The East Village’s ‘Queen of Bohemia:” Zoe Anderson Norris
Do you know the “Queen of Bohemia?” As we learned during an April, 2023 program by Eve Kahn and The Grolier Club, Zoe Anderson Norris, who earned this appellation, did not originally welcome this title. But eventually she embraced it, and even used the royal title to elevate her friends and colleagues with similar titles, like Betty Rogers, friend of Zoe and wife of the humorist Will Rogers’s, who Zoe deemed “Lady Betty Rogers of the Bronx.”
Eve Kahn has curated an exhibit that gathers artifacts, novels, publications, and mastheads from Zoe Anderson Norris’ work and life as a part of The Grolier Club’s exhibition “To fight for the poor with my pen: Zoe Anderson Norris, Queen of Bohemia.” Eve M. Kahn is an independent scholar and former Antiques Columnist at The New York Times. She writes about art, architecture, and design for the Times, among other publications. She is biographer of artist Mary Rogers Williams (1857-1907) and writer Zoe Anderson Norris (1860-1914). The show runs through May 13, 2023 and is free and open to the public.
If you are really lucky, you’ll be able to participate in a tour from Eve and a lecture on her exhibition. Village Preservation staff and interns had an opportunity to attend the first of these tours offered specifically to Village Preservation. Find out more about Eve and this exhibition in this recent New Yorker profile.
Over the course of 4 sessions, Eve has brought Village Preservation members and enthusiasts through The Grolier Club, giving us insights into one of the few remaining private clubs in New York City with a footprint like the Club’s building at 47 East 60th Street, which is actually The Grolier Club’s third home. Alongside this informative tour of a great hidden space open to New Yorkers, Eve brings us through her exhibition.
There is still one opportunity to catch this tour and lecture with Village Preservation on May 1st at 11:30 am.
“Founded in 1884, the Grolier Club is America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts. Named for Jean Grolier (1489/90-1565), the Renaissance collector renowned for sharing his library with friends, the Club’s objective is to promote “the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper.” Through the concerted efforts of an international network of over eight hundred men and women—book and print collectors, antiquarian book dealers, librarians, designers, fine printers, binders, and other artisans—the Grolier Club pursues this mission through its library, its public exhibitions and lectures, and its long and distinguished series of publications.
The Grolier Club Library today welcomes any qualified researcher needing to explore this focused research collection. The library has particularly strong holdings in the literature of collecting and the book trade, including book catalogues of all types—printed and manuscript inventories of private libraries, catalogues of antiquarian booksellers, and book auction sales.
The Grolier Club Library collections of book catalogues are among the most comprehensive in the country, and these, along with the papers of important bibliophiles, bibliographers, and antiquarian book dealers, have long been recognized as an important resource for collectors and scholars in book history.
The Grolier Club has generous public hours, including Exhibition Gallery Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 am – 5 pm. That’s when you can see Eve’s exhibition through May 13, 2023, as well as the current exhibition on the first floor. Library Hours are by appointment only, Monday-Friday, 10 am – 5 pm.
Each of the Village Preservation staff and interns who visited The Grolier Club and participated in this tour and lecture reflected on their experiences below. To register for the final iteration of this tour with Village Preservation on May 1st, click here.
Irine introduces you to The Grolier Club and Eve’s Exhibition.
If you’re ever on the Upper East Side or just strolling through Central Park and looking to immerse yourself in some literary history, The Grolier Club is the perfect place to visit. The Grolier Club’s exhibitions are free to all visitors, making it an accessible space for bibliophiles or anyone itching to check out how literary history has evolved over time.
The Grolier Club is a true testament to the evolution of literary and cultural history. Walking up the stairs through the exhibitions, you’re instantly greeted with posters showcasing past Grolier Club exhibitions, and beautiful portraits of authors and writers.
Throughout this spring, Village Preservation is hosting tours of the exhibit, “To Fight for the Poor with My Pen: Zoe Anderson Norris, Queen of Bohemia.” The exhibit curated by Eve Kahn is showing from March 2-May 13, and presents writer, illustrator, and journalist Zoe Anderson Norris’s stellar and prolific writing career during the turn of the century.
Zoe’s contributions advocating for the lives and rights of those living in poverty and the working class are showcased throughout her numerous magazine contributions, short stories, and novels. Of significant note is that The Grolier Club is displaying the full publication run of Zoe’s magazine, the East Side. It was amazing to see Kahn’s dedication to showing the full scope of the East Side’s publication, as Kahn mentioned the lengths she went through to acquire each issue, including hunting down the issues on eBay.
Through photographs and collected writing, the visitor is able to see the full scope of how activism was all-encompassing throughout Zoe’s personal and professional life.
– Irine Le, Research Intern
Maya shares a bit about the private rooms that were part of the tour of The Grolier Club
Seeing the various rooms in the Grolier Clubhouse was my favorite part of the tour. Eve Kahn graciously showed Village Preservation three private areas in the clubhouse, the Library, the Dutch Kitchen, and the Phillips meeting room while recounting the fascinating history of the Grolier Club, itself. The Grolier Club has had three different locations in its history, moving into its current location, a neo-georgian townhouse in 1917. The small space of a residential building is actually to the club’s benefit. The clubhouse has a quiet, intimate feel that well suits the club’s mission as a haven for books and book lovers.
The library, available by appointment only, is splendid. The large commanding bookshelves that line the room are balanced by a wall of windows that makes the space feel bright and cozy. Although the library is beautiful, I personally enjoyed the Dutch Kitchen on the fourth floor. It’s a reconstruction of a colonial dutch tavern, built in the 1890’s by the club’s first members to honor the legacy of bars and coffee houses as meeting spaces for writers and artists.
Lastly, Eve Kahn showed us the Phillips room, named after the famed bibliophile, Sir Thomas Phillips. This room, the smallest and simplest of all the spaces shown, had a unusual closet dedicated to Sir Phillips. When The Grolier Club bought the remnant of his enormous collection in 2003, some of the materials were badly degraded from haphazard storage. As a lighthearted memorial, the club recreated Sir Phillips’s shelves, filling the closet to its brim with a jumble of crumpled paper. The closet, preserved behind glass, honors (or maybe serves as a warning) to Sir Phillips’s book hoarding tendencies.
– Maya Wilson, Arthur A. Levin Program Associate
Chloe shares her favorite take aways from the tour and lecture.
My favorite part of the Zoe Anderson Norris exhibit was the tour guide. Our tour guide, Eve Kahn, demonstrated her knowledge and passion for the topic throughout the program. She had researched, collected and curated the entire exhibit herself. She began this research at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, using a free ancestry.com account that had been provided by the public library. Since then she has not shut her computer off, out of fear that she could lose her free access to the website. The exhibit was filled with photos, flyers, documents and magazines relating to the life and career of Norris. Much of the collection Kahn had gathered herself, using ebay to find the different pieces. Her knowledge of, and passion for Norris was evident throughout the tour, making the event very engaging.
During the program, we also received a tour of the entire Grolier Club, also given by Eve Kahn. The two high points of the tour for me were, a replica colonial dutch kitchen, and the library with a secret door to access the second level. Throughout the tour, Kahn beautifully shared her knowledge of the club’s history and how it has been preserved over the years.
– Chloe Gregoire, Hunter Public Service Scholar
Leeanne shares how to reward your curiosity with more free resources from The Grolier Club
Thanks to Eve Kahn’s scholarly work as well as her collection of Zoe Anderson Norris’ work and artifacts, we meet Zoe Anderson Norris. A journalist on the Lower East Side who fought the evils of poverty for the immigrant community she lived alongside, Zoe’s life and even the story of her death are notable and inspire everyone from today’s activist to the most experienced bibliophile.
We learned how Zoe even went undercover as a street performer and a domestic worker for her journalism. She covered the way families of the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory were left without promised help by some of the “charities” established to help the victims, many of whom were immigrants who lived in the East Village and lost their main breadwinner in the fire.
Zoe’s story is an extraordinary one that is not too unfamiliar to those who know the icons of the Lower East Side, particularly women who create their own institution, breakthrough careers, or led movements that had impact and reach beyond what one may think is possible during times of great oppression of women and those experiencing poverty.
The Grolier Club has the distinction of being one of the only clubs of this nature in NYC to have 501(c)(3) or nonprofit status due to its community work. It’s the “most beautiful library in New York per cubic inch,” as described by Eve.
Can’t make it in-person to Eve’s marvelous exhibition before it closes? Are you reading this after the exhibition has closed? Don’t worry, you can still learn more about Zoe and her work — the Grolier Club provides this incredible online version of the exhibition here.
We encourage you to visit this historic club and learn more about the history that impacts our neighborhoods in Greenwich Village, NoHo, and the East Village throughout the Club’s collection, library, and archives.