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Hargrave, Helen (1894–1985)

Debbie Mauldin Cottrell Biography Entry

Helen Hargrave, law librarian, was born on November 7, 1894, in Bay City, Michigan, the daughter of Edward Carrollton and Victoria Regina (Holmes) Hargrave. After her parents died in the early 1920s, she moved to Austin to live with her sister and brother-in-law. In 1922 she entered the University of Texas and four years later, after completing the requirements for both undergraduate and law degrees, she began practicing law. In 1930 she joined the staff of the University of Texas School of Law as assistant law librarian, a position she held until 1939. The next year she studied law librarianship and library science at Columbia University, then returned to Austin in the fall to become head librarian of the University of Texas law library. For the next thirty-one years she oversaw a vast increase in the library's holdings, often traveling the state herself to inquire about rare and important books available through lawyers' collections. She developed for the University of Texas one of the largest academic law libraries in the South and Southwest. She also studied law library architecture and interior arrangements and contributed design ideas for both the University of Texas law school and the law library of the Texas Supreme Court. She helped organize the law library at Texas Southern University. During the Tidelands Controversy she assisted the state attorney general's office in its research on legal issues pertaining to offshore mineral rights.

Hargrave was well known for her close involvement with law students. During World War II she published a newsletter for former and current students in the military and circulated it worldwide. She assisted in the law school's arrangements with the Student Research Board, which allowed students to research legal cases for practicing attorneys, and in the Law School Legal Aid Clinic. Her position in the law school included a professorial appointment, and in this capacity she regularly taught a freshman course on legal bibliography. In 1957 she became the first Texan to be elected president of the American Association of Law Libraries. She was also a member of the State Bar of Texas, the Philosophical Society of Texas, the City of Austin Library Commission, and the Episcopalian Church. In 1965 she reduced her university work to part-time; in 1971 she entered full retirement and was named a professor emeritus of the law school. She became the first woman to receive the University of Texas law school distinguished graduate award in 1979. Helen Hargrave died in Austin on May 15, 1985. A memorial service was held for her three days later at Westminster Manor Chapel, Austin. She never married; her survivors included numerous nieces and nephews.

Austin American-Statesman, May 16, 1985. Roy M. Mersky, "Helen Hargrave," Law Library Journal 77 (1984–85). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Who's Who of American Women (1958–59).


  • Education
  • Museums, Libraries, and Archives
  • Librarians
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Women
  • Archivists

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, “Hargrave, Helen,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed February 25, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: