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Marian Anderson papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00433

Scope and Contents

The Marian Anderson Papers consist of .25 linear ft. and are primarily keepsakes and correspondence sent to Anderson between 1944 and 1959. The keepsakes include newspaper clippings in several languages sent to her by fans, commemorative photographs, and dedications made in her honor while on tour. The bulk of the correspondence is in response to Anderson's tour of the Pacific and South Asia as a U.S. State Department goodwill ambassador in 1957 and in response to her appointment to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations in 1958. Of note is a letter from the General Manager of the International Cultural Exchange Service, which includes excerpts of State Department official reports on Anderson's concerts in Vietnam, India, and Pakistan. Also included is a letter from the United Negro College Fund requesting a portrait of Anderson to display at the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels as part of an exhibit of 92 "Famous Americans." A letter from Carl Seelig, a biographer of Albert Einstein, requesting a photograph of Anderson for his book, is also included. Many of the letters and clippings are in languages other than English, demonstrating Anderson's international reputation.

Included among the memorabilia is the original program from Anderson's performance at Smith College in John M. Greene Hall in 1944, when she was given an honorary doctorate of music.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1944-1959


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright to Marian Anderson's unpublished works is unknown. Copyright to materials authored by others may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Marian Anderson was born on February 27, 1897 (although throughout much of her life she gave her birth date as February 17, 1902) in south Philadelphia. Her father, John Berkley Anderson, sold ice and coal and her mother Annie Delilah Rucker Anderson was a former schoolmistress. She was the oldest of three sisters. She began singing when she was six, in the church choir, and by eight had become a regular substitute, filling in for absent sopranos, tenors and even bass. She was presented in one church program as the "Baby Contralto." To this early experience, Anderson later attributed her wide vocal range. Anderson taught herself to play piano and violin, although her voice was still her preferred instrument.

When Anderson was ten, her father was killed in a work accident and her mother became the family's sole supporter, working as a housekeeper and laundress. When she entered high school, Anderson intended to follow a commercial education course to help support her family, but she continued to sing and perform with church groups around Philadelphia. She was invited to sing with her school chorus; the school's principal noticed her during a performance and suggested that she transfer to a college preparatory course that would allow her to devote more time to music studies. When she finished high school, Anderson attempted to enroll in an all-white music school in Philadelphia; she was turned down due to her race. Anderson's church held a fundraiser so that she could study privately with the renowned music teacher Giuseppe Boghetti. His lessons helped prepare her for a singing contest held by the Philadelphia Philharmonic Society, which she won in 1926. The prize was a concert at Lewisohn Stadium with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. After this performance, Anderson was signed by a concert manager and was able to study with Frank La Forge, another noted voice teacher. Despite her successful performance in New York, Anderson had difficulty finding venues in the States that would book her because of her race, and for several years her career stalled.

In the summer of 1929, Anderson resolved to travel to Europe to gain a wider reputation. Through people she had met while performing at churches, she made contact with several voice teachers in England, one of whom introduced her to the German song form lieder, which would become a hallmark of her repertoire. After a performance in England, Anderson was greeted backstage by a representative of the Rosenwald fund, who encouraged her to apply for a fellowship to study in Germany. She applied, and received a scholarship in 1931, and moved to Berlin. Anderson toured Scandinavia and was a great success; the noted Finnish composer Jean Sibelius told her, "My roof is too low for you." She continued to tour Europe from 1932-35. While performing in Paris, she met Sol Hurok, who would become her lifelong manager. After an Anderson performance in Salzburg in 1935, Arturo Toscanini said, "Yours is such a voice as one hears in a hundred years!" Near the end of that year, Anderson returned briefly to the States, at the urging of Hurok, where she gave a concert in New York. This performance reintroduced her to the American public, and following it she was more easily able to find performance venues.

Anderson's fame and extended time in Europe meant that she was often allowed in places where her race would have otherwise been a barrier, but she was still frequently denied entrance to hotels and restaurants when touring in the States. In 1937, when she was denied lodgings in Princeton, New Jersey, Albert Einstein hosted her and the two remained friends until his death in 1955. Her manager Hurok did his best to make sure that Anderson was shielded from details about venues that refused to let her perform because she was African-American.

In 1939, a controversy arose when the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow Anderson to perform in Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, to an integrated crowd. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership in the DAR as a result of the incident, and arranged for Anderson to perform in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday. Anderson sang that day for a crowd of over 75,000 people. This concert kicked off a yearlong tour of American cities, including five performances at Carnegie Hall.

In 1943 Anderson married Orpheus H. Fisher, an architect, with whom she had been friends for many years. The couple moved to Connecticut, where Anderson would live for much of her life. The couple never had any children.

Throughout her career, Anderson was given many accolades for her voice, including the Spingarn Medal; the Bok Award; Finland's Order of the White Rose and the Marshall Mennerheim Medal; Japan's Yukoso Medal; Sweden's Litteris et Artibus medal; Liberia's Order of African Redemption; and honorary degrees from over fifteen schools, including Smith College, which was awarded in 1944. Anderson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963; was the first person given the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award of the City of New York in 1984; was among the group of people honored in the first ever Kennedy Center Honors in 1978 and in 1986 was awarded a National Arts Medal. Marian Anderson's portrait was among those chosen for an exhibit of 92 "Famous Americans" at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair.

In 1955 Anderson became the first black person-- male or female, of any nationality-- to perform at the Metropolitan Opera, in the role of Ulrica in "Un Balla in Maschera" by Verdi. After the Met's season was completed, Anderson was back on tour, performing for the first time in Israel, Morocco and Tunisia, and returning to France and Spain. She played Ulrica for one more season at the Met, and then embarked on her first South American tour, which was shortly followed by another Western European tour. While in Europe, her autobiography My Lord, What a Morning! was published in the U.S. In 1957 Anderson sang the national anthem at the inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower (she would also sing it at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy four years later). That same year, on behalf of the State Department, she began a ten-week tour of south Asia as a goodwill ambassador, during which she gave twenty-four concerts. In India, Thailand and Burma the heads of state greeted her themselves. The tour was filmed as a special for "See It Now" with Edward R. Murrow for CBS Television, which was titled "The Lady from Philadelphia."

President Eisenhower appointed Anderson to a special delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in late 1958. Although she gave many benefit concerts during this time, she no longer toured as extensively. She began her farewell tour in 1964, and thereafter retreated to a very private life. Her husband died in 1986. Anderson died of congestive heart failure following a stroke on April 8 1993, in Portland, Oregon, where she was living with her nephew. She was 96 years old.


Kozinn, Allan. "Marian Anderson Dead at 96: Singer Shattered Racial Barriers." The New York Times, 9 Apr 1993.

Hine, Darlene Clark., Elsa Barkley. Brown and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn. "Anderson, Marian." Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Brooklyn, NY: Carlson Pub., 1993. 29-33. Print.


0.229 linear feet (1 container)


Singer. This small collection of Marian Anderson's papers includes primarily keepsakes and correspondence sent to Anderson between 1944 and 1959. The keepsakes include newspaper clippings in several languages sent to her by fans, commemorative photographs and dedications made in her honor while on tour. The collection documents her wide range of interests and contributions to world peace and understanding.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Marian Anderson donated her Papers to the Sophia Smith Collection circa 1959.

Related Materials

Additional papers of Marian Anderson are housed at Howard University in the manuscript collection of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, and at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library. See also the Smith College Archives for material relating to Anderson's honorary degree (1944).

Processing Information

Collection was reprocessed and finding aid revised by Sarah Fitzgibbons, Fraenkel Intern, 2012



Marian Anderson papers
Finding Aid
Finding aid prepared by Sarah Fitzgibbons.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:13-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063