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Guide to the MacDowell Club of New York City Records
 MS 2953

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Susan Kriete

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on June 01, 2015
Description is in English

Biographical/Historical note

The MacDowell Club of New York City was founded in 1905 in honor of composer Edward MacDowell, and became a significant force in the artistic and cultural life of the city until it disbanded in 1942.

Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) was one of the first American composers to achieve international fame. Born in New York City, he studied music abroad and eventually returned to New York to serve as the first professor of music at Columbia University in 1896. He resigned in 1904, as a result of disagreement about the role of the music department. After his much-publicized departure, MacDowell's mental and physical health declined rapidly. A handsom cab accident contributed to his growing dementia, and in 1908 MacDowell died at the age of 48.

Before his death, MacDowell's friends and colleagues formed the MacDowell Club of New York City to support the composer and promote his ideals. The purpose of the club, as set forth in its articles of incorporation, was:

"To discuss and demonstrate the principles of the arts of music, literature, the drama, painting, sculpture, and architecture, and to aid in the extension of knowledge of works especially fitted to exemplify the finer purposes of these arts, including works deserving wider recognition, and to promote a sympathetic understanding of the correlation of these arts, and to contribute to the broadening of their influences; thus carrying forward the life purpose of Edward MacDowell."

To fulfill these objectives, the club showcased the arts with performances, recitals, exhibitions and lectures. Within a few years, the club's membership reached 600. Its earliest meetings were held in a studio at Carnegie Hall; from 1909 to 1911, the Club was housed in the Metropolitan Opera House; in October, 1911, the Club established its own club rooms at 108 West 55th Street, where it remained until 1924; and its last home was at 166 East 73rd Street.

In 1911, under the leadership of its second president, John W. Alexander, the Club made headlines with its revolutionary "open" exhibition policy, a radical departure from the normal juried exhibitions. Under this system, self-organized groups of artists could exhibit self-selected works in the Club's galleries at very little expense. Many gifted artists like Stuart David, Edward Hopper, Yasho Kuniyeshi and scores of others had their first exhibitions at the MacDowell Club.

The club's roster of presidents included distinguished artists, musicians, and men of affairs who were patrons of art and accomplished amateurs: Eugene Heffley, John W. Alexander, Frederick Stokes, Ernest Peixotto, Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, Benjamin Prince, Cecil Smith, Hartwell Cahell. Among its members were many well known writers, artists, musicians, actors and architects, including: Hamlin Garland, Richard Watson Gilder, Edwin Arlington Robinson, James Havery Robinson, John Dewey, Leonora Speyer, Herbert Adams, Robert Aitken, Hobart Nichols, Irving Wiles, Ivan Olinsky, Luis Mora, Robert Henri, George Bellows, Louise Homer, David Bispham, Katherine Bacon, Francis Rogers, Charles and Ivah Willis Coburn, Harriet Rogers Otis Dellenbaugh, Beatrice Cameron (Mrs. Richards Mansfield), Harold Van Buren Magonigle.

Early on the club established a Student Fund Committee, which provided timely aid to a whole generation of promising young artists. For many years, the Club maintained a resident fellowship in Professor George Baker's Drama Workshop at Harvard University, as well as a resident scholarship at the MacDowell Colony at Peterborough, New Hampshire. (Although founded at about the same time, by many of the same people, the MacDowell Club of New York also remained a separate entity from the MacDowell Colony, which still exists today).

Another interesting aspect of the club was the early work of the committee on drama. Committee members attended the first performance of noteworthy plays, and if they judged the work favorably, issued a one-page report commenting on the general idea of the play, its characterization, plot, situations, dialogue, production and acting. These reports were sent to club members, who were encouraged with coupons to attend within the first three weeks so as to support the production during this critical early period. A letter from Parker Fillmore, secretary of the club at the time of its dissolution, suggests that this committee became the nucleus of the national Drama League of America.

In 1909, composer Kurt Schindler formed the MacDowell Chorus, which performed with the New York Philharmonic and later became the Scola Contorum.

The MacDowell Club of New York City was one of a number of local MacDowell Clubs that grew up around the country, each of which operated separately from the others.