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Grace Thompson Edmister Papers

Identifier: MSS-472-BC

Scope and Content

The Grace Thompson Edmister Papers at the University of New Mexico consist of three series. Series l, in two boxes, contains general material--personal records, correspondence, photographs, printed matter and newspaper clippings--related to her life and career from l904 to l984. The material is chronologically arranged in 5 sub-series according to her years of residence in Defiance, Ohio, l904-l9l8, l935; Albuquerque, New Mexico, l920-l942; Columbus, Ohio, l942-l959; New Rochelle, New York, l960-l970; and Albuquerque, New Mexico, l970-l984. Folder l4 in Box 2 contains biographical material and her obituary.

Series 2 in Boxes 3 and 4 consists of six scrapbooks, which contain newspaper clippings and programs from various musical events in Albuquerque from l92l to l942. Also housed in Box 4 are two oversized items.

Box 5, which constitutes Series 3, contains monographs, pamphlets and miscellaneous teaching materials, much of it related to Southwestern music.

The Grace Thompson Edmister Papers not only provide a glimpse of New Mexico's cultural growth during the l920s and l930s, but they also provide biographical material of a woman who played a significant role in the development of the musical arts in New Mexico. Of particular interest are the records and photographs related to her tenure in the UNM Music Department from l923 to l942, to the "First American Pageant" in l930 and l93l, and the Albuquerque Civic Symphony Orchestra (now the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra), which she founded in l932 and directed through l94l.


  • 1904-1984


Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication of CSWR material is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy, and libel laws. Permission is required for publication or distribution.


Grace Thompson Edmister. Part of the Grace Thompson Edmister Pictorial Collection PICT 000- 472 (Box 1, Folder 1).

In 1918 the promising career of scholar, teacher, accompanist, performer and conductor Grace Thompson Edmister, then twenty-eight years old, was threatened by serious illness. She left her home in Defiance, Ohio on a stretcher, and was brought to Albuquerque, New Mexico where she regained her health, resumed her musical career, and from 1918 to 1942 assumed a leading role in the cultural life of the community and the state. She resided in Ohio and New York from l942 to l970 and returned to Albuquerque in l970, continuing an active schedule until her death at the age of ninety-three.

Edmister's lifelong career in music began early. Born Grace Kleinhenn near Defiance, Ohio on August 2, l890, she was playing the piano at the age of four and playing the organ in church at twelve. By the age of fifteen she was teaching music and in l908 at seventeen, she was graduated from Defiance College with a degree in music. She then taught piano and theory at her alma mater. In l9ll she married a college classmate, Lewis Thompson, and had two children, Marilyn and Robert, before tuberculosis forced her to seek the health cure in New Mexico.

When her family joined her in Albuquerque in l920, she had completely regained her health and had reestablished her career as a teacher, accompanist, organist and concert artist. In l923 she received a part-time appointment at the University of New Mexico teaching Public School Music in the Summer Session, and subsequently taught piano and theory in the regular session. By l927 she had become head of the department and held that position until l942.

Under the leadership of Thompson, the small music department expanded its program. While efforts were made to attract talented students and outstanding faculty to the department and to bring artists of international reputation to Albuquerque, University musicians also performed throughout the state. By the late l930s, the Music Department boasted eight full time faculty in the new College of Fine Arts.

Thompson's involvement in the musical life of the community from the early l920s to the early l940s included playing the piano for the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, who in the early1930s spearheaded a movement to found a community orchestra. She was asked to direct the orchestra comprised of some sixty members with a nucleus of University music students. With a financial backing of only fifty dollars and only six rehearsals, the first concert of the Albuquerque Civic Symphony was given in Carlisle Gymnasium on November 30, l932. For ten years Thompson directed the orchestra, now known as the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra.

Grace Thompson Edmister's devotion to the art of music, however, embraced not only the "classics." She was equally enthusiastic about contemporary music and the traditions and folk music of the Southwest. Her collecting and transcribing of Indian and Spanish songs, which began as a hobby in the l920s, formed the basis of lectures and presentations for civic groups in later years. In the late 1920s and early l930s, she was the official accompanist for the "First American" pageant, an annual production sponsored by the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. The production toured nationwide in l93l, as far east as Atlantic City and New York City, where it was broadcast over NBC.

During a sabbatical leave in l94l, Thompson met her second husband William Edmister of Columbus, Ohio. She resigned her positions with the University of New Mexico and the Albuquerque Civic Symphony Orchestra in l942. Moving to Columbus, she taught at the College of St. Mary of the Springs for ten years. In l959 after her husband's death (l957), she moved to New York where she continued performing and giving programs in schools, churches and colleges on the folklore and music of the Southwest.

In l970, Edmister returned to Albuquerque. For the remaining thirteen years of her life, she continued to serve as a church organist, and she served as a consultant to the UNM Fine Arts Library, gathering materials for a history of the Music Department and the Albuquerque Civic Symphony Orchestra. Edmister had returned to the symphony in l952, l956 and l972 as guest conductor, and at the age of ninety-one, the "little conductor" returned again to open the fiftieth anniversary concert of the orchestra she had founded.

The first annual Governor's Award was presented in l974 to Grace T. Edmister for outstanding service to the arts in New Mexico in the field of music, and in l976 she returned to Defiance College in Ohio to receive her alma mater's highest honor, a Pilgrim Medal. She was also featured in l976 in the American Association of University Women's "Women in New Mexico," an exhibit at the Museum of Albuquerque dedicated to all women in New Mexico whose lives and works had enriched the state.

Besides her love of music, the great joy in Grace Thompson Edmister's life was her family. At the time of her death on July 9, l984, she was survived by her two children, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.


5 boxes (5 cu. ft.)

Related Material

Women in New Mexico Collection Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Grace Thompson Edmister was one of l3 women featured in the AAUW exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum in l976.

Progressive Pianists' Album Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico This "musical" scrapbook won first place in the biennial national convention of the Federation of Music Clubs in l933 and was donated by local music teacher Mrs. Blanche Underwood to the UNM Library in l933. It contains numerous programs and photographs related to local musical activities.

University of New Mexico Public Information Office Scrapbooks Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico These scrapbooks include clippings of local news items and cultural events from l9l5 to l928, including articles about the "First American" Pageant in the late l920s. Together cover UNM history from l900 to l940.

Carey Holbrook Papers Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico The Edmister collection contains two original manuscripts (poems) by Mr. Holbrook, a Kiwanian and Albuquerque journalist.

New Mexico Symphony Orchestra Fine Arts Library, University Libraries, University of New Mexico This collection consists of files, photographs and scrapbooks recording the orchestra's history from l942 to l98l. The material includes that gathered by Mrs. Edmister in her work as honorary consultant for the library, as well as scrapbooks donated by the NMSO.

University of New Mexico Records, 1889-1927 University Archives, University Libraries, University of New Mexico These files contain administrative records pertaining to the music department during the administrations of Presidents Hill (l9l9-l927) and Zimmerman (l927-l944).

Faculty Biographical Files, Grace Thompson University Archives, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Sigma Alpha Iota. Alpha Sigma Chapter (University of New Mexico) Records University Archives, University Libraries, University of New Mexico J. D. Robb Papers Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico University of New Mexico. College of Fine Arts. Music Collection, Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico

Separated Material

Photographs have been transferred to the Grace Thompson Edmister Photograph Collection.

Relevant Secondary Sources

  • Abousleman, Michel D., ed. Who's Who in New Mexico. Albuquerque: Abousleman Co., l937, Vol. l, p. 207.
  • Ammer, Christine. Unsung: a History of Women in American Music. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, l980, p. 2ll-2l5.
  • Hart, Philip. "Albuquerque." The New Grove Dictionary of American Music. Edited by H. Wiley Hitchcock and Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan Press, Ltd., l986, vol. I, p. 26-27.
  • Hart, Philip. "Albuquerque Symphony Orchestra." Orpheus in the New World: the Symphony Orchestra as an American Cultural Institution, New York: l973, p. 239-l63.
  • Howes, Durwood, ed. American Women l935-l940: A Composite Biographical Dictionary. Volume 2. Detroit: Gale Research Company, l98l, p. 904.
  • Johnson, Harriett. Your Career in Music. New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., Inc., l945, p. 283.
  • Smith, Toby. "The Maestro Was a Missus." New Mexico Magazine, November l980, p. l9-22.
  • Stein, Marjorie Shapiro. "Grace Thompson Edmister." Del Sol Magazine, June l983, p. 56-58.
  • Stoddard, Hope. "Music in New Mexico." International Musician, November l953, p. l33-l35.
  • Whitney, Virginia K. and Josephine Koogler. Women in Education: New Mexico. Quarah, TX: Nortex Press, c. l977, p. l33-l35.
Finding aid of the Grace Thompson Edmister Papers, 1904-1984
For Approval
Processed by B. Johnson
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • June 28, 2004: PUBLIC "-//University of New Mexico::Center for Southwest Research//TEXT (US::NmU::MSS 472 BC::Grace Thompson Edmister Papers)//EN" "nmu1mss472bc.sgml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
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Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131