Extraordinary Local Women of History

Despite a few snowy days, spring has officially arrived and March is almost over. Let's wrap up Women's History Month by highlighting the contributions of two Chicago women.

Vivian G. Harsh

The first African American branch head at the Chicago Public Library and an early leader in the movement to preserve African American history, Vivian Gordon Harsh was often described as a “professional perfectionist.” She established a Special Negro Collection at the George Cleveland Hall Branch Library and began acquiring books, pamphlets, clippings and photographs on African American history and literature. Authors including Richard Wright, Margaret Walker and Horace Cayton used the Special Negro Collection as a research site for their own writings.

Elder Lucy Smith

Elder Lucy Smith formed Langley Avenue All Nations Pentecostal Church in 1918 and was the first black woman to pastor a major congregation in Chicago. The church was instrumental in providing food and clothing to thousands of Chicagoans during the Great Depression and charity for impoverished Bronzeville families. All Nations was known for its spectacular gospel music, which could be heard at the church or through its radio broadcast program, which began in 1933, the “Glorious Church of the Air.” The first live worship program ever to broadcast from a black church, it would air each week until 1955.

Discover how other women shaped Chicago by reading Anne Meis Knupher's The Chicago Black Renaissance and Women's Activism, which highlights the contributions of women to the flourishing culture of arts, literature, music and intellectualism in the 1930s known as the Chicago Renaissance.

Do you have a notable female leader who has impacted your life or your local community? Please share in the comments section below.