Breaking the Color Barrier: Regina Andrews and the New York Public Library

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2013-05-23 02:26Z by Steven

Breaking the Color Barrier: Regina Andrews and the New York Public Library

Libraries & the Cultural Record
Volume 42, Number 4, 2007
pages 409-421
DOI: 10.1353/lac.2007.0068

Ethelene Whitmire, Associate Professor of Library & Information Studies
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Chicago native Regina Anderson Andrews (1901–93) was a librarian in the New York Public Library (NYPL) system for nearly half a century beginning in 1923 at the 135th Street branch (now the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture) until her retirement from the Washington Heights branch in 1967. Andrews broke the color barrier by becoming the first African American supervising librarian in NYPL history. Her accomplishment was not an easy one. This article illustrates Andrews’s groundbreaking career as a librarian and activist, including her fight, with W. E. B. Du Bois as a powerful ally, against the NYPL administration for opportunities for promotion and equal pay.

“I’m American,” Regina Anderson wrote in 1923 on her application for a position in the New York Public Library (NYPL) when asked to give her race. Three or four days after she completed the application at the main branch on 42nd Street, Anderson received a request to return to discuss her answers—this one in particular. Asked again about her racial designation and stating firmly that she was American, Anderson was told, “You’re not an American. You’re not white.”

Like untold numbers of U.S. citizens, Anderson came from a multicultural background requiring a roadmap to follow. Her father, William Grant “Habeas Corpus” Anderson, a prominent criminal lawyer in Chicago, was the son of a Swedish immigrant and his American Indian wife. Her mother, Margaret Simons, was the daughter of Henry Simons, the son of an Arkansas Confederate general and an immigrant Jewish woman. Henry’s wife, Regina’s maternal grandmother, was the offspring of a  Madagascar woman and an East Indian man. Regina considered herself an American.

In December 1924, a year after the application incident, this “pert olive-skinned girl” would grace the cover of Messenger magazine’s issue that featured “Negro women who are unique, accomplished, beautiful, intelligent, industrious, talented and successful.”

The NYPL hired Anderson, but because of her color, her interviewer told her, “We’ll have to send you to Harlem.” Besides determining her…

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An Illuminated Life: Belle da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2010-08-23 19:15Z by Steven

An Illuminated Life: Belle da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege (review)

Libraries & the Cultural Record
Volume 45, Number 3, 2010
E-ISSN: 1932-9555
Print ISSN: 1932-4855
pages 375-377

Nena Couch, Curator and Professor of Theater
Ohio State University

The life of the librarian seldom is acknowledged beyond the confines of the community in which she or he is active; therefore, Heidi Ardizzone’s biography of Belle da Costa Greene, librarian to J. Pierpont Morgan and first director of the Pierpont Morgan Library, should be a welcome publication. Greene was a widely respected and successful librarian who made significant contributions to the development and refinement of Morgan’s collection until his death and continued her work with his son John “Jack” Pierpont Morgan, Jr. She was actively involved in the establishment of the Morgan Library as a public institution. Her work had national and international impact and as such is worthy of a full-length biography. Enhancing her story is her testing of boundaries: she was a woman in what was a man’s field, and she was of mixed race passing as white. However, Ardizzone’s primary interests are not in Greene’s significant professional accomplishments—although they are touched upon in An Illuminated Life—but in “Belle’s social life and experiences” (10) and in speculation about a woman…

Read the entire review here.

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