The Reinvented Life of Belle da Costa Greene

Posted in Arts, Biography, Live Events, Passing, United States, Women on 2023-02-02 02:22Z by Steven

The Reinvented Life of Belle da Costa Greene

Vanderbilt University
Nashville, Tennessee
2023-02-14 through 2023-05-14


Belle da Costa Greene, 1911

Clarence H. White, 1871–1925; born West Carlisle, OH; died Mexico City, Mexico; active Ohio and New YorkPlatinum print
image: 23.8 x 17.1 cm (9 3/8 x 6 3/4 in.) mat: 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in.) frame: 51.4 × 41.3 × 3.8 cm (20 1/4 × 16 1/4 × 1 1/2 in.)
Princeton University Art Museum. The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

Spring 2023 Exhibition and Programming related to Belle da Costa Greene, famed librarian for J.P. Morgan and expert on incunabula.

One of the most well-known American librarians and experts in illuminated manuscripts (incunabula) in the early-mid twentieth century, Belle da Costa Greene helped build the renowned Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. Indeed, she was known as “the soul of the Morgan Library.” Greene also summered annually with the Vanderbilts in their “cottages” in Newport, Rhode Island. She began her career as the personal librarian of financier John Pierpont Morgan, one of the richest men in Gilded Age America. She ended it as the library’s first director from 1924-48.

Born Belle Marion Greener in 1879, the green-eyed Greene was the daughter of the first African American graduate of Harvard College. She also belonged to the colored elite in Washington, DC. She accessed the rarefied worlds of the Morgans and Vanderbilts by “passing” as a white woman. In exploring her reinvented life, this month-long series of events will engage questions of race, color, class, gender, and passing.

For more information, click here.

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Belle de Costa Greene: Library Director, Advocate, and Rare Books Expert.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2022-02-13 04:25Z by Steven

Belle de Costa Greene: Library Director, Advocate, and Rare Books Expert.

Headlines & Heroes: Newspapers, Comics, & More Fine Print
Library of Congress
Washington, D.C.

Joanna Colclough, Reference Librarian
Serial and Government Publications Division

Belle de Costa Greene, Oct. 1, 1929. Photograph by Bain News Service. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In 1999, biographer Jean Strouse published her work on J. P. Morgan, railroad magnate, financier, and New York millionaire of the late 1800s. Of course, Belle de Costa Greene is featured in the book – she worked closely with Morgan for the last 8 years of his life as his personal librarian, managing his private art and rare book collection. Greene’s name was not unknown to history. The first half of the 20th century saw Greene rise as a top expert in the rare book world as librarian and first director of the Morgan Library and Museum. But Strouse discovered something new about Greene that presented Greene in whole new light. In an article for The New Yorker (March 29, 1999, p. 66-79), Strouse tells how she located Greene’s birth certificate in Washington, D.C. which was marked with a C for “colored.”

Greene passed as white for her entire professional life. This is a fact both surprising and not – surprising that such a secret could be so well-kept and not surprising considering the prejudice of society…

Read the entire article here.

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J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian had two identities. It took two authors to tell her story.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-07-20 02:20Z by Steven

J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian had two identities. It took two authors to tell her story.

The Washington Post

Natachi Onwuamaegbu

“The Personal Librarian” co-authors Heather Terrell, writing as Marie Benedict, and Victoria Christopher Murray. (Phil Atkins)

Historical fiction writer Heather Terrell (who also writes under the name Marie Benedict) was introduced to Belle da Costa Greene between bookshelves at New York’s Morgan Library over 20 years ago. The docent — whom she has tried to find since — told her about a Black woman who passed as White and worked as J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian in the early 1900s. Terrell wasn’t yet writing historical fiction about women — she was a lawyer — but the story lingered in the back of her head.

Once she read Black author Victoria Christopher Murray’s work two years ago, she knew she found the partner she was waiting for to tackle da Costa Greene’s story. To write about a Black woman who passed as non-Black with an author she had never met was a process, especially when the editing coincided with the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and a pandemic.

The Washington Post talked to Terrell and Murray about what it was like to work on “The Personal Librarian” when so much of the world was falling apart…

Read the entire interview here.

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J.P. Morgan’s librarian hid her race. A novel imagines the toll on her.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-07-17 00:53Z by Steven

J.P. Morgan’s librarian hid her race. A novel imagines the toll on her.

The Christian Science Monitor

Heller McAlpin, Correspondent

Library of Congress
Belle da Costa Greene, shown in 1929, curated rare books for mogul J.P. Morgan. She was the first director of the Morgan Library.

Some books leave you wondering why the author has chosen to tell this particular story, and why now. This is emphatically not the case with “The Personal Librarian,” a novel about the woman who helped shape the Morgan Library’s spectacular collection of rare books and art more than a century ago. It quickly becomes clear why two popular authors, Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, have teamed up to tell this important, inspirational story.

Belle da Costa Greene’s success in the almost exclusively male world of art and rare book dealers was an unusual feat for a woman in the early 20th century. But what makes it even more extraordinary – and such rich material for historical fiction – is the secret she harbored throughout her long career: She hailed from a prominent, light-skinned Black family, many of whose members had chosen to pass as white.

“The Personal Librarian” reminds readers that this decision was not made lightly. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Act in 1883 – a ruling that ushered in Jim Crow segregation and gave white supremacy and racial discrimination legal cover, the ramifications of which are felt to this day – few opportunities were open to anyone classified as nonwhite…

Read the entire book review here.

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The Personal Librarian, A Novel

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-07-17 00:36Z by Steven

The Personal Librarian, A Novel

Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Randomhouse)
Hardcover ISBN: 9780593101537
Paperback ISBN: 9780593414248
Eboock ISBN: 9780593101551

Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

A remarkable novel about J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, the Black American woman who was forced to hide her true identity and pass as white in order to leave a lasting legacy that enriched our nation, from New York Times bestselling author Marie Benedict, and acclaimed author Victoria Christopher Murray.

In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture in New York City society and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps create a world-class collection.

But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white—her complexion is dark because she is African American.

The Personal Librarian tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths she must go to—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.

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Keep It Simple at TEDxIndianapolis

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-12-02 02:10Z by Steven

Keep It Simple at TEDxIndianapolis

The Indianapolis Star

Leslie Bailey

“When asked how he created his masterpiece, Michelangelo said, ‘It was easy. You just chip away that which does not look like David.’ What if our lives are our masterpiece? What if we chipped away all that was unnecessary, all the clutter and the busyness, and focused on that which really mattered — our passions and our relationships.”

This is the “big idea” Maura Malloy will share when she takes the stage at TEDxIndianapolis on Tuesday. Malloy, 36, is among approximately 20 speakers who will present their ideas at the conference with the theme of “Keep It Simple.” Other speakers include a homeless advocate, an origami artist, a musician and a handful of professors…

…In her talk, Malloy will share her journey to a minimalist lifestyle, as well as tools on how everyone can create their own “masterpiece” life. For Malloy, the spark ignited during a semester studying in India during her sophomore year at the University of Notre Dame. She was allowed one 40-pound bag of belongings for the semester. “It opened my eyes to how little you need to be joyful, especially when it comes to children,” said Malloy, who is expecting her first child in November…

…Malloy, who grew up in South Bend, moved to New York City when she was 25 to pursue a career in acting. She ultimately turned to screenwriting, which she continued doing after moving back to Indiana with her husband, Rory Collins, 2012.

She currently has two projects in development with actress Tessa Thompson attached to both films. The first, “An Illuminated Life” [See: An Illuminated Life: Bella da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege] is a biopic about Belle da Costa Greene, an African-American woman who lived as a white woman while working as J.P. Morgan’s right-hand woman at the turn of the century. The other project, “Our Rebels,” is a smaller, independent film Malloy describes as a “platonic love story.”…

Read the entire article here.

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An Illuminated Life: Bella da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege

Posted in Arts, Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States, Women on 2009-12-05 04:15Z by Steven

An Illuminated Life: Bella da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege

W. W. Norton & Company
June 2007
592 pages
6.6 × 9.6 in
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-393-05104-9

Heidi Ardizzone, Assistant Professor of American Studies
University of Notre Dame

Named a New York Times Editor’s Choice.

The secret life of the sensational woman behind the Morgan masterpieces, who lit up New York society.

What would you give up to achieve your dream? When J. P. Morgan hired Belle da Costa Greene in 1905 to organize his rare book and manuscript collection, she had only her personality and a few years of experience to recommend her. Ten years later, she had shaped the famous Pierpont Morgan Library collection and was a proto-celebrity in New York and the art world, renowned for her self-made expertise, her acerbic wit, and her flirtatious relationships. Born to a family of free people of color, Greene changed her name and invented a Portuguese grandmother to enter white society. In her new world, she dined both at the tables of the highest society and with bohemian artists and activists. She also engaged in a decades-long affair with art critic Bernard Berenson. Greene is pure fascination—the buyer of illuminated manuscripts who attracted others to her like moths to a flame.

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