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.
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.
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.
AJYB 6 (1904–1905): 138, 24:171, 50:519; BEOAJ; Howes, Durwood, ed. American Women, 1935–1940: A Composite Dictionary. Vol. 1 (1981): 524; Leonard, John William, Woman’s Who’s Who of America, 1914–1915 (1914); Levy, Florence Nightingale. Papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and Florence Nightingale Levy Collection. New-York Historical Society, NYC; National Cyclopaedia of American Biography; NAW; Obituary. NYTimes, November 17, 1947, 22:2; “Preface.” American Art Annual. Vol. 1 (1899); UJE; Who’s Who in American Art. Vol. 4 (1940–1947): 284; WWIAJ (1926, 1928, 1938).
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Swinth, Kirsten. "Florence Nightingale Levy." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/levy-florence-nightingale>.