Eliza Atkins Gleason (1909-2009)

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Eliza Atkins Gleason was born in Winston, North Carolina, the ninth child of Simon Green Atkins and Oleona Pegram Atkins.   Her father, a graduate of St. Augustine’s Normal Collegiate School, founded the Slater Industrial Academy in 1892, which is today Winston-Salem State University. Her mother, a graduate of Fisk University, was a teacher and Assistant Principal at the school.

After receiving her A.B. from Fisk University in 1930 and her B.S. in Library Science from the University of Illinois in 1931, Dr. Atkins Gleason came to Kentucky in the summer of 1931 to begin her first library job at the newly established Louisville Municipal College (LMC). This separate and segregated four-year liberal arts college under the administration of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees was absorbed into UofL’s College of Arts and Sciences in 1951.  In 1932, Dr. Atkins Gleason became head librarian and also taught library classes in the new library department she created. This department, in conjunction with the Louisville Western Colored Branch Library, offered the only library classes for African Americans in Kentucky between 1932 and 1951. Dr. Atkins Gleason left Kentucky in 1935 to pursue her M.A. in Library Science at the University of California at Berkley.    In 1936, after completing her master’s degree, she was hired as Assistant Professor and Head of the Reference Department of Fisk University34’s library in 1936.

In 1937, she went to Chicago to pursue her Ph.D. and, in 1940, she graduated from the University of Chicago, becoming the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in library science.  Her dissertation was published in 1941 as the landmark book, The Southern Negro and the Public Library, the first comprehensive study of access to libraries in the U.S. South. 

From 1940 to 1941, Dr. Atkins Gleason served as Director of Libraries at Talladega College in Alabama.   Also in 1940, Dr. Rufus Clement, former President at LMC and then President of Atlanta University, invited her to set up the School of Library Science at Atlanta University.  She became its first Dean in 1941.  She stayed at Atlanta University until 1946 when she moved to Chicago to join her husband who was setting up his medical practice after serving in the military.

Dr. Atkins Gleason had one child, Dr. Joy Gleason Carew, Associate Professor of Pan-African Studies and Associate Director of the International Center at the University of Louisville.