Florence Nightingale Levy

August 13, 1870–November 15, 1947

by Kirsten Swinth

In Brief

Florence Nightingale Levy founded important journals and led a multitude of institutions that would shape our national relationship to art. In 1898 she founded the American Art Annual, a major catalogue of exhibitions, art schools, associations, and artists in the United States, which she edited for two decades. In 1901, she created the weekly New York Art Bulletin. Levy also published a number of guides to art education in the United States at every level, from public schools through professional art academies. In 1909 she co-founded the Art League of New York, bringing art into public schools, and the American Federation of Arts, which promoted art through exhibitions and other events.

Florence Nightingale Levy’s most significant achievement was the founding of the American Art Annual in 1898. A comprehensive directory of the American art world, the Annual catalogued schools, associations, exhibitions, and artists nationwide. Levy went on to perform invaluable editing, organizing, and educational roles in the American art world for the next fifty years.

Early Life and Education

An only child, Florence Levy was born on August 13, 1870, in New York City, to Joseph Arthur and Pauline (Goodheim) Levy. She studied art at the National Academy of Design but turned to art history and criticism. She went on to further study at the Louvre in Paris under curator Gaston Lafenestre (1894–1895), at Columbia University, with leading American artists (including John La Farge), and with art historian John C. Van Dyke.

Known as “Florence the Clipper” for her habit of clipping articles from newspapers, Levy turned her clipping collection into the first volume of the American Art Annual in 1898. For the next twenty-one years, she edited the Annual. In December 1901, she also began publishing the weekly New York Art Bulletin. In six years, it grew to twenty-four pages, became a national newssheet, and was eventually sold to Art News. Her other major publication, Art in New York, a guide to the New York art scene, went through six editions between 1916 and 1939.

Career and Legacy

Levy’s knowledge of the New York and national art communities led her to art education, museums, and an exploration of the relationship between art and industry. She began teaching private art history classes in 1901. In 1908, she helped edit a guide called Art Education in the Public Schools of the United States; other guides followed, including Professional Art Schools in the United States (1914) and Art Education in New York City for Artists and Artisans (1916). In 1909, Levy was a cofounder of the School Art League of New York, an organization that brought art into public schools. In that same year, she also helped to create the American Federation of Arts, dedicated to promoting art through means such as traveling exhibitions.

Levy worked on the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1909–1917), and later became director of the newly founded Baltimore Museum (1922–1926). During the hiatus between museum positions, she began her involvement with art and industry and with vocational guidance, areas that would shape the rest of her career. From 1917 to 1919, she ran the Art Alliance of America, which urged industrial use of American arts and design during World War I. In 1922, she published a survey of the silver industry in Art in Industry. From 1927 to 1932, she was director of the Arts Council of New York City (renamed the New York Regional Art Council in 1929). The council was affiliated with the National Alliance of Art and Industry, for which Levy served as the supervisor of vocational service (1932–1934). In 1934, she became director of the Federated Council on Art Education (later renamed the Art Education Council), where she focused on vocational guidance and edited Occupations Requiring a Knowledge of Art.

Levy was a member of Congregation Shaarei Tefila. She died in New York on November 15, 1947. Known for her dedication, efficiency, and ability, she left a major legacy of national and New York–based arts advocacy and organizing.


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How to cite this page

Swinth, Kirsten. "Florence Nightingale Levy." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 24, 2024) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/levy-florence-nightingale>.