Belle da Costa Greene and the Women of the Morgan

Belle da Costa Greene (1879–1950) began working as J. Pierpont Morgan’s librarian in 1905. After Morgan’s death in 1913, Greene maintained a similar role as the institution’s first director, opening the private treasure-house to the public in 1924. Her professional correspondence, catalogued only recently, offers new insight into how Greene maneuvered in a world of books and manuscripts dominated by men. It also reveals the stories of other women who worked with Greene at the Morgan Library, including Meta Harrsen, Marguerite Duprez Lahey, Dorothy Miner, Violet Napier (née Burnie), and Ada Thurston.

The letters and objects on display document the experiences of these women, who were among the small but growing number of female rare-book librarians worldwide. Greene and the women she hired were respected and widely regarded as experts in their field. Above all, these women of the Morgan were ambitious, committed to the value of their work, and well attuned to their boss’s high expectations. As the exhibition shows, however, Greene was not only a director but also a mentor and friend. Her story and legacy will be the subject of a major exhibition in 2024 to mark the Morgan’s centenary as a public institution.

This online exhibition is presented in conjunction with the installation Belle da Costa Greene and the Women of the Morgan, on view May 10, 2022 through January 8, 2023, organized by Erica Ciallela, Belle da Costa Greene Curatorial Fellow, Department of Literary and Historical Manuscripts.