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Catherine Allen Latimer

Catherine Allen Latimer

Catherine Allen Latimer
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Librarian
Was Librarian
From United States of America
Gender female
Birth 1896, Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee, USA
Death 1948, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA (aged 52 years)
Catherine Allen Latimer
The details


Catherine Allen Latimer (1896 – 1948) was the New York Public Library's first African-American librarian. She was instrumental in forming the library's Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints, which she then headed.

Personal life

Latimer (center) with her parents, Henry W. and Minta B. Allen, in 1899.

Catherine Bosley Allen was born in Nashville, TN, in 1896 to Minta Bosley Trotman and H. W. Allen. Although she and her family were African-American, Catherine was light-skinned and listed in the 1910 and 1930 censuses as "White." Her family moved to Brooklyn, NY, when she was a child, and she continued to live in New York for most of her adult life. She graduated from Brooklyn's Girls High School in 1916 and went on to study librarianship at Howard University, graduating in 1918. She was a fluent French speaker and could read German.

In 1921, she married Benton R. Latimer, who worked as an accountant for the United States Post Office.


After graduating from Howard University, Latimer worked for a year (1919–1920) at Tuskegee Institute's library and then returned to Brooklyn.

When the New York Public Library (NYPL) hired her in 1920 as a substitute librarian, she became NYPL's first African-American librarian. She transitioned to being a full-time librarian at the end of 1920 and remained at the 135th Street branch–termed "Harlem's cultural center"—for the entirety of her 28-year career.

In 1924, Latimer and Ernestine Rose (the branch's head librarian) started a drive to build a collection of reference books about black history. A year later, the growing collection—supported by community leaders such as historian Arturo Alfonso Schomburg and activists James Weldon Johnson and Hubert Harrison—became the Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints. The object of the new division was to "preserve the historical records of the race... [and] to give information to everyone about the Negro." Latimer was named as its head.

In 1926, NYPL acquired Schomburg's own collection of printed matter, which Latimer worked on integrating into the division. She was not an expert in rare books, however, and a few years later NYPL hired Schomburg himself as curator of the Schomburg Collection, with Latimer serving as his assistant. Many authors give credit and thanks to the librarians Rose and Latimer for their work in the creation and maintenance of this division.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 19 Jul 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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