Vivian Costroma Osborne Marsh (1898-1986), A.B. ’20, MA ‘22

Vivian Costroma Osborne MarshBorn in Houston, Texas, Vivian Osborne moved to California with her sister and their widowed mother in 1913. She graduated from Berkeley High in 1914 and then applied to UC Berkeley. Due to her southern schooling, she was required to take four separate entrance exams despite her high grades. She passed two with flying colors so the University waived the others. She received her A.B. from UC Berkeley in 1920. Ida Louise Jackson remarked in her oral history interview that Osborne was getting her Master’s degree when she entered UC Berkeley and that they were good friends. Jackson recounted that the two of them would provide a place for African American students to meet outside of campus since they both had houses, as opposed to those renting rooms.[1] Jackson also describes Osborne as smart, critically minded, and more sophisticated than she was at the time.

Vivian Osborne Marsh’s accomplishments were numerous. Marsh was one of the first African American women awarded the Master of Arts degree (Anthropology) from UC Berkeley in 1922. Second only to Berlinda Davison who graduated one semester prior. Osborne became the first National President of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and in 1926 she gave an address on radio station KGO. She spoke on the topic of The Negro Girl’s Contribution to Civilization, naming several in her UC Berkeley sisterhood and giving voice to the frustration felt by so many African American women who found that even with college degrees their opportunities were extremely limited.[2] Osborne was also active with the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, beginning as a member of the Phyllis Wheatley Club, the YWCA, and the Berkeley Women's Civic Club. She was also director of the Oakland junior branch of the NAACP from 1928 to 1929. She earned a teaching credential from UCLA in 1932. Osborne also traveled to Washington D.C. to represent her sorority working for anti-lynching legislation. 

The Who’s Who in Colored America[3] enumerates her many accomplishments and notes her constant community involvement. She supervised the Division on Negro Affairs of California's National Youth Administration during the Depression, and was elected president of the California State Association of Colored Women in 1941. Osborne was elected Vice President of the National Council of Negro Women in 1945, and was also the first Black person to serve on the City of Berkeley’s Planning Commission. She had numerous positions of leadership in fraternal and civic organizations at the local, regional, and national levels. Her sorority sisters praised her unswerving dedication and commitment to the struggle for social justice and equality. In 1981, the Berkeley/Bay Area Alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, paid tribute to her at their 60th anniversary celebration by establishing the Vivian Osborne Marsh Social Action Scholarship. She died at the age of 87 not long after suffering a stroke in 1986.

[1] Jackson, Overcoming Barriers in Education, p. 22

[2] Oakland Tribune, May 9, 1926, Activities Among Negroes Column, Delilah Beasley

Quote by Vivian Osborne Marsh

[3] Who’s Who in Colored America (Yenser 1942), 355