Skip to main content

The Lowell Mason Papers

Call Number: MSS 33

Scope and Contents

The Lowell Mason Papers contain holograph, manuscript, and printed music by Lowell Mason and others, correspondence, programs, clippings, writings, biographical information, and memorabilia, mostly from the period between 1830 and 1870. There are well over 200 hymn-tunes, songs, rounds, and sketches composed or arranged by Mason, many of them in his hand. The journals from Mason's two trans-Atlantic trips elucidate his relationship with his European contemporaries in education and composition. The largest series in the Papers is correspondence. There are about 350 letters, approximately 145 of them by Mason. These include correspondence with such people as Horace Mann, Hans Georg Nägeli, Sigismund Neukomm, and William Channing Woodbridge.

The Lowell Mason Papers include some items from the Mason family's initial gift of the Lowell Mason Library in 1873. These consist of some printed and manuscript music by Lowell Mason and others, programs, and writings by Lowell Mason.

The remainder of the Papers came from several sources. On 17 March 1968 Mrs. William Endicott (née Helen Mason, daughter of Henry Lowell Mason) gave Yale the three-volume typescript of her father's biography and sixteen letters from Horace Mann to Lowell Mason dating from 1844 to 1855. In 1972 Mrs. Elizabeth Mason Ginnel (Henry's niece, daughter of Edward Palmer Mason) gave Yale the portrait of Lowell Mason that now hangs in the Librarian's office, and in 1975 she donated a photograph of Mason's birthplace. Five letters were purchased from Goodspeed's Book Shop in 1970, and one was purchased from Midland Rare Book Company in 1961. Finally, the biographical information in series VI consists mostly of items transferred from the Music Library's general collection.

A series in the Papers is provided for the papers of Lowell Mason's son, William Mason (1829-1908). This series includes published piano music composed or arranged by William Mason, correspondence (1898-1936), clippings, and miscellaneous items. The source of these items is undetermined.

Much of the correspondence, two of Mason's diaries, journals from his European trips, clippings, photographs, and the holograph music by Mason, are a gift from the estate of his grandson, Henry Lowell Mason, in 1970. He used these items as material for a biography of his grandfather, which he worked on from 1909 until his death in 1957. A sub-series in the correspondence is apportioned to Henry Lowell Mason's correspondence concerning his biography.

Additional Lowell Mason correspondence acquired after 1982 has been cataloged separately in the Gilmore Music Library's Miscellaneous Letters Collection.

It is important to distinguish the Lowell Mason Papers from the larger assemblage known as the Lowell Mason Library or Collection. The Mason Library consists of a gift of approximately 10,300 items from the Mason family to Yale in 1873, the year after Mason's death. Its treasures became the core of the impressive rare book collection in the Gilmore Music Library today. The Mason Library includes manuscript and printed music, theoretical treatises, hymnals and other sacred music, hymnological studies, school songbooks, periodicals, and pamphlets. The dates of these items range from the late sixteenth century to 1870, with the bulk of them originating between 1750 and 1850. Between 1874 and 1877, Joel Sumner Smith produced a handwritten catalog and shelf list of the Mason Library. These may be consulted at the Gilmore Music Library, or purchased on microfilm. Many items from the Mason Library also appear in either Orbis (Yale's online catalog) or the Music Library's manuscript card catalog.

The Mason Library was initially deposited in the Yale Divinity Library. After the establishment of the Music Library, most of it was transferred, but certain items remain in the Divinity Library, notably hymnals that contain text but not music.


  • 1813-1980 (inclusive)


Language of Materials

Materials chiefly in English.

Conditions Governing Access

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

Some of the materials may be stored at the Library's off-campus shelving facility, so researchers should allow at least two business days to have the appropriate boxes paged.

Conditions Governing Use

The Lowell Mason 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 Lowell Mason Papers were given to Yale University by the Mason family in 1873.


In 9 series as follows: I. Music. II. Correspondence. III. Programs. IV. Clippings. V. Writings. VI. Biographical Information. VII. Memorabilia. VIII. William Mason. IX. Old Catalog Cards and Librarian's Notes Concerning the Lowell Mason Collection.


9 Linear Feet (15 boxes)

Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


Music, correspondence and other papers, photographs, and additional materials by and about the American composer and educator Lowell Mason (1792-1872)

Biographical / Historical

Lowell Mason, who has been called as "the father of American Church music," was born in Medfield, Massachusetts on 8 January 1792. He came from a musical family, and as a boy he played a wide variety of instruments and attended singing schools. By the age of 16, he was directing his own church choir.

From 1813 to 1827, he lived in Savannah, Georgia, where worked as a businessman and church musician, and studied music with Frederick Abel. In 1822 Mason published a compilation of hymns from a variety of sources under the title The Boston Handel and Haydn Society Collection of Church Music. It proved to be a resounding success, and went through some 22 editions. In the ensuing decades, Mason would publish a vast amount of music, the majority of it intended for practical use in churches and schools. In addition to his work as an editor and arranger, Mason composed many hymns of his own, including "Nearer, My God to Thee," "My Faith Looks Up to Thee," and "From Greenland's Icy Mountains."

In 1827 Mason moved to Boston, where he held a series of increasingly prominent positions as a church musician, and became president of the Boston Handel and Haydn Society. He also developed an extraordinary reputation as a music educator. Beginning as a Sunday school teacher, Mason taught in private schools, established the Boston Academy of Music, organized teacher training conventions, and published numerous pedagogical works. A pioneering advocate for the place of music in public education, he served as superintendent of music in the Boston school system from 1837 to 1851.

In 1837 and again in 1851-1853, Mason traveled to Europe, where he met musicians and educators, delivered lectures, and purchased large numbers of books, scores, and manuscripts, including the library of the German organist J.C.H. Rinck.

In 1854 Mason settled in Orange, New Jersey, where he died on August 11, 1872. The Mason name remained a prominent part of the American musical scene, however, thanks to his sons Daniel Gregory and Lowell (both music publishers), his son William (a pianist), his son Henry (founder of the Mason & Hamlin piano manufacturing company), and his grandson Daniel Gregory (a composer and professor at Columbia University).

Register to The Lowell Mason Papers
Edited Full Draft
Compiled by Adrienne Nesnow
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

120 High Street
PO Box 208240
New Haven CT 06520 US
(203) 432-0497

Opening Hours