Alma Birmingham papers

 An inventory of the collection at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Summary Information

Richard J. Daley Library Special Collections and University Archives
Birmingham, Alma
Alma Birmingham papers
Date [inclusive]
8.5 Linear feet
Part of the Jane Addams Memorial Collection. Alma Birmingham was a Hull-House resident, a pianist and music teacher at the Hull-House Music School, 1922-42. The collection includes correspondence, photographs, recital programs, clippings and paintings. The materials pertain to music at Hull-House and music programs in the Chicago area.

Preferred Citation

Alma Birmingham papers, Special Collections, University of Illinois at Chicago.

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Biographical Sketch

The Hull-House Music School was founded in 1893 by Eleanor Smith, a composer and singing teacher educated in Berlin, Germany. In 1893 Smith taught voice, ear training, and reading and writing of music at an upright piano located in Hull-House's reception room. In 1895, the Music School relocated to two rooms on the fourth floor of the newly-built Children's House donated by wealthy Hull-House benefactor Mary Rozet Smith. The Music School was founded to give lower-income immigrant children access to professional musical instruction and to train professional musicians. The low cost of lessons, described by Smith as "negligible", enabled poor recent immigrants in the neighborhood to attend classes at the Music School. Dedicated students that were unable to pay lesson fees were occassionally provided with sheet music and instruction free of charge. Although inexpensive lessons encouraged broad participation, the Music School's limited budge! t kept class-sizes small and admission standards high. Only children that showed promise were admitted into the Music School and students were expected to aspire to "the highest musical standards" exemplified by Smith and her cadre of music teachers. Under the direction of Smith, the School gave renowned Christmas productions, student recitals, and concerts that attracted musicians and audiences from all around Chicago.

Recitals and annual Christmas concerts showcased Hull-House Music School students to broad audiences and raised the visibility of Hull-House's cultural activities. From 1907-1918, Smith was in charge of Hull-House's annual Christmas concerts which traditionally consisted of the Music School's production of Engelbert Humperdinick's Christmas Cantata with scenes depicting the themes of each song (the Annunciation, the Wise men, the Shepherds, the Nativity, and the Adoration of the Magi) hanging above them. On 22 April 1935, the Music School produced Hull-House's first benefit concert to raise funds in the wake of the sudden death of the School's primary benefactor Mary Smith. The benefit was held at Orchestra Hall and headlined by singer Mme. Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Chicago opera singer Edith Mason, and pianist Morton Kestin (a former Hull-House student). The concert alerted Chicago arts patrons to the financial needs of social settlements during times of economic uncertainty and illustrated the importance of music in the life of Hull-House. The Alma Birmingham collection contains programs, newspaper clippings, and reviews from the benefit concert.

Alma Birmingham, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.E. Birmingham of San Francisco, moved to Chicago in the early 1920s and directed the Music School from 1938-1943. During Birmingham's tenure the music program included lessons in violin, piano, organ, theory, and singing. By 1941, private lessons in piano, violin, cello, viola, clarinet, flute, oboe, trumpet, bassoon, French horn, English horn, and tuba were available to students at the School. Before moving to Chicago Birmingham served as music instructor at Sarah Dix Hamlin School for Girls. It is unclear when Birmingham arrived at Hull-House, however, her name first appears in the Hull-House Yearbook in 1921. While living at Hull-House Birmingham worked as a piano teacher at the Hull-House Music School and served as director of the settlement in the summer of 1934 while Jane Addams was recuperating from an illness in Hadlyme, Connecticut. In 1936, Eleanor Smith retired and her sister, Gertrude Madeira Smith, became co-director of the Music School with Birmingham. Birmingham became director of the Music School in 1940 when Gertrude Smith retired. Birmingham served as Director of the Music School until her resignation in 1943.

Agnes Hope Pillsbury, concert pianist and Birmingham's former instructor, was a resident at Hull-House and first appears in the Hull-House yearbook in 1921. Pillsbury studied under pianist Theodor Leschetizky in Vienna for two years before Oxford College in Oxford, Ohio, offered her a position as Dean of the Music Department. After returning to Vienna for two more years of study with Leschetizky she relocated to Chicago to teach and perform. She was a member of the faculty of Notre Dame University Summer School and the Cordon [Club], "founded in 1915 by women who had studios in Chicago's Fine Arts Building, which was then the center of the city's fine arts community; the club was created to foster independence and to 'guard and protect self-expression beyond domestic bounds.'"

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Scope and Contents

This collection comprises documents and items collected by Alma Birmingham, a resident, Music School teacher/Director, and former Acting Director of Hull-House. The collection includes scrapbooks, programs from Hull-House recitals, correspondence, photographs, clippings related to Hull-House and the Music School, speech transcripts, books, and ephemera. The collection also includes material related to Agnes Hope Pillsbury who also resided at Hull-House.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Richard J. Daley Library Special Collections and University Archives 17 October 2003

801 S. Morgan Street
Chicago, Illinois, 60607

Acquisition Information

The Alma Birmingham papers were donated to the University of Illinois at Chicago, Main Library, Special Collections by Alma Birmingham in 1974.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Hull-House (Chicago, Ill.). Music School.

Personal Name(s)

  • Birmingham, Alma -- Archives


  • Hull-House and Settlement House History.
  • Midwest Women's History.
  • Music -- Illinois -- Chicago.

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Pamela G. Elrod. Vocal music at Hull-House, 1889-1942: An overview of choral and singing class events and a study of the life and works of Eleanor Smith, founder of the Hull-House Music School (dissertation). School of Music, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2001.

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Collection Inventory

Series I: Alma Birmingham Papers, 1907-1961 

Box Folder

Correspondence, Agnes Hope Pillsbury, 1934 

1 1

Correspondence, Jane Addams, 1923-1934 

1 2

Correspondence, Alma Birmingham, 1934-1961 

1 3

Photographs of Jane Addams at Rockford (1880), at beginning of Hull-House (1889), and at Jane Addams' funeral (1935) 1880-1935 

1 4

Photographs of Agnes Hope Pillsbury, undated 

1 5

Photographs of Alma Birmingham, undated 

1 6

Photographs, 1901-1927 

1 7

Photographs, undated 

1 8

Paintings of Salzburg, Austria, undated 

1 9

Correspondence related to Theodor Leschetizky (see Rare Books); Correspondence, newspaper clippings related to The Memoirs of Arthur Shattuck (see Rare Books), 1959 

1 10

Hull-House Music School, newspaper clippings, 1915-1970 

2 11

Hull-House Music School, newspaper clippings, 1915-1970 

2 12

Hull-House Music School recitals, programs and reviews, 1900-1929 

2 13

Hull-House Music School recitals, programs and reviews, 1930-1934 

2 14

Hull-House Music School recitals, programs and reviews, 1935-1939 

2 15

Hull-House Music School recitals, programs and reviews, 1940-1969 

2 16

Hull-House Music School recitals, programs and reviews, 1932-1934 

2 17

Hull-House Music School recitals, programs and reviews, 1938-1939 

2 18

Hull-House Music School recitals, programs and reviews, 1936-1942 

3 19

Hull-House Music School recitals, programs and reviews, 1942-1943 

3 20

Hull-House Music School recitals, programs and reviews; Hull-House Bulletin, "Founder of Music School Dies," 1940-1942 

3 21

Jane Addams Centennial, program and correspondence, 1960 

3 22

Hull-House Music School, newspaper clippings, 1942-1944 

4 23

Hull-House Music School recitals, programs and reviews, 1934-1937 

4 24

Agnes Hope Pillsbury, correspondence, recital program, advertisement, undated 

4 25

Hull-House Music School recitals, programs and reviews, 1940-1942 

4 26

"The Music School and the Community," Hull-House Staff Dinner; Speech by Alma Birmingham, Associate Director, Hull-House Music School; Speech by Eleanor Smith, founder of Hull-House Music School, ca. 1938 

5 27

Hull-House Music School brochure, programs and reviews; Agnes Hope Pillsbury, newspaper clippings, 1942-1945 

5 28

Hull-House Yearbooks; Agnes Hope Pillsbury Funeral Program; Hull-House Music School, newspaper clippings, 1926-1948 

5 29

Eleanor Smith (founder of Hull-House Music School funeral service) program and correspondence, 30 June 1942 

5 30

Hull-House Music School, reviews and articles, undated 

5 31

Bible - Gift to Agnes Hope Pillsbury from Minnie Smith, 1925 undated 

5 32

Alma Birmingham Scrapbook - correspondence with former students; Hull-House Music recitals, programs, and reviews; Agnes Hope Pillsbury recitals, programs, and reviews 

6 - Oversize

Signed photo of Theodor Leschetizky; Photograph of 4 little girls at Hull-House Music School 1961 

7 - Oversize

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