Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Belle da Costa Greene, 1st Director Morgan Library

Belle da Costa Greene, pastel portrait by Paul C├ęsar Helleu, ca. 1913

As we all have been horrified with the tragic events unfolding the last week, in addition to still dealing with the COVID 19 virus I personally hope that all these protests bring change to this world. Everyone should be treated with respect and dignity. 

One of my favorite spots in New York City, The Morgan Library and Museum, showcased on their social media Belle da Costa Greene, the 1st Director of the Morgan Library. I just love the painting of her above, she looks so elegant! 


Ms. Greene, who was born on my birthday December 13, 1883 was the librarian to J.P. Morgan until his death and then to his son, Jack Morgan. In 1924 the private collection was incorporated by the State of NY and the Board of Trustees appointed her the first Director of the Pierpont Morgan Library. 


Ms. Greene was an expert in illuminated manuscripts and J.P. Morgan trusted her expertise as well as her ability to bargain with dealers, she would deal with millions of dollars buying and selling rare manuscripts, art and books for Mr. Morgan. She was educated at Harvard University. Can you imagine what a fantastic job this must have been! 

In 1939 she was elected a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, only the 2nd woman and first known person of color. 


Ms. Greene was a very fashionable lady, and known for her wonderful looks and designer wardrobe. She sure looks classy in the photo above. When J.P. Morgan passed away in 1913, he left Ms. Greene in his will $50,000 (equal to 1.3 million in 2019) 


Ms. Greene retired from the Morgan Library in 1948 and passed away in New York City in 1950. What a wonderful legacy this woman has left behind for us to all enjoy. 



A bust of Belle now stands prominently and proudly in the historic Library ( I must find that on my very next visit) 

The Morgan Library & Museum announces the creation of two new two-year curatorial fellowships, the Belle da Costa Greene Curatorial Fellowships, to be awarded to promising scholars from communities historically underrepresented in the curatorial and special collections fields. Named for the Morgan’s first director, one of the most prominent American librarians and cultural leaders of the first half of the twentieth century and a woman of color, this full-time program will equip Fellows with a strong working knowledge of museum and special collections library operations and will provide Fellows with resources and mentorship to support them in their professional careers.


“An Illuminated Life” by Heidi Ardizzone is a wonderful book to read about her life. I hope this post brought you as much joy as it did me reading about her, and I am going to be looking for the book about her life to read even more. What an inspiring lady at a time when we are looking for inspiration. 


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