Living With Purpose: The Legacy of Gloria Davidson

Laurie Robinson - March 2, 2023

A spotlight on a pioneering librarian and the scholarship she created.

Banner image picturing Gloria Davidson on a backdrop of library shelves

Gloria Davidson, who was born in 1928, grew up on a small farm in Sunflower County, Mississippi. When she was in 10th grade, her family moved to Indianola so she and her siblings could attend a Rosenwald School and receive the best education possible. Rosenwald schools were funded by philanthropist Julius Rosenwald in partnership with activist Booker T. Washington and were often the first schools in a Black community.

The commitment Davidson’s family had to her education extended beyond high school. Her mother, a schoolteacher, saved up money for her to attend college. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in li­brary science and master’s de­grees in education and library science from the University of Maryland. After graduating, she was hired by T.C. Williams High School, now known as Alexandria City High School, as a librarian. She was one of a handful of Black educators and administrators tasked with helping to integrate the school—a challenge she welcomed.

Davidson believed so strongly that getting an education was a great equalizer and the key to a good life that she created the Gloria Davidson Scholarship in 2016 for students at UMD’s College of Information Studies (INFO College) pursuing careers as school librarians. Taaja Blackburn, who received the scholarship this year, is eager to honor Davidson’s legacy by “further helping to bridge the gap between access and opportunity” so that all students find a path to success.

Davidson had a vision for empowering children by developing their creativity and interests through library and information services. Recipients of her scholarship share that vision. “I applied for the Gloria Davidson Scholarship because she embodied all the things I aspired to become as a school librarian,” says Theresa Bourbon, who was awarded the scholarship in 2022 and is now a librarian at Hearst Elementary School in Washington, DC. “She was innovative, creative, and made great strides in educating her community about the critical connection between a thriving school library and a successful school. That’s the kind of impact I’m hoping to achieve in my own career.”

The scholarship helped Bourbon return to school at a time when she had competing financial obligations—two children headed to college in a few years—and was unsure if she could make the commitment. The scholarship not only helped her afford tuition, but she also has no doubt that it moved her resume to the top of the applicant pool when it was time to apply for jobs.

Mary-Anne Nelligan, who was awarded the scholarship 2022 and is now a media specialist at Tyler Heights Elementary School in Annapolis, MD, also credits the prestige of the scholarship and her training at the INFO College with helping her land a job only a month after graduating. “When I started my MLIS journey, I knew I wanted to be a media specialist,” she says. “I wanted to impact my school library and community in a beneficial way. I wanted to improve my school’s collection, and I wanted to be a resource for the school.” She has been working to achieve those goals. She is part of a committee that approves graphic novels for Anne Arundel County Public Schools and through that work has been able to expand her county’s collection of graphic novels.

Davidson was a leader at her school and the individuals she helped with her scholarship are burgeoning leaders as well. She transformed her school’s library into one of the first high school media centers in the country, becoming a model for other schools to follow. She made a lasting impact on the field and on the many lives she touched—all the students she worked with over the years—and those who benefited from her scholarship.

March 8 is Giving Day at UMD! If you’re interested in supporting our students by donating to the Gloria Davidson Endowed Scholarship, please visit this website.