The society’s first two “Hall of Fame” inductees are two of its founders: Sy Amkraut and Alice Hudson. The society is forever
indebted to them not only for helping start the New York Map Society in 1977, but for all the work they’ve both done since then to keep it alive and flourishing.
Sy Amkraut’s Reflections:
“It all began in the early 70s, when I spent a good deal of vacation time wandering the earth and waiting around while my wife, Joyce, shopped for antiques. A map dated 1714, called the “Beaver” map, caught my eye. It intrigued me. As I perused the details, it transported me to a different place and time. I felt like I was living at the time when the map was created. I became obsessed with antiquarian maps and globes. To me, the maps are not only a cartograph, but a living experience. Over the years I acquired hundreds of antiquarian maps, atlases and globes. I also developed an interest in the cartographers, and especially in the contemporaneous notes on the maps. Antiquarian maps are the story of those who commissioned them, how the information was obtained, and why.
“I wanted to share my enthusiasm with others, and decided to start a map club. Alice Hudson, the map librarian at the 42nd Street New York Public Library, was the answer: we helped start the New York Map Society. We pulled maps off the shelves and enjoyed studying them together. We also took interesting field trips. My wife and I, travelling all over the world, would often forgo the cathedrals and castles. We rented a car and drove through small towns, visiting small shops. My wife, as usual, searched for her antiques, while I now looked for my antiquarian maps and globes.
“But about me: I was born in Brooklyn on April 29, 1924. My first recollection was standing on line in 1929 with my father to withdraw money from the Bank of the United States. But the Bank had failed, and there was no money left. We lost all our savings. It gives me an appreciation of how bad things were and how much better we are today. “I spent three years as a soldier helping the United States win World War II. I served as a medic on a luxury liner, the Nieuw Amsterdam, designed to carry a few hundred vacationers, that had been converted to a troopship able to carry 8,000 GIs. We spent our time transporting troops in the Pacific, in the Middle East, and in the European theater of operations. Our most daunting task was zigzagging mostly seasick GIs across the stormy Atlantic. Our job was to make sure they survived the 10-day journey while cooped up in the bowels of a ship with its port holes sealed shut. We transported men to Greenock on the Clyde in Scotland and returned to Pier 90 in Manhattan with the wounded. We traveled without a Navy escort. During my time at sea the ship traveled once around the world, crossed the stormy Atlantic over 50 times, outwitted U-boat commanders and a German pocket battleship. I was finally awarded my three stripes: sergeant, tripling my salary from $28 a month to $96. We didn’t lose one man, not a one!
“The G.I. Bill paid for my BA business degree at New York University, and I spent the next very rewarding 27 years representing the Picker X-ray Company, selling diagnostic radiographic equipment to all the hospitals in the Bronx. I then created Shaco Inc., and we contracted to maintain all the equipment that I had sold in the previous 27 years.
“At 65 I had endowed the college education for our 4 grandchildren and had saved enough to retire to Tucson, Arizona. After 15 years I returned to New York because my wife Joyce passed away and I wanted to be with my children. Unfortunately, about 15 years ago I suffered a brain seizure. I am now legally blind and have severe hearing loss. I cannot read unless the size of the font is very big, and I have difficulty recognizing people’s faces.
“I have two wonderful daughters, Susan and Cathy, who are extremely supportive of all my various needs. My eldest granddaughter Rebecca recently earned her PhD in microbiology and genetics. The next in line is Melissa who is the E-commerce Manager at the West Elm Company. Nicole is studying to be a Physician’s Assistant at George Washington University. And the youngest is Jacob, is a college sophomore studying at the Smith Business School at the University of Maryland. He has promised me he will be a millionaire in 10 years.
“I live and love with my dear Bernette in a senior residence, Brookdale, in Battery Park City. All the walls in my apartment are adorned with the “Beaver Map” and other favorite antiquarian maps. With my deteriorated sight, I can no longer enjoy reading the maps — however, the pleasure I received from purchasing, studying and analyzing these maps more than compensates. Writing this biography has allowed me to re-live the pleasure of the time spent traveling and collecting.
“I am gratified the New York Map Society continues to thrive. We are all indebted to the current board for carrying on the traditions. Thank you for this lovely honor. It is especially appreciated by someone at the ripe old age of 93.”
PS: I attended a learning in retirement program [Quest A CCNY/CWE Community for Lifelong Learning]. It gave me an opportunity to make
many presentations about my precious maps. Alice Hudson: Co-Founder, Vice President, and Director, stepped down, in mid- 2017, from her leadership position in the New York Map Society. She is already greatly missed.
Alice Hudson Tribute
Alice Hudson has been a force in the ﬁeld of map librarianship. Over the course of her decades-long career, she helped guide and mentor countless scholars and colleagues. Her curatorial and collection work at the New York Public Library helped establish the New York Public Library’s Map Division as one of the premier public map collections in the world, and her research into the history of cartography, particularly her work in highlighting the work of women in the ﬁeld of mapmaking continue to inform and inspire today’s researchers.
We enjoyed attending an exhibition on Women in Cartography that Alice curated at the Boston Public Library during 2015-16.
Alice joined the New York Public Library right after graduating from Middle Tennessee University with a Bachelor of Science in Geography, followed by a Master of Library Science from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University. Alice went on to have a distinguished career in Library Science, Cartographic Curation, and as an Educator. Her awards are too many to name, but a few worth mentioning are listed here:
Honors and Awards
- Sloan Award for Public Service: Fund for the City of New York. March 2001.
- Hunter College, City University of New York, Geology and Geography Department, Anastasia Van Burkalow Award for Distinguished Service: 1994.
Alice also taught honors classes as a lecturer in cartography at:
- The Rare Book School (University of Virginia)
- Pratt School of Library and Information Science
- Hunter College Department of Geology and Geography
The New York Map Society established the Alice Hudson Award in 2018 which is awarded annually to students pursuing degrees at The City University of New York’s Hunter College, School of Geography and Environmental Science. Award recipients must create and present their map to a panel of judges. There is a winner in both the physical map and digital map categories.
Perhaps the best example of Alice’s impact on cartography can be demonstrated through the testimonials provided by her colleagues.
Kate Cordes: Assistant Director, Maps, Local History & Genealogy, The New York Public Library; Former Director, New York Map Society:
“My very first job while still in library school was a part-time position in the Map Division at the New York Public Library. Even though I was brand new to the field, I knew I was incredibly fortunate to be working with such a stellar team of professional librarians. Alice Hudson was the Chief of the Division at the time, and it was from her that I learned what it meant to be a research librarian. Back then, I wasn’t aware of her reputation in the field of map librarianship or her role in the development of the rich collections at the NYPL. What I did know was that I was lucky to be working with someone who so clearly embodied her love of history and cartography and who was dedicated to sharing her knowledge and expertise with the public.
Whoever came through the doors of the Map Division, from school children to scholars, were welcomed equally and fully by Alice and her staff and were furnished with the information and collections specific to their needs. Alice provided a model of public service that has proven foundational for me, and her dedication to the mission of the Library, to the collections, and to her staff have deeply influenced my career. Now that I manage the map collections at the Library, my hope is to be able to live up to her reputation in my own way, and to keep her legacy alive at the Library.
Keith Glutting: Chairman, Museums Council of New York City; Manager, Visitor Volunteer Program, The New York Public Library; member, Board of Directors, Alice Austen House Museum, Staten Island; former Manager of Visitor Services, The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art:
When I was in library school, I decided to take a course about maps as my last elective class. After a deadening semester of cataloging and library management classes, I needed to rekindle my passion for library work. I had heard about Alice Hudson, the legendary chief of
the Map Division at NYPL, and when I found out that she would be teaching the course, I couldn’t resist signing up. Up until then, I had considered myself something of a map fan. I had atlases next to the bed wherever I lived, always within easy reach. But it was Alice who
made me realize that I knew nothing at all, and there was so much work ahead of me to get a grasp on the history of maps and to understand what it took to create and manage such a vast collection.
I volunteered in the Map Division beginning in 2004. Alice and I still come into the Map Division occasionally to update finding aids and chat about maps, map collectors, and anecdotes that only map folks find funny! I learned a ton about maps over the last 13 years, and I will always cherish my time in Map Division and especially the time with Alice.
Connie Brown: map artist; former Director, New York Map Society; President, Connecticut Map Society:
When I slipped into the map scene 25 years ago, everyone talked about the legendary Alice Hudson in reverential terms. A couple of times, I slinked into the Map Division, thinking I might get up the nerve to approach her, but each time, I chickened out. Eventually, at a Cooper Union event, I took a memory map workshop from her—how silly I’d been! She was totally welcoming, totally accessible.
I came to learn that that accessibility characterized Alice. First and foremost, she’s a librarian, and as a NYPL librarian, her aim was to make the maps in NYPL’s collection accessible even to the shyest and most ignorant applicants—like me. Alice was, and is, completely democratic: no matter who you were—and I was nobody—she was devoted to helping you understand just how awe-inspiring original edition maps were. As I perceived it, her mission was to serve everyone who walked through the door. In the effete world of historic maps, there was nothing effete about Alice Hudson.
In the fullness of time, I became a good enough mapmaker that Alice asked me to give a talk about my maps. In a lonely field like manuscript mapmaking, one has few champions, but Alice championed people like me and even included a map of mine in a NYPL exhibit.
I admire Alice for many reasons, but here are the two heavy hitters: (1) as democratic as she is about people, she is equally democratic about maps—she used to pick ordinary printed maps off the street (probably still does), and valued them as she did more exalted maps; and (2) she mounted the first show of maps made by women over the centuries, a revolutionary exhibit for which I hope she will long be remembered.
So, as arcane as Alice’s knowledge of notable and valuable cartography is, she’s still interested in maps by the people, for the people. She’s a firebrand librarian, great storyteller, and a great friend. For me, the past quarter-century wouldn’t have been the same without her. There’s a whole new generation of hipster librarians—I hope they hold Alice Hudson as a role model.
Paula Baxter: former Curator, Art and Architecture at The New York Public Library
(22 years, until 2009); currently Adjunct Professor, Berkely College, White Plains, NY:
“Alice Hudson’s Legacy,” by Paula Baxter (at her blog on the NYPL’s website) July 15, 2009.
Alice Hudson, Chief of the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, retires this week after a long and glorious career at NYPL. She’s someone who impacted many lives, leaving behind a shining legacy that will continue to glow for years.
I’ll particularly miss Alice’s wry humor. I still chuckle when I recall her telling me that she first wanted to title her upcoming exhibition (Mapping New York’s Shoreline 1609-2009) “Hudson on Hudson.” You could always count on her to tell it like it is. Her professional dedication was always so obvious and so inspiring. A former student told me once that, when talking about a favorite topic related to maps or map librarianship, she’d light up with a very physical incandescence. She’s taught a generation of new and aspiring map librarians, counseled collectors, helped grateful general readers, and always looked after the Mercator Society. In addition to her many contributions to NYPL, I seem to recollect that she won a very prestigious librarian award some years ago…
Alice’s teaching is only one facet of her many abilities. Her leadership proved invaluable in important endeavors, as when she welcomed the world of K-12 teachers and students to the Map Division, and incorporated their interests into her show and tells and exhibition work,
demonstrating how there could be a place for these constituents in a research library. There are many reasons why the NYPL Map Division is one of the top ten in the world, and Alice has everything to do with them. Another facet of her professionalism is her fierce devotion to public service. Having reached a point where she could forgivably build an ivory tower to lock herself in with major projects, she never lost the understanding that helping people directly is most important of all.”
Public Library’s Treasure Among Maps,” Journal of Map & Geography Libraries, 6:2, 151-173, DOI: 10.1080/15420353.2010.492307)