Virginia Proctor Powell Florence blazed trails as the first Black woman to earn a Library Science degree, and just the second Black person to do so. The Pennsylvania native was born October 1, 1897.
Florence was born in the town of Wilkinsburg, and moved to Pittsburgh as a teen. She attended Oberlin College, graduating with a degree in English Literature. After returning to Pittsburgh with hopes of becoming a teacher, Florence’s future husband, Charles Wilbur Florence, encouraged her to study librarianship due to her love of books and children.
\After a tough fight of pushing past the racist admission policies at what is now called the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Information Sciences, Florence, facing discrimination at almost every turn, was admitted due to her strong academic background. She graduated from the school with her Library Science degree in 1923.
Florence once again made history, this time in New York as the first Black person to take and pass the state’s high school librarian exam. Florence worked in New York, Richmond, and Washington, at one point taking a hiatus after her husband was named president of Lincoln University in Missouri.
Florence and her husband involved remained active in their community supporting voting rights and the civil rights movement. Widowed in 1974, Florence remained in Richmond, passing in 1991 at the age of 93.
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