Erica Cialella, 2020–2022 Belle da Costa Greene Fellow
Born in 1879, Belle da Costa Greene was named Belle Marion Greener at birth. She 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 still in her teens, Genevieve and the children added “da Costa” to their surname and passed as a white family of Portuguese descent.
Greene and Junius S. Morgan II, Morgan’s nephew and advisor on Library matters, met at the Princeton University Library, where Junius was a librarian and Greene likely was a cataloger. In 1905, Junius enlisted Greene to prepare Morgan’s books for transport to the Library. On Junius’s recommendation, Morgan hired Greene to manage his “bookman’s paradise.”
Greene served as a de facto site manager while construction was in its final stages. She went on to run the Library for the rest of her working life, ultimately serving as the first Director of what is now the Morgan Library & Museum and remaking a private treasury into a center for scholarly inquiry and public engagement.