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The librarian whose determination became a storied part of Houston history

Written by on February 1, 2021

Florence Alma Bandy-Norman was the first Black head librarian at Houston’s Colored Carnegie Library

By Kennedi Robinson, Texas Southern University

Florence Alma Bandy-Norman
Florence Alma Bandy-Norman

Realizing her love for reading books and discovering new information were passions, Florence Bandy-Norman made it a priority to get her college education by any means so she could pursue her dream of becoming a librarian.

She searched tirelessly for jobs to make ends meet, while yearning for the opportunity to get her education and become a librarian, yet faced financial challenges.

Norman would visit the library daily and read books of all kinds to teach herself and expand her knowledge on various topics since she wasn’t able to afford to attend a university at the time.

It wasn’t until Bessie Osborne and Julie Ideson at the Colored Carnegie Library, now known as the Houston Public Library, saw the potential in her and hired Norman as an assistant librarian on February 21,1923. After nine years of working there, Norman was then invited by the late Bishop Willis J. King to serve on the faculty as librarian at Samuel Huston College in Austin, Texas.

Knowing she wanted more for herself and finally having enough funds to receive a proper college education, Norman enrolled at Fisk University where she received her B.A. degree. In 1936, Norman returned to Houston excited to find work now that she had her degree credentials.

She was then appointed by Martha Smitzer as head librarian at the Colored Carnegie Library of Houston, and this time around she was recognized as the first degreed African American woman to serve as a head librarian.

After serving eighteen years as head librarian, Norman became unsatisfied and wanted to continue her educational path. Therefore, Norman returned to school and received her Master of Education degree from Texas Southern University in 1956.

Upon completing her Master’s degree, Norman missed doing what she loved most: being a librarian. She was grateful to receive the opportunity to become librarian at Jack Yates Senior High and remained at Ryan Junior High when the two schools split until she retired in 1970, having completed over 50 years of library service.

Following her retirement, Norman was honored and presented with a service pin from the Colored Carnegie Library by Mayor James Fred Hofheinz in 1975.

After living a fulfilling life of chasing her dreams, Norman passed away on May 12, 1988 at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Although Norman spent her life seeking her education to chase her librarian dreams, she broke down barriers and paved the way for African Americans in numerous ways. Norman was part of the first Delta Sigma Theta sorority in Houston, where she served as the secretary. She was a charter life member of the sorority. She was also presented as a golden lifetime member of the National Council of Negro Women.

■ This story was written to chronicle Houston’s Black history as part of a partnership between KTSU2, “The Voice”, and KPRC-TV, for Black History Month.