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The Music Vale Seminary Papers

Call Number: Misc. Ms. 218

Scope and Contents

The collection contains correspondence, historical information, music by Orramel Whittlesey and others, and miscellaneous materials.


  • 1851-1959


Language of Materials

Materials chiefly in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Papers are open to researchers by appointment. There are no restricted materials in the collection. Please contact the Special Collections staff to schedule an appointment.

Conditions Governing Use

The Music Vale Seminary Papers are the physical property of the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library of Yale University. Copyrights belong to the composers and authors, or their legal heirs and assigns.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Music Vale Seminary Papers were established in the Music Library of Yale University by Frances Hall Johnson, ca. 1942.


In 7 series as follows: I. Correspondence. II. Historical and biographical notes. III. Photographs. IV. Exhibition notes. V. Miscellaneous envelopes and notes. VI. Published musical works of Orramel Whittlesey, his family, students, and others. VII. Music Vale Seminary diploma.


1 Linear Feet (4 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Correspondence, music, and other materials relating to Music Vale Seminary, a 19th-century music school for girls in Salem, Connecticut

Biographical / Historical

Music Vale Seminary, the first music school established in this country, was founded by Orramel Whittlesey in Salem, Connecticut. The date of its founding is given variously as 1835, 1836, and 1839. This discrepancy is attributed to what Orramel Whittlesey describes as the "modest beginning" of the school. It was a boarding school for young women from across the country known consecutively as Mr. Whittlesey's School, Salem Normal Academy of Music, and finally as Music Vale Seminary and Normal Academy of Music. The student body averaged eighty each year, reaching a peak enrollment of one hundred pupils.

The curriculum included both instrumental and theoretical studies. Lessons were given in voice culture, organ, piano, harp, and guitar, while the theory teaching included instruction in notation, harmony, thoroughbass, and the general laws of counterpoint and fugue. One student's mother even discusses her daughter's course in piano tuning in a letter. The courses were entirely musical, and although the school prepared its students to be teachers, it functioned like a music conservatory. Whittlesey writes, "Music is distinct from all other parts of a young lady's education ... there is not needed an intimate acquaintance with Botany or Chemistry ... Our aim is not to make merely superficial players, of those committed to our care, but thorough pianists, skilled alike in theory and practice." In fact, the school's motto (borrowed from William Pitt) was, "If it be that I have done so much, it is that I have done one thing at a time."

The discipline was rigid. The students arose at 5:00 A.M., dusted their pianos, and prepared for a day of four hour practice periods with intermissions devoted to the study of theory. Monitors were posted outside the rooms to enforce these rules. A normal degree authorized by the state of Connecticut was awarded after one year of study and performance exams before a jury.

Orramel Whittlesey was the school's principal. His daughters began as students and some eventually became teachers there. Their compositions as well as those by students are included in this collection.

The school suffered a severe blow when enrollment dropped as a result of the Civil War. Many of the girls were from the South. A second blow came when the seminary was destroyed by fire in 1868. Although the new building offered such modern conveniences as bathrooms and water closets, the school never regained its former prosperity. Mrs. George Pratt, Orramel's daughter, closed the school after her father's death on September 9, 1876. The new buildings were also destroyed by fire, on March 16, 1897.

The Music Vale Seminary Papers
Edited Full Draft
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared According To Local Music Library Descriptive Practices
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Gilmore Music Library Repository

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