Two marble lions have been guarding the entrance of the New York Public Library since it opened in May of 1911. These days, the lions are usually called Patience and Fortitude. But over the years they’ve had various nicknames, including a number of male/female nicknames (despite the fact that both lions are clearly male). Some examples:
- Ainsley and Rollo
- Leo Astor and Leo Lenox
- The NYPL was created by combining the Astor and Lenox libraries.
- Lord Lenox and Lady Astor
- Leo and Leonora
- Peter Cooper and Horace Greeley (famous for their whiskers, among other things)
- Plato and Lily
- Pyramus and Thisbe
- Uptown and Downtown
The NYPL attributes the “Patience” and “Fortitude” to former NYC mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who was in office from 1934 to 1945.
Mayor LaGuardia…nicknamed The New York Public Library’s lions Patience and Fortitude for the qualities he felt New Yorkers needed to survive the Great Depression.
While it’s a nice story, I can’t find any record of LaGuardia suggesting that the library lions be called by those particular nicknames. He did, however, use the phrase “Patience and Fortitude” repeatedly in his weekly WWII-era radio talks (1942-1945) on WNYC. So LaGuardia may be the ultimate source of the names, but it’s more likely that his radio audience began associating the two words with the two cats during the 1940s — after the Depression was over.
Speaking of Fiorello…the lions were carved by the Piccirilli Brothers, immigrants from Italy. The six brothers were named Ferrucio, Attilio, Furio, Masaniello, Orazio, and Getulio, plus they had a kid sister named Iola (according to the census).
Do you like the nicknames Patience and Fortitude for the lions? If not, what names would you prefer?
- Eikel, Vera, Susan Lardner, and Brendan Gill. “Recovered.” The New Yorker 3 Sept. 1960: 20.
- Larkin, Susan G. Top Cats: The Life and Times of the New York Public Library Lions. San Francisco: Pomegranate, 2006.
- The Library Lions – NYPL
- Patience and Fortitude: The New York Public Library During the Great Depression and Today’s Economic Crisis – NYPL