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Emma Thursby papers

Call Number

MS 2530


1706-1942 (Bulk 1860-1940), inclusive


Thursby, Emma Cecilia, 1845-1931


19 Linear feet (25 boxes, 4 bound volumes)

Language of Materials

The documents in the collection are primarily in English, but various other languages are also found there, perhaps especially German.


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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

Location of Materials

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Ina Love Thursby, 1940-1941.

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).

Collection processed by

Jenny Gotwals

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:49:55 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

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.


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024