“The first time that I saw Mary Louise Curtis Bok, I knew that it was she.”

Mary Louise Curtis Bok, c. 1928

Mary Louise Curtis Bok, c. 1928

 This is the opening line of an article in the Morning Telegraph of December 30, 1928, a few months into the fifth year of the school’s existence, and the first in which tuition was completely free. The reporter was rather smitten with Curtis’s founder, her “attitude without formality or importance,” and the “sweet smile” that suffused her face when a cello student kissed her hand in passing by. “She touched the head of the young fellow gently, then turned and went up the stairs,” he concludes his introduction. “I never did!” Mary Bok penciled underneath. And on top of the clipping: “Friendly—tho rather sentimental?”

Sentimental though it may be, the reporter’s picture of Mary Louise Curtis Bok as an engaged and busy woman at the heart and center of the school also emerges from the correspondence that she kept during the school’s first decades as the school’s president, presiding over the Board of Trustees. Some of the correspondence is on display in the present archival exhibit about Mary Louise Curtis Bok.  It includes letters from Leopold Stokowski (“Prince”) and Josef Hofmann (“Pepi”), who were involved in her early plans about the school. It also includes an annual report that she wrote as acting director of the school in 1938–1939, after Josef Hofmann, who had been director since 1928, had left the school (view photographs of Curtis by Fritz Henle during this year).

Gian Carlo Menotti to Mary Louise Curtis Bok, thanking her for a yoga book, 1937 (detail)

Gian Carlo Menotti to Mary Louise Curtis Bok, thanking her for a yoga book, 1937 (detail)

Another letter on display is from Gian Carlo Menotti (Composition 1933), who had not yet joined the Curtis faculty at the time, but was busily preparing the premiere of his opera Amelia Goes to the Ball in 1937. In an earlier letter to “Aunt Mary” he had written that he had barely time to relax—after which she sent him, perhaps jokingly, a book about yoga. In his reply he has drawn a picture of himself standing on his head.

Over the coming years, finding aids to the individual collections in the archives will be put online, including the Founders Records, which includes Mary Louise Curtis Bok’s correspondence as the school’s president with faculty and staff 1924–47. Subscribe to Notes from the Archives for the latest developments!


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