by Tracy Baim

This chapter of Out and Proud features Henry Gerber and Pearl M. Hart for their work as gay and lesbian pioneers in Chicago. They had an impact here and across the country: Gerber for founding the first-known U.S. gay group, and Hart for her legal and civil-rights efforts on behalf of gay and non-gay clients.

Chicago's Gerber/Hart Library is named for them. Its founding was due in large part to the work of historian Greg Sprague, who began his Chicago Gay History Project in 1978. That project joined with the Gay Academic Union—Chicago Chapter and Gay Horizons to launch the Gerber/Hart Library in January 1981. By Nov. 20, 1981, it was a standalone nonprofit agency.

The Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame inducted Sprague in 1994. The library itself, Henry Gerber, and Pearl Hart are all also in the Hall of Fame. When inducting Sprague, the Hall of Fame stated: “Gregory A. Sprague lived in Chicago for ten years during which he made an impact not only within the local gay and lesbian community but also throughout scholastic and educational communities in which gay and lesbian history was considered taboo and ignored as an area of study. He was nationally known for his research in Chicago lesbian and gay history. Sprague was co-founder of the Committee on Lesbian and Gay History of the American Historical Association. He served for several years on the national board of directors of the Gay Academic Union and was on the steering committee of the Chicago chapter.”

The library was first located in the same building complex that Gay Horizons ( now known as Center on Halsted ) occupied, at 3225 N. Sheffield Ave. The library moved to various locations over the years, including a large space at 3352 N. Paulina St., and then to its current home, 1127 W. Granville Ave. on the city's Far North Side. While it has more than 14,000 volumes, 800 periodicals and 100 archival collections, it is primarily volunteer-run and has limited hours open to the public.

The library, like many Chicago gay groups, has also suffered losses due to AIDS and other causes. Sprague died of AIDS complications in February 1987. Joseph Gregg, a key archivist and librarian, died of AIDS complications in November of that same year. Volunteers have also been lost, including Kathleen O'Malley, who died of asthma in 1993, age 33.

Gerber/Hart is often billed as the Midwest's largest GLBT archives. Its programming includes ongoing book groups, special exhibitions, lectures, and guest authors.

Sprague's archives are at the Chicago History Museum, which in recent years has begun extensive programming on Chicago gay and lesbian history through its Out at CHM series, held in conjunction with Center on Halsted and the Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust.

From Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, edited by Tracy Baim, Surrey Books, 2008.

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