Malkin Lecture: Zoe Anderson Norris: Gilded Age Journalist and Homeless Rights Advocate

Zoe Anderson 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 from her “literary sanctum” on East 15th Street and called for the world to heed and help.

Zoe (as everyone knew her) sometimes worked undercover, exposing issues that continue to resonate. She pleaded for government reforms while documenting corrupt policemen hassling immigrant street peddlers, overflowing trash cans spreading typhoid in mucky streets, sex workers pleading for help escaping from traffickers, charities splurging on their own expense accounts, and abusive men going unpunished. A Kentucky-born longtime Manhattanite, known as a “Queen of Bohemia,” Zoe also founded the Ragged Edge Klub, which met for weekly dinners combining activism and dancing. She handed out aristocratic titles to Ragged Edgers, such as Lady Betty Rogers of the Bronx and Baron Bernhardt of Hoboken. A few days after completing the last issue of The East Side, which described her recent dream that she would die soon, she suffered fatal heart failure—and her prediction made headlines in newspapers nationwide.

Eve M. Kahn, former weekly Antiques columnist for The New York Times, gives a progress report on her Zoe Anderson Norris biography. The talk also covers how Kahn amassed a comprehensive collection of Norris’ work and related ephemera, including the only complete run of The East Side known to survive in private hands and souvenir postcards and even dinnerware from the Ragged Edge Klub’s favorite restaurants. The collection was exhibited in spring 2023 at the Grolier Club in midtown, earning acclaim from publications including The New Yorker.

Image: Zoe Anderson Norris, 1909, photographer unknown. Eve M. Kahn collection.



December 4, 2023

Monday, December 4, 2023 at 6:30pm
Doors open at 6:00pm
$25 (plus fees) General Admission
$22 (plus fees) Seniors and Students
     with Valid ID
$20 (plus fees) Members

Veterans Room

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