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In-Person Event: Gilded Age Reformer Zoe Anderson Norris Rediscovered
March 17 @ 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
In-Person Event at the Grolier Club
47 East 60th Street
New York, NY 10022
Part of the Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project collection.
Lecture with music and reception celebrates exhibition “To Fight for the Poor with My Pen: Zoe Anderson Norris” and Tin Pan Alley songs.
On March 27, 5:30 to 7 pm, independent scholar Eve M. Kahn will give a tour of her exhibition at the Grolier Club (47 East 60th Street), To Fight for the Poor with My Pen: Zoe Anderson Norris, Queen of Bohemia. Norris (1860-1914), although little remembered today, was a foremother of modern-day social-justice advocates and confessional bloggers baring souls in print. In millions of published words of fiction and journalism – including in her own bimonthly magazine, The East Side (1909-1914) – she documented desperate immigrant poverty in New York and called for the world to heed and help.
Kahn’s show features the only complete run of The East Side known to survive in private hands, as well as Norris’s novels and dozens of periodicals featuring her work alongside illustrations by major Gilded Age artists. Also on view are artifacts from Norris’s childhood and youth in Kentucky and Kansas; publications by her friends, including members of her bohemian organization, the Ragged Edge Klub; and souvenir postcards and even dinnerware from the Klub’s favorite restaurants.
Norris covered issues that still resonate: corrupt policemen harassing street peddlers, powerful male editors going unpunished for plagiarism or sexual assault, trafficked sex workers futilely pleading for help escaping the streets. Norris’s goal: “To fight for the poor with my pen.” Sometimes she reported undercover, dressed as a blind beggar or a stranded tourist, to gauge reactions from policemen and philanthropists. She went broke as she wrote about poverty and reflected on her own life journey, battling incompetent printers and distributors, and granting herself all East Side masthead titles including bootblack, circulation liar, and “the whole shebang.”
Eve Kahn, former weekly Antiques columnist for The New York Times, is finishing a biography of Norris for an academic press. The elevator pitch: “the Nellie Bly you’ve never heard of.”
The tour will also include the Grolier Club’s little-known but spectacular interior, with one room modeled after a 17th-century British university library and another after a 17th-century New York taproom. Keen-eyed visitors will spot a blowfish and a secret stairway.