Belle Greene Shawl
She knows more about rare books than any other American.… She wears her hair long and does not use glasses, runs to Europe on secret missions, and is the terror of continental collectors’ agents. Her name is Belle Greene.
—Chicago Tribune, August 11, 1912
Born in 1879, daughter of the first African-American man to graduate from Harvard, Belle da Costa Greene never received a formal degree herself. Nonetheless, her first job was at the Princeton University library, where she developed a fascination for medieval books.
In 1905, J. Pierpont Morgan, one of the wealthiest men in the world, hired her to catalog his growing collection of rare manuscripts. Witty, flirtatious, and always well dressed, Belle was perfectly at home in the world of wealth and glamour. She quickly earned her employer’s trust, and was soon making regular trips to Europe where she negotiated on Morgan’s behalf, dodged forgeries and tariff collectors, and developed professional, social, and romantic