Cover for Belle da Costa Greene: A Librarian’s Legacy
Morgan Library & Museum
Belle da Costa Greene: A Librarian’s Legacy
The incredible story of the first director of the Morgan Library: a visionary Black woman who walked confidently in an early 20th-century man’s world of wealth and privilege.
Edited with text by Erica Ciallela, Philip S. Palmer. Introduction by Philip S. Palmer. Foreword by Colin B. Bailey. Text by Araceli Bremauntz-Enriquez, Julia S. Charles-Linen, Rhonda Evans, Anne-Marie Eze, Daria Rose Foner, Jiemi Gao, Juliana Amorim Goskes, Gail Levin, Deborah Parker, Deborah Willis. Afterword by Tamar Evangelestia-Dougherty
Designed by Barbara Glauber, Heavy Meta
Published 2024 | ISBN: 9781636811352

When J.P. Morgan’s personal library opened as a public institution in 1924, the choice for its first director was an obvious one: Belle da Costa Greene (1879–1950). Not only had she organized and cataloged the collection, she had significantly expanded its holdings and displayed its treasures in curated exhibitions. While she was famous and well known for her librarianship in her lifetime, few people also knew that she had been born to a prominent Black family, and by her early 20s was passing as white in New York City.

After Greene was hired by J.P. Morgan in 1905, she emerged as one of the highest-paid women in America and commanded respect in a field dominated by men. She spent millions of dollars on Morgan’s behalf to acquire outstanding medieval manuscripts, rare printed books and works of art. Following Morgan’s death she continued to work with his son, who established the library as a public institution. All told, she headed the Morgan for 43 years and was single-handedly responsible for turning it into one of the most important collections of rare books and manuscripts in the United States.

Published to coincide with the centennial of the museum and of Greene’s appointment as director, Belle da Costa Greene: A Librarian’s Legacy presents a thematic collection of essays with new research on her family, education, portraits, professional networks and her own art collection, while also engaging with larger themes such as race in America, gender and culture, and the history of Black librarianship. The book offers a full picture of Greene on her own terms and in her own words—revealing her rich career as a curator, collector, library executive and dynamic New Yorker.