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Belle Da Costa Greene
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Birth: Dec. 13, 1883
Washington
District of Columbia
District Of Columbia, USA
Death: May 10, 1950
Manhattan
New York County (Manhattan)
New York, USA

Collector, librarian and socialite. She was the librarian to J. P. Morgan and after his death she became the first director of the Pierpont Morgan Library. She was born Belle Marion Greener, the daughter of Genevieve Ida Fleet, a member of a well-known African American family in the capital, and Richard Theodore Greener, an attorney and dean of the Howard Law School, who had in 1870 been the first black graduated from Harvard. After her parents separation the light-skinned Belle, her mother , and siblings passed as white and changed their name to Greene to distance themselves from the father. Belle dropped her middle name in favor of da Costa and began claiming a Portuguese background to explain her dusky complexion. She moved to Princeton, New Jersey where she worked at the Princeton University Library. The financier Morgan hired Greene, to whom he had been introduced by his nephew Junius, a Princeton student, in 1905. She would serve as his personal librarian until his death in 1913. Soon trusted for her expertise (she was an expert in illuminated manuscripts) as well as her bargaining prowess with dealers, Greene would spend millions of dollars not only buying, but also selling rare manuscripts, books and art. She has been described as smart and outspoken as well as beautiful and sensual. While she enjoyed a Bohemian freedom, she was also able to move with ease within elite society, known for her exotic looks and designer wardrobe. "Just because I am a librarian," Greene reportedly announced, "doesn't mean I have to dress like one." Not only did her bearing, style, and seemingly unlimited means attract notice, but "her role at the Morgan Library placed her at the center of the art trade and her friendship was coveted by every dealer." The power that she wielded for 43 years was unmatched. Her goal she told Morgan, who was willing to pay any price for important works, was to make his library "pre-eminent, especially for incunabula, manuscripts, bindings, and the classics." J.P. Morgan left her $50,000 in his will, which at that time was a significant sum, reportedly $800,000 in modern money. Asked if she was Morgan's mistress, she is said to have replied, "We tried!" She never married, however, and her most lasting romantic relationship was with the art expert Bernard Berenson. She retired in 1948 and died in New York City two years later.

 
 
Family links: 
 Parents:
  Richard Theodore Greener (1844 - 1922)
  Genevieve Ida Van Vliet Fleet Greene (1849 - 1941)
 
 Sibling:
  Mary Louise Greene Martin (1877 - 1933)*
  Belle Da Costa Greene (1883 - 1950)
 
*Calculated relationship
 
Burial:
Kensico Cemetery
Valhalla
Westchester County
New York, USA
 
Created by: D C McJonathan-Swarm
Record added: Jul 16, 2007
Find A Grave Memorial# 20477261
Belle Da Costa Greene
Added by: Andie Parrish
 
Belle Da Costa Greene
Added by: Melinda Fowler
 
Belle Da Costa Greene
Added by: Melinda Fowler
 
 
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What an amazing woman.
- PJH / Angelbird
 Added: Apr. 6, 2015
In memory of a great bookwoman
- Kurt Zimmerman
 Added: Jun. 10, 2011

- Sharon
 Added: Jul. 26, 2009
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