Portrait of Belle Greene in profile

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ARC 2702
Histed, Ernest Walter, 1860-1947, photographer.
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This photograph captures one of the earliest portraits of the Morgan's first librarian and director. Belle da Costa Greene (named Belle Marion Greener at birth) grew up in a predominantly African American community in Washington, DC. Her father, Richard T. Greener, was the first Black graduate of Harvard College and a prominent educator and racial-justice activist. After Belle's parents separated, her mother, Genevieve Ida Fleet Greener, changed her surname and that of the children to Greene. While Belle was in her teens, Genevieve and the children began passing as White.
The photograph was taken five years after Morgan had engaged Greene as his librarian. In that time Greene had quickly moved from earning $75/month dusting and packing books to acquiring important manuscripts and making $10,000/year. In 1909, just a year before sitting for this portrait, she acquired the earliest manuscript fragment of Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem "The Raven." In the same letter she wrote to Morgan announcing this purchase, Greene expressed her vision for the library, which she aimed to make "pre-eminent" among the great national libraries of Europe.
As in most of her portraits, Belle da Costa Greene sits in profile. She appears youthful, yet exudes total confidence. Unlike the more fanciful portraits by Paul Helleu, Otto Schneider, and Laura Coombs Hills, the Histed photograph feels strongly authentic in its portrayal of Greene. Several photographers captured Greene's likeness in the 1910s, including Clarence White, Theodore Marceau, and Adolph De Meyer.

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