Hall also served on the board of Chicago Public Library. The newly appointed branch head was Vivian G. Harsh, a Chicago native and graduate of Wendell Phillips High School. By 1921, Harsh graduated from library school in Boston and later became the first African American branch head after accepting the position at the Hall Branch library. Harsh collected rare books, pamphlets and materials that documented the African American experience. Funding for the “Special Negro Collection,” as it came to be called, came from grants and patron donations. Harsh also used her own money to purchase books for the collection.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Hall Branch became a magnet for Chicago’s African American writers, artists and scholars, and the general public. Harsh launched the Book Review and Lecture Forum, a semimonthly event designed to bring library patrons together with speakers on topics in Black history, literature and current events. Harsh cultivated an impressive constellation of African American presenters, including Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Arna Bontemps, Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Horace Cayton, William Attaway, Alain Locke and St. Clair Drake.


28 Linear Feet (in 52 boxes, includes 316 photographs)

Language of Materials



The Hall Branch is named for George Cleveland Hall, African American physician, Chicago Public Library board member and a founding member of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, who campaigned tirelessly for a full-service library in Bronzeville neighborhood. Hall Branch, headed by Vivian G. Harsh from 1932 to 1958, was a leading cultural institution during the Black Chicago Renaissance. The archives include administrative records, programs, correspondence, photographs, clipping files, pamphlets and research materials from its 1932 opening day until the transfer of the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature to Woodson Regional Library in 1975.


The Archives are arranged into 2 Super Series. Super Series 1 contains 7 Series. Super Series 2 contains 3 Series. The majority of the archives is arranged chronologically or alphabetically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Institutional Archives of George Cleveland Hall Branch, Chicago Public Library, were established by Vivian Harsh, 1932. Hall Branch Archives moved to Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, 1975.

Related Materials

Related materials at Chicago Public Library include:

  • Charlemae Hill Rollins Papers
  • Doris E. Saunders Papers
  • Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection Archives
  • Chicago Public Library Archives

Guide to Chicago Public Library, George Cleveland Hall Branch Archives
Mapping the Stacks Staff: Melissa Barton, Doron Galili, Moira Hinderer, Celeste Day Moore, Traci Parker, Christina Petersen, Marcia Walker, supervised by Michael Flug, Senior Archival Specialist. Ingested and uploaded into ASpace by C. Fife Townsel, October 2022
October 2022
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection Repository

Woodson Regional Library
Chicago Public Library
9525 S. Halsted Street
Chicago IL 60628 United States
(312) 745-2080