Discover@RRPL

The Personal Librarian

by Marie Benedict & Victoria Christopher Murray

Belle Marion Greener’s father, Richard Greener, was the first black man to graduate from Harvard. He became a strong advocate for civil rights. After Belle’s parents separated, her mother, Genevieve, moved the children to New York City and there they became the Greene family. Belle became Belle da Costa Greene. Belle’s mother wanted the best for her children and being able to pass as white afforded the family more opportunities.

In 1906 Belle, who was working at Princeton University, was offered the opportunity to run the Pierpont Morgan Library. She was hired to curate J.P. Morgan’s manuscripts, books and artwork. Soon she was entrusted with finding and purchasing materials for the collections. Belle became a powerful force to be reckoned with in the male dominated art world. She lived with the secrecy of her black heritage her entire adult life passing as an olive-skinned white woman of Portuguese descent. She befriended art historian Bernard Berenson who also had a deep dark secret.

The novel does an excellent job of describing a little-known chapter in American history.

~Emma

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