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RG 30/156 - Frances Theresa Densmore (1867-1957)
Scope and Content

The papers of Frances Densmore consist mainly of letters, notes, and sketches created during Miss Densmore's student years at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music from 1884 to 1887. The letters are actually portions of letters written to her parents which she subsequently pasted on sheets of paper, numbered, and transcribed. Letters cover such topics as life in Ladies Hall, her organ lessons, recitals attended, and music she studied. She describes the fire which destroyed the Second Ladies Hall in 1886. Oberlin professors mentioned in the letters include Adelia A. Field Johnston (d. 1910), Celestia Wattles (1849-1933), Howard Carter (d. 1930), Fenelon B. Rice (d. 1901), Henry Giles (d. 1905), Charles Doolittle (d. 1928)0, William Breckenridge (d. 1956), Grace Fairchild (1857-1893), Henry Churchill King (1858-1934), and President James Harris Fairchild (1817-1902).

Miss Densmore's notebooks include an exercise book used in Fenelon B. Rice's harmony class, a record book listing music studied, and a notebook containing favorite quotations and "Memories of Many Lectures".The ten sketches, many of which reveal a decided talent for drawing, are accompanied by descriptions provided by Densmore, linking the sketches to her letters.

Miss Densmore's professional papers are held by the National Anthropological Archives of the Smithsonian Institution, and her considerable ethnological library was donated to Macalester College.

Series Descriptions

Series I. Letters, 1884-86 (Folders 1-3)

Fifty-eight letters and portions of letters, individually numbered and pasted down on loose sheets, and accompanied by typed transcriptions made by the author. Folder 1 includes a numbered listing of the letters with brief descriptions of their content. Letters are chronologically arranged.

Series II. Pencil Sketches and Concert Programs, 1886, 1895, 1899, 1904 (Folder 4)

Ten pencil sketches of flowers and Oberlin College buildings made by Frances Densmore. Attached to each sketch are ms. typescript descriptions provided by the artist. Also filed here are three concert programs (1895, 1899, 1904) announcing Miss Densmore's performances of American Indian music.

Series III. Notebooks, 1884-89 3 vols. (Folder 5)

Three ms. notebooks arranged chronologically.


The papers of Frances T. Densmore were given to the Oberlin Alumni Association or the Oberlin College Library by Miss Densmore in 1941, 1953, and 1955. The records were transferred from the Library to the Oberlin College Archives in 1983.

Related Materials

The Special Collections Department of Oberlin College Library and the Library of the Conservatory of Music hold several of Densmore's ethnomusicological publications. The Conservatory also holds a sound recording, "Songs of the Chippewa" (Library of Congress, Division of Music, Recording Lab, 1950). The most comprehensive treatment of Densmore is Charles Hofmann, ed., Frances Densmore and American Indian Music, (Contributions from the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, vol. XXIII, 1968), Conservatory of Music Library.

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