Using the Collection

Digitized items in the Miriam Matthews Photograph Collection can be accessed through the UCLA Library Digital Collections platform. Physical items are available for research and are located in UCLA Library Special Collections (LSC). Request physical items using the "Special Collections Request" links in the UC Library Search catalog record. View our video tutorial or contact LSC for more help on how to request items.

The Miriam Matthews photograph collection finding aid with full collection details can be viewed in the Online Archive of California.

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About the Collection

The Miriam Matthews Photograph Collection consists of 4,600 black and white photographs of varying sizes, negatives, captions and descriptions from museum exhibitions, and a slide carousel. The collection reflects Matthews' dedication to the preservation of African American history in Los Angeles. The chronology of the scenes and people depicted in this collection spans from the Spanish founding of the city in the late 18th century to the 1980s, with the bulk of the collection from the twentieth century. Key points of interest from the Spanish and Mexican eras include the founding Los Angeles pobladores of African descent, African American stagecoach drivers and overland guides to California and the multiracial californio family of Pio Pico. Other points of interest after U.S. annexation in 1848 include the influx of middle-class African Americans to Los Angeles between 1890 and 1915, as well as the churches, social, charitable and fraternal organizations they formed during this period and through the 1980s. Matthews' collection also highlights those individuals who contributed to civil rights legislation and advocacy, those who were elected or appointed to government positions, popular entertainers, artists and Black-owned businesses. There is also a substantial collection of photographs produced by Black photographer Harry H. Adams, documenting life, politics, community service and the civil rights movement in Los Angeles in the 1960s.

About Miriam Matthews

Miriam Matthews was born in Pensacola, Florida on August 6, 1905 to Reuben and Fannie Matthews. Two years later the Matthews family moved to a neighborhood of European immigrants in Los Angeles, just south of downtown, where her father found work as a house painter. Matthews received her Bachelor's degree from University of California, Berkeley in 1926 and her librarian's certificate a year later. Matthews was hired as the first Black librarian in California by the Los Angeles Public Library in 1927, despite attempts to prevent her from knowing the date of the Civil Service examination. After working for ten years at the Los Angeles Public Library without promotion, Matthews took a leave of absence to pursue a Masters degree in Library Science at the University of Chicago. She was then promoted to a position as a regional librarian, supervising the management of several libraries until her retirement in 1960. Early on in her career, Matthews discovered a small collection of books detailing the role of African Americans and people of African descent in the founding of Los Angeles and began building her own collection of books, manuscripts and photographs. Her work in the preservation and exhibition of Los Angeles' Black past continued long after her retirement.

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