The Most Versatile Person Imaginable

Posted on November 13, 2019 by Clay Stalls and Anita Weaver | Comments (1)

Haydée Noya (1903–1992), manuscript cataloger for 39 years at The Huntington. She was the principal cataloger for Hispanic manuscripts for most of her career. Unknown photographer. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
Haydée Noya (1903–1992), manuscript cataloger for 39 years at The Huntington. She was the principal cataloger for Hispanic manuscripts for most of her career. Unknown photographer. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
 

With The Huntington's yearlong Centennial Celebration in full swing, there is no better time than now to recognize the legacy of the late Haydée Noya, one of the Library's many loyal and dedicated past employees who worked to advance the mission of this extraordinary institution.

Despite a tenure of 39 continuous years in the Library’s manuscripts department (1931–1970), Noya’s name and achievements are largely unknown. Yet her name frequently crops up in scholarly publications, the Library’s catalog, the records of The Huntington’s institutional archives, and in the fond memories of acquaintances and longtime staff members who have recalled her congenial, quiet, and humble character.

In 1939, The Huntington sent Noya to Mexico to research Spanish land grants in California. She generously shared details about her research in a letter dated January 7, 1940, to Dr. P. M. Hamer, the chief of the division of reference at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
In 1939, The Huntington sent Noya to Mexico to research Spanish land grants in California. She generously shared details about her research in a letter dated January 7, 1940, to Dr. P. M. Hamer, the chief of the division of reference at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
 

Noya was born in 1903 in the picturesque coastal city of Huracao, Puerto Rico, and she began her higher education at the age of 18 by enrolling in a yearlong art course at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York City. Directly after graduation, she traveled across the bridge to Manhattan to study literature for two years at Columbia University, and she then moved across town to study art appreciation and philosophy at Hunter College. Noya’s intellectual accomplishments included being multilingual: Fluent in English, she could also read, speak, and write Spanish and read French, Italian, and Portuguese.

Remaining in New York City after completing her studies, Noya held jobs as a cataloger and researcher in the library of the Paramount Publix Corporation (later to become Paramount Pictures), as an editor and indexer at Encyclopedia Britannica, and as an indexer at the D. Appleton & Company publishing house.

Haydée Noya examines the original manuscript of Joaquin Miller’s “Good-by, Bret Harte,” a poem written on the death of Bret Harte, one the manuscripts selected by her from the Library’s extensive collection of Joaquin Miller manuscripts and letters for the “Century of California Literature” exhibition in 1950. Unknown photographer. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
Noya examines the original manuscript of Joaquin Miller’s “Good-by, Bret Harte,” a poem written on the death of Bret Harte, one the manuscripts selected by her from the Library’s extensive collection of Joaquin Miller manuscripts and letters for the “Century of California Literature” exhibition in 1950. Unknown photographer. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
 

Noya’s next job represented a huge leap, both in distance and in career trajectory. In November of 1931, she applied for a position as a cataloger at The Huntington. Although today it would be difficult, if not impossible, for a person to be hired as a cataloger at a major institution without professional training, it was not uncommon in an era when library schools were just getting started for libraries to hire people and then train them on the job. No doubt Noya’s education, language skills, professional background, and numerous letters of recommendation made a strong impression at The Huntington because she soon received an offer of full-time employment and relocated to Los Angeles, where she lived with her elder sister.

The Library clearly made the right decision, as evidenced by the many records in the library catalog indicating her cataloging and translation work, and the numerous citations in scholarly literature noting her research and translation assistance. Her Spanish language translation skills were especially noteworthy. Working on a joint project with the archives of the Mission of Santa Barbara, she translated the diary of Fray Pedro Muñoz, a priest who wrote about a monthlong expedition into California’s Sierra Mountains in 1806. Her translation was published in the May 1946 issue of the Huntington Library Quarterly.

As a translator, she was able to tackle poetry as well as prose. In 1953, the Los Angeles bibliophilic society, The Zamorano Club, published Noya’s translation of the anonymous romantic poem “Al Bello Secso,” originally published as a broadside in 1836 in Monterey, Alta California.

In 1953, the Los Angeles bibliophilic society, The Zamorano Club, published Noya’s translation of the anonymous romantic poem “Al Bello Secso,” originally published as a broadside in 1836 in Monterey, Alta California.
In 1953, the Los Angeles bibliophilic society, The Zamorano Club, published Noya’s translation of the romantic poem “Al Bello Secso,” originally published as a broadside in 1836 in Monterey, Alta California.
 

In addition to translations and transcriptions of Spanish-language materials, Noya’s abilities shone in the crucial work of cataloging manuscripts. She began at The Huntington working on English manuscripts and demonstrated her versatility by branching out to work with California and western United States materials. Most importantly, she was the principal cataloger for Hispanic manuscripts at The Huntington for most of her career. The Huntington’s having a person with the skill to handle such materials was critical to ensuring their importance in The Huntington’s collections.

In 1962, Noya contributed to The Huntington publication Ten Centuries of Manuscripts in the Huntington Library, along with coauthors Herbert C. Schultz, curator of manuscripts, and Norma B. Cuthbert. Noya wrote the chapter on the manuscripts of the Pacific Southwest and Spanish Americana. She also contributed an article to The Huntington Library Quarterly on the acquisition of the correspondence of John Wesley North—the founder of both Northfield, Minnesota, and Riverside, California—and his second wife, Ann Hendrix Loomis.

Back in 1939, The Huntington sent Noya to Mexico to research Spanish land grants in California. She generously shared details about her research in a letter dated January 7, 1940, to Dr. P. M. Hamer, the chief of the division of reference at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

In 1962, Noya contributed to The Huntington publication Ten Centuries of Manuscripts in the Huntington Library, along with coauthors Herbert C. Schultz, curator of manuscripts, and Norma B. Cuthbert. Noya wrote the chapter on the manuscripts of the Pacific Southwest and Spanish Americana.
In 1962, Noya contributed to The Huntington publication Ten Centuries of Manuscripts in the Huntington Library, along with coauthors Herbert C. Schultz, curator of manuscripts, and Norma B. Cuthbert. Noya wrote the chapter on the manuscripts of the Pacific Southwest and Spanish Americana.
 

After retiring in 1970, Noya visited the Library regularly to have lunch with her former colleagues, thus contributing to another enduring Huntington tradition of lifelong bonds that the institution engenders among its staff members. She passed away in 1992 at her home in Orange County, where she had relocated with her husband.

During an oral history interview of the Los Angeles bibliophile and Huntington employee Edwin H. Carpenter, conducted by Ruth Axe in 1977, Carpenter recounted at some length his memories of Noya’s many talents, leading Axe to observe that Noya was perhaps “the most versatile person imaginable.” That legacy of versatility continues to impress many decades later.

Clay Stalls is the curator of California and Hispanic Collections at The Huntington.

Anita Weaver is a curatorial assistant at The Huntington.

Comments

Really appreciate your posts. The stories are fascinating and full of relevant information of people past and present. I look forward to visiting in the near future. Thank you!

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