Wesley was born May 25, 1905 in Warrenton, Virginia. She earned her A.B. degree from Howard University in 1928 and bachelor and master’s degrees in library science from Columbia University in 1931 and 1932, respectively. From 1928 to her retirement in 1973, Wesley assembled and catalogued an invaluable collection of materials from the African diaspora. That collection is now known as the Moorland-Spingarn Research Library at Howard University where scholars and authors interested in African American history can engage in research.
To commemorate her retirement, Howard University dedicated the Dorothy B. Porter Reading Room in the Founders Library. Wesley also published many bibliographical works, including “A Selected List of Books By and About the Negro” (1936), “The Negro in American Cities: A Selected and Annotated Bibliography” (1945), and “Afro-Braziliana: A Working Bibliography” (1978). In 1994, Wesley was presented the Charles Frankel Prize “for outstanding contributions to the public’s understanding of the humanities” from the National Endowment for the Humanities by President William Clinton.