A Brief History of Gerber/Hart Library
In January, 1981 Gerber/Hart Library was brought into existence as a joint project of the Gay Academic Union-Chicago Chapter, Gay Horizons, and the Chicago Gay and Lesbian History Project. Spearheaded by Gregory Sprague, who headed the History Project, the organization achieved independent status on Nov. 30, 1981, when it was incorporated by the State of Illinois as a not-for-profit corporation. Although now known as Gerber/Hart Library, the organization was first christened The Midwest Gay and Lesbian Archive and Library. In April 1981, to honor 1920s Chicago activist Henry Gerber and attorney Pearl Hart, the organization changed its name to The Henry Gerber-Pearl M. Hart Library: The Midwest Lesbian and Gay Resource Center.
While he supported himself as a postal employee in Chicago, Henry Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights, charted by the State of Illinois and located in Chicago in 1924. According to Jonathan Katz in Gay American History, this society is the earliest documented homosexual emancipation organization in the United States.
Following is an excerpt from an article in 1962 by Henry Gerber as cited in Katz' book: '"Just 37 years ago, in 1925, a few of my friends and myself were dragged to jail in Chicago causing our own efforts to ameliorate the plight of homosexuals to come to an early end."
'The United States was in a condition of chaos and misunderstanding concerning its sex laws, and no one was trying to unravel the tangle and bring relief to the abused... What was needed was a society, I concluded. My boss...helped me write a Declaration of Purpose for our new Society for Human Rights, and same name used by the homosexuals of Germany for their work... The beginning of all movements is necessarily small. I was able to gather together a half dozen of my friends and the Society for Human Rights became an actuality. I then set about putting out the first issue of Friendship and Freedom". After two issues of Friendship and Freedom, Gerber and some of his friends were arrested. ' In the Chicago Avenue Police Court, the detective triumphantly produced a powder puff which he claimed he found in my room. That was the sole evidence of my crime. It was admitted as evidence of my effeminacy. I have never in my life used rouge or powder.'
Eventually, Gerber's case was dismissed because he was arrested without a warrant.
Fired from his job after his arrest for "conducting unbecoming" a postal worker, Gerber reenlisted in the Army (where he previously served after World War I) and served for 17 more years. During this time he continued to work as a gay activist and writer. He died in 1972."
A pioneer who opened doors for women wishing to enter the legal profession, Pearl Hart was a civil rights lawyer and social activist. Writing at the time of Hart's death in 1975, Renee Hanover said, "Her legal career consisted in large part of defending underdogs - aliens, alleged subversive, homosexuals, prostitutes, among others - and she was once the only woman lawyer in Chicago specializing in criminal law."
After graduating in 1914 from John Marshall Law School (she later taught there for 25 years), she was the first public defender appointed in Chicago's Women's Court and from 1915 to 1917 served as one of the first women adult probation offices in Illinois, contributing significantly to state statutes concerning the welfare of children.
Pearl Hart practiced law in Chicago for 61 years during which time she founded the National Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, the National Lawyers Guild and the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights.
Her long career spanned a wide range of political struggles. In the 1920s her work involved challenges to the police and the courts on behalf of prostitutes. In the 30s, Hart legally protected the efforts of workers and
* Michael McCaslin, State Library Consultant, Chicago.
unemployed people to improve working conditions and to unionize. She defended the civil rights of many immigrants during the xenophobic times of the 40s and 50s, appearing frequently before the notorious House UnAmerican Activities Committee and the Immigration & Naturalization Service. Her advocacy of the rights of the foreign-born led to a landmark Supreme Court decision upholding limitations on the scope of inquiry by the U.S. Attorney General in deportation cases. In the 60s and 70s, Hart's work often involved representing women fighting against sexism.
Also during this time she was a particularly strong defender of the legal rights of gays and helped Chicago's gay community develop organizations to fight for their rights.
The Library Collections
Gerber/Hart Library's first home was at 3225 North Sheffield Avenue in the offices of Gay Horizons. After moving four times, the library resided in a 2,400 square-foot space at 3352 N. Paulina Street, a bright and spacious storefront, easily accessible at the tri-corner of Paulina, Roscoe and Lincoln Ave., and one block south of the Paulina stop on the Ravenswood "EL" line. The location is in the heart of the bustling Lakeview Neighborhood and immediately adjacent to the trend-setting neighborhood of Roscoe Village. In November 1998, the library moved into its new home at 1127 West Granville, just east of Broadway, and steps from the CTA Red Line's Granville Station in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood.
The new facility is more than double the size of the previous site and has a separate and secure archives area, a meeting room and a multipurpose room. There is more space for researchers to spread out materials, browse the stacks or just find a comfortable corner in which to set down and read a book. A major expansion of the book and reference collections and the archives is planned. The new facility is accessible to persons with disabilities and has free off-street parking.
Most of the books and periodicals in the lending library have been donated. This is a testament to the genuine support that Gerber/Hart Library enjoys in the gay community. The library currently holds 13,000 volumes with 10,000 separate titles, in addition to thousands of periodicals. The archives contain organizational records and personal papers, while artifacts such as clothing, buttons, banners and posters, periodicals and rare books, can be found in the library's Special Collections Department. All these items portray a rich and vibrant history of the community in the Chicago and the Midwest.
Volunteers have been the backbone of Gerber/Hart Library and the secret to its success. Fund raising, marketing, administrative tasks, library and archival work have all been performed by hundreds of dedicated volunteers. In 1994, the organization established the John H. Mueller Volunteer Service Award to recognize it volunteers. In September 1993, after nearly 13 years as an all-volunteer organization, Gerber/Hart Library hired its first employee, a part-time administrative assistant. A salaried managing director began his duties in June 1996.
Outreach to the community has been an integral part of Gerber/Hart Library's mission. Book groups have played a vital role in the endeavor. Currently, Gerber/Hart sponsors two book groups, one each for men and women as well as a video discussion group. In 1994, Gerber/Hart worked with a nationwide coalition of organizations to found Lesbian and Gay History Month, which is now celebrated nationwide in October. In July 1995, the library opened its doors to the world with the establishment of a site on the World Wide Web, and 1996 saw the establishment of the Sprague-Todes Literary Award to recognize the achievements of gay authors.
A Community Resource
Gerber/Hart Library has thrived in the 1990s. The decade has ushered in an era of unprecedented fund-raising activity, starting with the initiation of an annual fall fund raiser in 1991. A yearly booksale, begun in 1992, has quickly become a community institution. Organizations such as the Chicago Resource Center, the Crossroads Foundation, the Chicago Foundation for Women, the Sara Lee Foundation, the WPWR-TV Channel 50 Foundation and the Office of the Secretary of State/Illinois State Library have bestowed grants upon Gerber Hart Library.
Gerber/Hart Library received its first major bequest in November 1992. The parents of John Mueller, a deceased volunteer, donated $30,000, coupled with a future donation of $20,000. This contribution enabled the library to develop a computerized catalog of its holdings. Cataloging was finished in Fall 1996. Now researchers can easily access the online catalog, and all books are checked out through this system. Gerber/Hart received its second major bequest from the estate of Samuel Judah Todes beginning in 1995. Todes, a member of Gerber/Hart Library's first board of directors and a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, bequeathed more than $100,000 to the organization in honor of Gregory Sprague. The board of directors established the Samuel Judah Todes-Gregory Sprague Fund in response to this generous gift.
In December 1998, Gerber/Hart Library received a $12,440 grant from the Office of the Secretary of State/Illinois State Library under the "Educate & Automate" program. The grant will enable the library to make its catalog accessible world wide through the library's Web site and will give anyone with Web access the freedom to browse the collection even in the privacy of their home. Gerber/Hart appears to be the first independent library catering to the gay community to undertake this exciting task. Unlike many library systems, no password will be required to access the collection; a simple, uncomplicated button click will allow entry into the Internet catalog.
Gerber/Hart Library has been recognized four times for its contributions to enriching the community. In 1989, the organization's Gay Pride Parade float won the award for the "Best Entry Using Theme." In 1992 Gay Chicago Magazine chose Gerber/Hart Library as its "Organization of the Year." and in 1995, Howard Brown Health Center bestowed upon the library its "Friend for Life" award. Gerber/Hart Library's proudest moment occurred on November 12, 1996, when it was inducted into the Chicago Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame. In addition, the organization's namesakes. Henry Gerber and Pearl Hart, were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992. Gregory Sprague followed them into the Hall of Fame in 1994, in recognition of his contribution as a pioneer researcher in gay history.
Perhaps the most visible sign that Gerber/Hart Library has "arrived," is the plethora of publicity that the library generates. Hardly a week goes by that the community press does not publish a notice of some upcoming Gerber/Hart event. In the last few years, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Reader and American Libraries, the official publication of the American Library Association, have all published articles on the Gerber/Hart Library.
As the year 2000 approaches, Gerber/Hart Library stands poised to continue its mission to preserve the history of the gay community, protect the records and artifacts that illuminate that history, and defend the lives of gay individuals from discrimination and the ignorance that breed hate.
NOTE: The links that are underlined are Web sites. Access the hyperlinked sites via the Gerber/Hart Web site at:
LBG Libraries, Archives & Virtual Research Collections
• Archives gaie du Quebec (Montreal, Quebec)
Other Lists of LesBiGay Libraries & Archives
• in the United States maintained by Out.Line
• Libraries. Archives & Research Centers from the ONE Institutes List of Other Related Resources
Related Library & Education Resources & Organizations
• Goodbye to Berlin? - 100 Years of Gay Liberation -Exhibition
Information for Non-Profits
• Contact Interactive Clearinghouse of Nonprofit Services, Volunteer Opportunities, Jobs, Internships, Material and Events