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Guide to the Emma Thursby Papers
1706-1942 (Bulk 1860-1940)
  MS 2530

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

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Jenny Gotwals

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on April 05, 2022
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Thursby, Emma Cecilia, 1845-1931
Title: Emma Thursby papers
Dates [inclusive]: 1706-1942 (Bulk 1860-1940)
Abstract: The collection contains information related to the singing career of Emma Thursby and her family relationships. The collection documents the financial and career dealings of a female concert singer in the late nineteenth century.
Quantity: 19 Linear feet (25 boxes, 4 bound volumes)
Language: The documents in the collection are primarily in English, but various other languages are also found there, perhaps especially German.
Call Phrase: MS 2530

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Biographical Note

February 21, 1845 Birth of Emma Cecilia Thursby, the second of five children (Alice, John, Louis and Ina were her siblings) born to Jane Bennett Thursby and John Barnes Thursby.
1850 Emma Thursby's first concert appearance at the Old Bushwick Reformed Winter Church, to which her family belonged.
1857-1859 Emma and her older sister Alice (also called Allie) study music at the Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
November 17, 1859 The death of John Barnes Thursby is a financial blow to the Thursby family, and Emma's musical training is put on hold. Emma practices her singing at home with her sisters.
1868-1871 Along with other appearances, Emma is engaged as the soloist at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, where Henry Ward Beecher is the pastor. Emma Thursby's income is the financial mainstay for the Thursby family from this time onward.
1872-1873 Emma Thursby travels to Italy to train with Francesco Lamperti and Antonio Sangiovanni.
1875 In 1875 Emma Thursby begins studying with Erminia Rudersdorff, her most influential teacher and advisor.
1876 As her national fame grows, Emma Thursby shares a bill at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with Mark Twain, who read from his writings. She also sings at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
1877 Emma Thursby signs a contract with Maurice Strakosch to be her voice teacher and manager.
1878-1879 Emma Thursby's travels to Europe for her first European concert tour. While in Europe Emma meets Ole Bull, a famous Norwegian violinist, with whom she had forms a close friendship. After Ole Bull's death, Emma remains friends with Sara Bull, Ole's wife, and Olea Bull, his daughter.
1883 Emma purchases an apartment at 34 Gramercy Park and the entire Thursby family moves in.
1884 Death of Jane Ann Bennet Thursby while Emma is on tour in Europe.
1885 Emma Thursby returns to New York shortly before death of her sister Alice.
1893 Emma is invited to be a member of the 'Advisory Council on a World's Congress of Representative Women' at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She performs at the Exposition, and meets Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk whose teachings she begins to follow.
1889 Emma Thursby first visits Green Acre, an artist community in Maine formed by Sarah Farmer. She also begins holding salons each Friday that function as both social and musical occasions for the musical literati and visiting friends.
January 1899 Death of Emma's pet and traveling companion, Mynah bird.
1895-1924 Emma Thursby once again takes voice pupils.
1903-1904 Emma and Ina Thursby travel to Japan and China.
September, 1918 Death of John J. Thursby.
1924 Emma Thursby suffers a paralytic attack which leaves her left side paralyzed.
July 4, 1931 Death of Emma Cecilia Thursby.

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Scope and Content Note

The Emma Thursby Papers consist of material relating to the life and singing career of Emma Cecilia Thursby, as well as the lives of members of her extended family. Included are letters, telegrams, postcards, address books, diaries, engagement books, autographs, calling cards; financial materials including receipts, bills, checkbook stubs, letters of credit; legal papers such as contracts, wills, indentures, and deeds; poetry, programs, periodical clippings, passports, notes, and a few photographs. The collection effectively documents the financial and career dealings of a renowned concert singer in the late nineteenth century. Emma Thursby traveled to many European countries, as well as to Japan and China, both for her career and for pleasure, and most of these trips are well documented. In addition, the many family letters included show the close family network of siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins that nurtured Emma Thursby.

The bulk of the collection is composed of the Correspondence and the Subjects series. Letters from Ina Thursby to other family members from her travels with Emma provide detailed information on Emma's concert dates, performances, travel, and voice study. The Subjects series highlights Emma's interests after her own singing career had ended such as Eastern religious philosophies or the salons she held every Friday. Specific information about legal and financial aspects of Emma Thursby's career can be found in the Financial or Legal series, but neither of these aspects is as complete a document of her experience as can be found through correspondence.


The Emma Thursby papers have been organized into the following series:

Series I: Correspondence (1839-1940)

Series II: Financial Papers (1706-1919)

Series III: Legal Papers (1788-1903)

Series IV: Address Books, Diaries, Engagement Books (1868-1929)

Series V: Awards, Ephemera, Notes (1850-1936)

Series VI: Subject and Biographical Information (1879-1937)

Series VII: Autographs (undated)

Series VIII: Master Recordings of the Emma Thursby Musicale (1940)

Series IX. Press Clippings and Other Print Matter (1859-1942)

Within each series, the material is arranged either alphabetically or chronologically.

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Thursby, Ina Love, 1855-
  • Thursby, Jane Bennett, -1884
  • Thursby, John Barnes, 1820-1859
  • Vivekananda, Swami, 1863-1902
  • Bull, Ole, 1810-1880
  • Bull, Olea, 1871-1911
  • Bull, Sara Chapman Thorp, 1850-1911
  • Farmer, Sarah J., 1847-1916
  • Jackson, May Howard, 1877-1931
  • Okakura, Kakuzo, 1862-1913
  • Ovington, Jeannie
  • Rudersdorff, Ermini
  • Strakosch, Moritz, -1887
  • Thursby, Alice, 1843-1886

Document Type

  • Awards
  • Business cards.
  • Check stubs
  • Deeds.
  • Indentures.
  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Menus.
  • Notes (documents)
  • Pamphlets.
  • Passports.
  • Phonograph records
  • Place cards
  • Poems
  • Programs (documents).
  • Telegrams.
  • Wills.
  • Address books.
  • Appointment books
  • Clippings (information artifacts)
  • Contracts.
  • Diaries.
  • Letters of credit.
  • Postcards.
  • Receipts (financial records)
  • Scrapbooks.
  • Signatures (names)
  • Visiting cards

Subject Organizations

  • Green Acre Fellowship
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Subject Topics

  • Art, East Asian
  • Concert agents
  • Concert tours
  • Concerts.
  • Finance, Personal
  • Music trade
  • Philosophy, Indic.
  • Singers.
  • Singing
  • Singing -- Instruction and study
  • Women singers -- United States.

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • Europe -- Description and travel -- 1919–1944
  • Europe -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • India -- Religion.
  • New York (N.Y.) -- Social life and customs.

Family Name(s)

  • Van Cott family
  • Bennett family
  • Thursby (Family)

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Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Use Restrictions

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as the Emma Thursby Papers, MS 2530, New-York Historical Society.

Related Material at The New-York Historical Society

The N-YHS Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections holds the Emma Cecelia Thursby Photograph Collection (PR 126). Photographs of Thursby's family, friends, and colleagues are also included in the Album File (PR 002), Portrait File (PR 052), Theatrical Portrait File (PR 104), Cased Photograph File (PR 012), and Carte-de-Visite File (PR 011).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Ina Love Thursby, 1940-1941.

Processing Information

The collection was processed by Jenny Gotwals, circa 2003. The finding aid was converted to an on-line format in 2011. An additional series of print matter (Series IX) was added by Larry Weimer in 2022.

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Container List

Series I: Correspondence, 1839-1940

Scope and Contents note

The correspondence series contains correspondence between Thursby family members, as well as from Emma Thursby's managers, fans, friends, and pupils. The series contains information about important events (mainly deaths) in the lives of the Thursby family members, offers and requests for Emma Thursby to perform, Emma Thursby's participation in the philosophical community Green Acre in Eliot, Maine, and European travelogues and concert reports. This series consists of letters, telegrams, postcards, calling cards, envelopes, and stationery.

In all her travels Emma Thursby was accompanied by a close family member, perhaps both in the role of chaperone and companion. Her older sister Alice accompanied her on the first tours, and both her mother and Alice went along to Europe in 1878. Emma's younger sister Ina came on this particular trip for only a few months, but would soon accompany Emma on all tours and become her closest companion and confidante. During these later tours it is Ina's letters to the family and friends back in Brooklyn which provide much of the information about the concerts performed, receptions received, friends met, spas visited, and sights seen throughout the years.

Each correspondence subseries is divided into incoming and outgoing material. Letters are arranged alphabetically by the recipient or sender's name and then chronologically for each person. Correspondents with ten or more letters have separate folders. In addition, correspondents who comprised an entire envelope in the original housing system have been given an individual folder. A few separate folders were also created for important correspondents (such as the Paris Opera) regardless of number of letters.

Many Thursby family letters are addressed to more than one person (i.e. "Mother, Allie and Lou.") In these cases, the letters have been assigned to the folder of the oldest family member. A letter to "Allie, Lou and John" would be filed under Alice Thursby (the order of children was Alice, Emma, John, Louis, and Ina). Family letters addressed to "Dear sisters" are filed under Emma Thursby.

For the most part, envelopes are housed with their letters, either inside a card, in an acid-free paper sling, or, if easily identifiable as belonging to the letter, behind the letter. Envelopes that could not be matched to a specific letter are housed in Subseries 8, Other Correspondence.

Subseries 1: Emma Thursby, 1859-1931

Scope and Contents note

The correspondence in this subseries dates from Emma Thursby's days at music school in Pennsylvania as a young girl, and continues until a few days before her death. Her letters to her family from her travels abroad detail her musical education, career, and burgeoning social life on the European continent. Letters to friends such as Sara Bull and her cousin Mary Elizabeth (Mollie) Bennett Comfort also contain thoughts on her life outside her career, and philosophical interests such as Eastern religion.

Letters from pupils attest to Emma Thursby's popularity as a voice teacher. These letters, most of which are mainly devoted to requesting or confirming dates of lessons, were foldered separately at the time of the accession of the collection, and so have been kept segregated from the other correspondence. Many of Emma Thursby's voice students went on to become operatic or concert stars in their own right; correspondence from these women is contained in Series 6, Subject and Biographical Information; Subseries 1, Emma Thursby. Emma and/or Ina Thursby seems to have kept a file on each of these women, evidenced by the number of clippings and programs kept with these women's correspondence.

General alphabetical files of correspondence include letters from the following people: Edward Bok, Ole Bull, President Grover Cleveland and family, Count Chinda, Isadora Duncan, P.S. Gilmore, Percy Grainger, Phoebe Hearst, Mrs. Warren Harding, Herman Marcuse, Julia Marlowe, Kate Willard Parker, John D. Rockefeller, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Nicola Tesla, Mark Twain, David Todd, and [Swami] Vivekananda. Letters date from Emma Thursby's entire career, and are both letters of adulation as well as personal correspondence. Performers and pupils represented are Regina Arta (aka Emma Loeffler,) Dula Drake, Emma Eames, Blanche Marchesi, Emma Nevada Palmer, Duchess de Richelieu, Erminia Rudersdorff, and Maurice Strakosch and family. Corresponding institutions (often letters of thanks for concerts given) include Bushwick Reformed Church, Etude magazine, Methodist Episcopal Church South,  Musician magazine, Old Bushwick Church, Peabody House for Aged and Indigent Women, and Plymouth Church.

Many letters are addressed to both Emma and Ina Thursby. These letters, as well as those addressed to "Miss Thursby" have been filed in this subseries, unless clearly identified (based on information in the letter or on original envelope housing) to belong to Ina Thursby.

The four volumes are red cases labeled "A -- G," "H -- M," "N -- R," and "S -- Z" and contain letters written to Emma Thursby between 1871 and 1910. These letters were item-level cataloged at the time of their accession; a complete listing is available at the reference desk. Some of the correspondents included here (Edward Bok, Sara Bull, Olea Bull, Sarah Farmer, Patrick Gilmore, May Jackson, Jeannie Ovington, Maurice Strakosch, Maggie Van Cott, and [Swami] Vivekananda) also are represented in Boxes 1 -- 5. However, most of these letters were from one-time correspondents. The topics range from thanks given for complimentary concert tickets, to sympathy at the death of Thursby family members.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Emma Thursby, letters received from A-B
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Emma Thursby, letters received from Ralph Bartlett
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Emma Thursby, letters received from David Bispham
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Emma Thursby, letters received from Sara Bull
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Emma Thursby, letters received from Olea Bull
Box: 1 Folder : 6 Emma Thursby, letters received from C
Box: 1 Folder : 7 Emma Thursby, letters received from D
Box: 1 Folder : 8 Emma Thursby, letters received from E
Box: 1 Folder : 9 Emma Thursby, letters received from F
Box: 1 Folder : 10 Emma Thursby, letters received from Sarah Farmer
Box: 2 Folder : 1 Emma Thursby, letters received from G
Box: 2 Folder : 2 Emma Thursby, letters received from H
Box: 2 Folder : 3 Emma Thursby, letters received from Abraham Hill
Box: 2 Folder : 4 Emma Thursby, letters received from I-J
Box: 2 Folder : 5 Emma Thursby, letters received from May Jackson
Box: 2 Folder : 6 Emma Thursby, letters received from K
Box: 2 Folder : 7 Emma Thursby, letters received from L
Box: 2 Folder : 8 Emma Thursby, letters received from M
Box: 3 Folder : 1 Emma Thursby, letters received from N-O
Box: 3 Folder : 2 Emma Thursby, letters received from P-Q
Box: 3 Folder : 3 Emma Thursby, letters received from Paris Opera
Box: 3 Folder : 4 Emma Thursby, letters received from James B. Pond
Box: 3 Folder : 5 Emma Thursby, letters received from R
Box: 3 Folder : 6 Emma Thursby, letters received from S
Box: 3 Folder : 7 Emma Thursby, letters received from Henry W. Shoemaker
Box: 3 Folder : 8 Emma Thursby, letters received from T
Box: 3 Folder : 9 Emma Thursby, letters received from J.G. Thorp
Box: 3 Folder : 10 Emma Thursby, letters received from Alice Thursby
Box: 3 Folder : 11 Emma Thursby, letters received from Ina Thursby
Box: 3 Folder : 12 Emma Thursby, letters received from Thursby Family
Box: 3 Folder : 13 Emma Thursby, letters received from U-V
Box: 4 Folder : 1 Emma Thursby, letters received from W-Z
Box: 4 Folder : 2 Emma Thursby, letters received from World's Congress of Representative Women, Exposition of 1893
Box: 4 Folder : 3 Emma Thursby, letters received from Pupils A-M
Box: 4 Folder : 4 Emma Thursby, letters received from Pupils N-Z
Box: 4 Folder : 5 Emma Thursby, letters received from Unidentified
Box: 4 Folder : 6 Emma Thursby, letters sent to A-Z
Box: 4 Folder : 7 Emma Thursby, letters sent to Jackson, May
Box: 4 Folder : 8 Emma Thursby, letters sent to Moore, Mary C.
Box: 4 Folder : 9 Emma Thursby, letters sent to Thursby, Alice
Box: 4 Folder : 10 Emma Thursby, letters sent to Thursby, Ina
Box: 4 Folder : 11 Emma Thursby, letters sent to Thursby, Jane B.
Box: 5 Folder : 1 Emma Thursby, letters sent to Thursby, John J.
Box: 5 Folder : 2 Emma Thursby letters sent to Thursby, Louis
Box: 5 Folder : 3 Emma Thursby, letters sent to Thursby Family
Volume: 1 Letters received from A-G
Volume: 2 Letters received from H-M
Volume: 3 Letters received from N-R
Volume: 4 Letters received from S-Z

Subseries 2: Ina Thursby, 1872-1939

Scope and Contents note

General alphabetical correspondence files contain letters from Ralph Bartlett, May Jackson, Charles Schwab, and David Todd. Former pupils and associates of Emma's included are Peggy Green (Princess Viggo,) Meta Reddish, Duchess de Richelieu, Amalia Strakosch, Geraldine Ferrar, and Emma Nevada Palmer. Much of the general correspondence letters are condolences to Ina upon the death of Emma Thursby. Ina also planned many memorial events for Emma, including the installation of a mosaic at the Brooklyn Museum of Art; many letters address these projects.

In 1903, both Emma and Ina Thursby made many friends in Japan with whom they corresponded for years. Letters from Japanese friends in this series discuss visits and friend Kakuzo Okakura's work establishing an Eastern Art wing at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Letters to family members, especially Alice and her brothers, give great detailed accounts of Ina's first trip with Emma to Europe in 1880 -- 1882.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 5 Folder : 4 Ina Thursby, letters received from A
Box: 5 Folder : 5 Ina Thursby, letters received from B
Box: 5 Folder : 6 Ina Thursby, letters received from C
Box: 5 Folder : 7 Ina Thursby, letters received from Mary Elizabeth Bennett Comfortt
1931-1938 undated
Box: 5 Folder : 8 Ina Thursby, letters received from D-E
Box: 5 Folder : 9 Ina Thursby, letters received from F-H
Box: 6 Folder : 1 Ina Thursby, letters received from I-L
Box: 6 Folder : 2 Ina Thursby, letters received from M-O
Box: 6 Folder : 3 Ina Thursby, letters received from Kakuzo Okakura
Box: 6 Folder : 4 Ina Thursby, letters received from P-R
Box: 6 Folder : 5 Ina Thursby, letters received from Shisui Rokkaku
Box: 6 Folder : 6 Ina Thursby, letters received from S
Box: 6 Folder : 7 Ina Thursby, letters received from Henry Shoemaker
Box: 6 Folder : 8 Ina Thursby, letters received from T-Z
Box: 7 Folder : 1 Ina Thursby, letters received from Alice Thursby
Box: 7 Folder : 2 Ina Thursby, letters received from, Unidentified
Box: 7 Folder : 3 Ina Thursby, letters sent to A-Z
Box: 7 Folder : 4 Ina Thursby, letters sent to May Jackson
Box: 7 Folder : 5 Ina Thursby, letters sent to Mary C. Moore
Box: 7 Folder : 6 Ina Thursby, letters sent to Alice Thursby
Box: 7 Folder : 7 Ina Thursby letters sent to Jane B. Thursby
Box: 7 Folder : 8 Ina Thursby, letters sent to Louis Thursby
Box: 7 Folder : 9 Ina Thursby, letters sent to the Thursby Family

Subseries 3: Alice Thursby, 1854-1889

Scope and Contents note

Consists of letters from Alice Thursby to her aunt Mary C. Moore and to her brothers Louis and John Thursby during her time abroad with Emma. Also contains letters written by Alice to her parents from her time at the Moravian Seminary. Letters to Alice are mainly condolences on the death of her mother.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 7 Folder : 10 Alice Thursby, letters received
Box: 7 Folder : 11 Alice Thursby, letters sent

Subseries 4: Jane B. Thursby, 1870-1882

Scope and Contents note

Contains correspondence to Jane B. Thursby from her son Louis while he was vacationing in Florida, and a business letter about a monetary settlement granted her.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 7 Folder : 12 Jane B. Thursby, letters received

Subseries 5: John B. Thursby, 1839-1859

Scope and Contents note

Contains letters written between John B. Thursby and his mother Hannah, and brother Samuel, mainly during his trip to France and England just before his death in 1859. Also includes letters written about Emma's musical education, and about John B. Thursby's career.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 7 Folder : 13 John B. Thursby, letters received
Box: 7 Folder : 14 John B. Thursby, letters sent

Subseries 6: Thursby family letters, 1859-1913

Scope and Contents note

Contains letters from Louis Thursby to John J. Thursby and a letter to Samuel Thursby from the United States Consulate in London informing him of the death of his brother John B. Thursby.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 7 Folder : 15 Thursby family letters

Subseries 7: Mynah Bird, 1892-1894

Scope and Contents note

Contains letters written to the Mynah bird owned by Emma and Ina Thursby, generally thank you notes to him for entertaining visiting children.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 7 Folder : 16 Mynah Bird, letters received

Subseries 8: Other Correspondence, 1861-1940

Scope and Contents note

This subseries is made up of letters that are not to or from any of the principal members of the Thursby family, as above. People for whom more than ten pieces of correspondence exists were given their own folder. The letters include people who played a large part in Emma Thursby's life, such as her friend Jeannie Ovington, and her friend and manager Maurice Strakosch. Much of the Strakosch correspondence is letters in foreign languages attempting to schedule Emma Thursby concerts. Letters written to Richard Gipson, Emma Thursby's biographer, are included here, as are letters detailing an incident in which a Mrs. Edyth Ellerbeck Read wrote a profile of Emma Thursby and was denied publication by the Ladies' Home Journal.

General correspondence includes letters to Emma Thursby's Parisian friend May Jackson from Jeannie Ovington, a facsimile of Longfellow's last letter, and letters to unnamed managers of Emma Thursby requesting concert dates.

One folder of calling cards is in this subseries. Blank stationery with notable letterhead, as well as photography envelopes and letter envelopes which could not be matched with an actual letter, also make up this subseries.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 7 Folder : 17 A-Z
Box: 7 Folder : 18 Gipson, Richard
Box: 7 Folder : 19 Ovington, Jeannie
Box: 7 Folder : 20 Read, Edyth Ellerbeck
Box: 7 Folder : 21 Strakosch, Maurice
Box: 8 Folder : 1 Calling Cards
Box: 8 Folder : 2 Alienated envelopes, Blank stationery

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Series II: Financial Papers, 1706-1919

Scope and Contents note

This series consists primarily of Emma Thursby's financial records dating from 1875 to 1915. Bills, receipts, letters of credit, lists of accounts and expenses make up the bulk of the papers. Most of the letters of credit are from American Express to various foreign banks during Emma Thursby's travels in Europe. Checkbook stubs and small bound account books are included in Box 14. Some of her monetary expenses are also documented in her engagement books in Series 4, Diaries, Address Books, and Engagement Books.

A few financial papers of Emma Thursby's parents and sisters are also part of this series. A bill for the initial purchases of Jane and John Thursby for their home after their marriage is included. Bills for household goods and some small loan documentation are in the folder, "Financial Papers: Thursby, Jane B. and John B," as are ledgers detailing the daily pay of John B. Thursby's employees. These materials document the kinds of mercantile transactions common in Williamsburgh and Bushwick during the middle of the nineteenth century, as well as create an idea of the costs involved in running the class of household Jane Thursby attempted.

Financial papers of the Van Cott and Bennet families, Emma Thursby's maternal grandparents and relatives, are included in this series. These papers date from as early as 1706 and contain receipts and bills of sale, examples of quotidian life from Williamsburgh and Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York. Two indentures and a pardon have been separated to the oversize folder.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 8 Folder : 3 Thursby, Emma
Box: 8 Folder : 4 Thursby, Emma
Box: 8 Folder : 5 Thursby, Emma
Box: 8 Folder : 6 Thursby, Emma: Account Books
1875, 1885, 1886, 1879
Box: 8 Folder : 7 Thursby, Alice and Ina
Box: 8 Folder : 8 Thursby, Jane B. and John B.
Box: 8 Folder : 9 Van Cott/Bennett
Box: 14 Account Books, Checkbook Stubs

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Series III: Legal Papers, 1788-1903

Scope and Contents note

Many papers in this series are copies of wills or affidavits of Emma Thursby's family and friends, including Sara Bull, Sarah Farmer, Erminia Rudersorff, and Hannah Thursby (Emma's grandmother). There are multiple copies of legal documents relating to the Thursby siblings' right to title to a piece of land in Brooklyn.

Singing contracts Emma Thursby made with managers or proprietors of a venue are separately foldered. These date from 1877 to 1891, the height of her singing career. Also included are contracts made between managers, such as Maurice Strakosch, and the proprietor of a venue. Documents that include the signature of Emma Thursby, the other party, or both, were considered to be contracts.

Legal documents from the Van Cott and Bennet families are included here. These include indentures, wills, deeds, and legal papers pertaining to guardianship. As with the financial papers of these families, they are records of family affairs in early Brooklyn. Some of these materials are oversized; most date from the Eighteenth century.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 9 Folder : 1 Thursby, Emma: Legal Documents
Box: 9 Folder : 2 Thursby, Emma: Singing Contracts
Box: 9 Folder : 3 Thursby family: Legal Documents
Box: 9 Folder : 4 Van Cott/Bennett Legal Documents

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Series IV: Address Books, Diaries, Engagement Books, 1868-1929

Scope and Contents note

Emma Thursby did not keep any narrative diaries, but logged her activities, callers, and monetary expenses in many small bound engagement books throughout her life. Many of these books exist for a singular year; it is difficult to determine exactly how she utilized each book (for example, although some of the account books consist solely of lists of accounts; similar lists appear in other books from the same year.) Emma Thursby also owned many address books. Some of these are marked with a certain city, for example, "Boston," in which those named inside live. Others are less segregated.

A case was made for 57 of the smaller diaries, which date from 1868 to 1929, and embossed with the words "Emma Thursby Diaries." Forty-one other small bound books, including engagement books and address books have been housed in a similar sized box. Seventeen engagement books with paper covers (which run from 1900 to 1916) have been housed in pamphlet folders in a separate box with a large diary from 1898.

Container 1     Title Date
Box: 10 Engagement Books
Box: 14 Address and Engagement Books
Box: 15 Emma Thursby Diaries

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Series V: Awards, Ephemera, Notes, 1850-1936

Scope and Contents note

This series contains awards presented to Emma Thursby, ephemera and memorabilia belonging to Emma and her family, and handwritten notes. Paper awards Emma Thursby received from many clubs and organizations are included here; many copies exist of one award presented to her by the Association des Artistes Musiciens, in 1879. The folder 'Handwritten Notes' includes Emma Thursby's reminiscences.

Emma Thursby's ephemera include menus, placecards, the program from a concert given by Jenny Lind in 1850, and a drawing of her tombstone. The "Keepsake Album" was given to Emma by her father during her time at the Moravian Seminary; the Music Notebook contains lists of song titles and song lyrics. Memorabilia belonging to Ina Thursby also includes menus and placecards, as well as lists of correspondents and clippings. Memorabilia belonging to John B. Thursby consists of his 1859 passport and business cards.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 9 Folder : 7 Awards and Honors
Box: 9 Folder : 8 Keepsake Album
Box: 11 Folder : 1 Music Notebook
Box: 11 Folder : 2 Thursby, Emma, Ephemera
Box: 11 Folder : 3 Thursby, Ina Notes/Ephemera
Box: 11 Folder : 4 Thursby, John B. Ephemera
Box: 11 Folder : 5 Thursby, Emma, Handwritten Notes

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Series VI: Subject and Biographical Information, 1879-1938

Scope and Contents note

This series contains newspaper and magazine clippings, correspondence from Thursby pupils, poetry dedicated to Emma Thursby, albums, lists of concerts given, pamphlets, magazines, and steamliner passenger lists.

Material in this series did not conform to the other series, or was originally separated at the time of accession (such as the correspondence and clippings files of Emma Thursbys' successful pupils).

Subseries 1: Emma Thursby, 1880-1936

Scope and Contents note

This subseries contains both personal and career-related material. Newspaper clippings of reviews of Emma Thursby's performances are included. The folders pertaining to some of Emma Thursby's most successful pupils include correspondence, programs, and clippings of announcements and reviews. A typed list of attendees at Emma Thursby's Friday salons is included, as is a handwritten list of her 1891 engagements (a complete listing of each concert given by Emma Thursby can be found in Gipson's biography.)

The 'Clippings' folder contains clippings about Emma Thursby. 'Biographical Notes' consist of typed and handwritten biographical details. Notes on musical education and voice training, including drawings of scales and transcription of songs, are housed separately. Emma Thursby possessed a Russian amulet, given to her by Emilia Rudersdorff, which was lost in 1919. Sketches of the amulet and information about its origins and loss are included here.

After Emma Thursby's death, Ina Thursby worked hard to assure that her sister's memory would be preserved. She organized a radio broadcast of tributes to Emma on what would have been Emma's 90th birthday, and commissioned a mosaic to be created in memory of Emma. This mosiac, which featured St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music and Emma's namesake, was donated to and installed at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Information and clippings about both ventures is included in this series.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 11 Folder : 6 Biographical Information
Box: 11 Folder : 7 Brooklyn Museum Mosiac
Box: 11 Folder : 8 Engagements
Box: 11 Folder : 9 Performances of Emma Thursby, Clippings
Box: 11 Folder : 10 Performances of Emma Thursby, Critiques
Box: 11 Folder : 11 Pupils. Emory, Rita Cornet
Box: 11 Folder : 12 Pupils. Green Peggy/Princess Viggo
Box: 11 Folder : 13 Pupils. Harris, Estelle
Box: 12 Folder : 1 Pupils. Reddish, Meta (1 of 2)
Box: 12 Folder : 2 Pupils. Reddish, Meta (2 of 2)
1907 -1936
Box: 12 Folder : 3 Pupils. Schaffer, Josephine
1903 -1914
Box: 12 Folder : 4 Pupils. Wittkowska, Martha
1903 -1931
Box: 12 Folder : 5 Radio Broadcast
Box: 12 Folder : 6 Russian Amulet
Box: 12 Folder : 7 Salons, Attendees
Box: 12 Folder : 8 Voice Training/ Teaching Notes

Subseries 2: Thursby Family, 1880-1938

Scope and Contents note

This subseries includes information about Emma Thursby's immediate and extended families and pets. 'Geneological Information' includes information on Thursby, Van Cott, and Bennett family ancestors. Much of the Thursby information comes from the Thursby family members in England whom Emma met during her time there in 1878.

The Mynah bird material includes an issue of The Phrenological Journal and Phrenological Magazine with an article about Emma and the mynah bird in which it was purported that the two had similar shaped skulls; thus accounting for their musical exploits. It also includes information about how to care for the bird and a letter from the Pullman's Palace Car Company giving permission for the bird to travel on the train with Emma Thursby.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 12 Folder : 9 Mynah Bird
Box: 12 Folder : 10 Thursby Biographical Information
Box: 12 Folder : 11 Thursby Genealogical Information

Subseries 3: Other Subjects, 1879-1937

Scope and Contents note

Other subjects are based on large amounts of information and clippings compiled by Emma or Ina on important subjects to them; some of these subjects were originally housed in their own envelopes upon accession.

Folders are devoted to Emma Thursby's close friends Ole Bull and Sarah Farmer. The material on Sarah Farmer also includes correspondence pertaining to Ms. Farmer's illness in the 1910s, and subsequent attempts to raise money to continue the colony Green Acre in Eliot, Maine. Material devoted specifically to Green Acre, such as programs of lectures and clippings, are housed separately. A blueprint of the Green Acre property is housed in the oversize folder.

The folder 'Old Brooklyn' contains mainly clippings about and sketches of churches Emma Thursby attended or was engaged by early in her career. A separate folder is dedicated to items pertaining to Henry Ward Beecher, the pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. This includes information on Beecher, and his church after the time of his pastorship. The folder entitled 'Clippings' contains information about friends of Emma Thursby, and other articles that do not fall under a more specific heading.

Emma Thursby spent much of the later part of her life engaged with inquiries into philosophy and religion, as evidenced by her support of and attendance at Green Acre programs and lectures, as well as her correspondence and friendship with the Swami Vivekananda. Notes taken by Emma from lectures given by Vivekananda, as well as clippings on pertinent topics and pamphlets detailing Eastern religious philosophies, are included in this series. Some of Emma's notes describe yogic practices of breathing, others are transcriptions of prayers.

Many amateur poets were inspired by Emma Thursby, judging from the volume of poetry found in the collection. As well as those poems directly dedicated to her, Emma collected clippings of poems from newspapers and magazines, and copied other poems herself. These are all collected here.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 13 Folder : 1 Beecher, Henry Ward/Plymouth Church
Box: 13 Folder : 2 Bull, Ole
Box: 13 Folder : 3 Clippings re various subjects
Box: 13 Folder : 4 East Indian Philosophies
Box: 13 Folder : 5 East Indian Philosophies
Box: 13 Folder : 6 Farmer, Sarah
Box: 13 Folder : 7 Green Acre
Box: 13 Folder : 8 Herald of Life
Box: 13 Folder : 9 "Old Brooklyn"-re: churches of Brooklyn
Box: 13 Folder : 10 Poetry

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Series VII: Autographs, 1875-1910

Scope and Contents note

Contains loose autographs and a bound autograph book, which was a gift to Emma Thursby from her father. Many loose autographs were found throughout the collection; some are the signatures of letters that have been cut up, others are more traditional signatures on small pieces of paper.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 9 Folder : 5 Autographs
Box: 9 Folder : 6 Autograph Book

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Series VIII: Master Recordings of the Emma Thursby Musicale, 1940

Scope and Contents note

Box 16 is labeled '14 Master Recordings of the Proceedings at the Emma Thursby musicale given at the New-York Historical Society, December 29, 1940 to honor her memory' and contains 14 metal LPs marked #5226 -- #5238A.

Container 1     Title Date
Box: 16 14 Master Recordings of the Proceedings of the Emma Thursby Musicale given at the New-York Historical Society
1940 December 29

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Series IX. Programs, Press Clippings and Other Print Matter, 1859-1942

Scope and Contents

The series holds programs and press clippings, primarily related to the career of Emma Thursby. Clippings also relate to her death, the publication of Richard McCandless Gipson's biography of Thursby, and fashion exhibitions held at N-YHS and at Bonwit Teller in connection with the book's release.


The series is arranged roughly by format.

Processing Information

The documents in this collection, though received in the 1940s with the rest of the collection, were not originally cataloged or inventoried with it. These documents were added to the finding aid and catalog record in April 2022 by archivist Larry Weimer.

Container 1     Title Date
Offsite-Box: 17 Programs
Offsite-Box: 18 Programs
Offsite-Box: 19 Programs
Offsite-Box: 20 Press notices [Clippings] (2 volumes)
Offsite-Box: 21 Press notices [Clippings] (2 volumes)
Offsite-Box: 22 Press notices [Clippings] (2 volumes)
Offsite-Box: 23 Various documents

Scope and Contents

This box holds the following:

* A copy of Richard McCandless Gipson's "Life of Emma Thursby," slipcased, inscribed by Gipson to Roger [Wentworth], 1940.

* Scrapbook re: "Dedication of the Emma Cecilia Thursby Memorial Hall, Cocoa, Florida, February 21, 1942."

* Various biographical sketches, programs, pictorial works, circa 1879-1931.

* Scrapbook of clippings, inscribed to Thursby as "a souvenir of Boston and the Triennial Festival" from A. Parker Browne, May 31, 1877.

* Many letters and postcards of acknowledgement from various libraries re: the copy of Gipson's book donated to them by Ina Thursby, 1942.

* "The Opera Chorus Book" by Edward L. White and John E. Gould, 1847. Cover embossed "John B. Thursby."

* Calling cards, business cards, small notes, invitations, circa 1879 and later, most undated.

Offsite-Box: 24 Clippings

Scope and Contents

This box holds:

* Packets of loose clippings, some noted as duplicates, mostly concerning Thursby's death and post-mortem 1941 fashion show at Bonwit Teller.

* Loose clippings and ephemera labeled "Pupils."

* "A singer's story." A series of articles by Clara Louise Kellogg-Strakorsch published in the Saturday Evening Post, 1913.

* 2 accordion files of clippings, labelled: "Music and Musicians" and "Misc People and Things." circa 1900s-1930s.

* Scrapbook of clippings principally concerning Mrs. Milward Adams, of Chicago, an advocate of voice training for women, 1894-98.

Offsite-Box: 25 Press notices re: Gipson's "Life of Emma Thursby" and related (2 volumes)

Scope and Contents

2 volumes:

1) One was a gift of Richard M. Gipson, March 19, 1948. This volume has clippings about the book and a related dress exhibition at N-YHS, ephemera related to the book's release, and photographs of the related fashion exhibition at Bonwit Teller.

2) The second volume was embossed as belonging to Ina Thursby. It was donated by her estate, February 1, 1944. This album principally holds clippings about Gipson's book and the fashion exhibitions.


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