Black Bruin History – Miriam Matthews (1920 – 22)


Miriam Matthews, also known as the “Dean of Los Angeles Black History,” was the first African American professional librarian in California. She attended the Southern Branch of the University of California (now known as UCLA) 1from 920 to 1922. She transferred to UC Berkeley, earning a Bachelor’s degree in 1926 and a Certificate in Librarianship in 1927. She was hired later that year by the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). Among her many accomplishments, she successfully campaigned for Los Angeles to join with other cities to observe Negro History Week, which is now celebrated as Black History Month. During her career as a librarian, she began collecting books, documents and photographs related to African American history and culture in Los Angeles. In 1944, she published a book based on her research entitled The Negro in California, 1781 – 1910.

Miriam left her position at the LAPL to pursue a Master’s in library science from the University of Chicago, which she earned in 1945. Upon returning to work for the LAPL, she was promoted to Regional Librarian, with 12 library branches under her supervision.

Miriam passed in 2003 at the age of 97. The following year, the LAPL renamed the Hyde Park library branch in her honor. Photographs, art and other materials from her collection are available from the UCLA Digital Library and other academic and museum archives across the country.

Here is a link to UCLA’s Miriam Matthews Photograph Collection: