Peterborough New Hampshire Art Patron and Pianist: Marian Griswold (Nevins) MacDowell (1857-1956)

“I am a very ordinary woman who had an opportunity–and I seized it.”

Marian Griswold Nevins was born in 1857 in New York City, the third of five children to David H. Nevins, a Wall Street banker, and his wife, Cornelia L. Perkins.  Marian died 23 Aug 1856 in Los Angeles, California.  She married 21 July 1884 in Waterford CT to Edward Alexander MacDowell, son of Thomas F. and Frances M. (Knapp) McDowell. Edward was born in New York City, December 18, 1861.  he was a famous composer, concert pianist, teacher and college professor.

Marian was remarkable in her own right…  When her mother died prematurely, Marion was only eight years old.  Yet, she was given the responsibility to present her father with the terrible news.  She was a gifted pianist, and it was during a trip to Europe that she met her future husband, Edward MacDowell.  During their marriage, Marian gave up her career to support her husband’s talent and goals.  They had no children (Marian had a miscarriage).

Marian was fairly well-off financially, as the result of a modest inheritance from her mother, and then a second larger one from her father.  Although some biographies attribute the purchase of “Hillcrest” farm in Peterborough, New Hampshire, to Edward, it is evident from correspondence, that it was Marian’s idea.  Edward reluctantly agreed to the purchase, after the fact.

Edward MacDowell from The Granite Monthly, February 1925

Edward MacDowell from The Granite Monthly, February 1925

During his final years, Edward shared his dream with Marion to create an artist’s retreat.  But a neurological disease affected his mind, and prevented him from carrying the idea into actuality.  In 1907 Marion transferred the deed of the Peterborough property to a newly-created “Edward MacDowell Association” to honor her husband.  A large studio was built, and the first resident artists, Helen and Mary Mears, sisters, moved in.  Edward died January 23, 1908.

In order to keep the colony growing, and to become self-sufficient, Marian went on the road–as a speaker and fund-raiser, which she continued for about 50 years.  She resumed her original career as a pianist, acting as interpreter for her husband’s music.  She traveled throughout the United States and Canada, directing the money that she made back to the colony. Proceeds from Marian’s lectures, and recitals totaled about $100,000 by 1930. Music clubs and associations across the country helped support the organization, along with many generous benefactors, many of them women.

Portrait of Marian MacDowell with her dog Jaffray, MacDowell Colony Peterborough NH. Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute. Harvard University HOLLIS images.

Marian MacDowell brought the MacDowell colony to life, and saw it through good times and bad–two world wars, a stock market crash, the Great Depression, 115 mile-per-hour winds of a hurricane (that damaged many of the colony’s buildings) in 1938.  She was awarded honorary degrees from the University of New Hampshire (Durham NH in 1930), New Jersey State College for Women (in 1938), and Middlebury College (1939).  In 1940 she received  the Pettee Medal from the University of New Hampshire, and in 1941 the Henry Hadley Medal for outstanding service to music.  At the age of 92 she was honored by the National Institute of Arts and Letters for her distinguished service in the arts.

There are additional qualities which make the Marian (and Edward) MacDowell legacy unique–more than half of those accepted into the MacDowell colony are women.  Notable women colonists include (most recently): Martha Graham, choreographer; artists Louise Borgouise and Janet Fish; poets May Swenson and Marianne Moore, writers Eudora Welty, Alice Walker, and Mary McCarthy.  Plus a host of others.

Many of the Edward MacDowell papers, which include much of Marian’s correspondence are located in the special collection of the University of New Hampshire.

So how does the MacDowell Colony fare these days?– This year [2006] is the 99th anniversary of the founding of the MacDowell Colony.  Nearly 4,500 artists have used studios at the Peterborough NH artist haven.
– The MacDowell Colony now offers 34 artist studios in secluded cabins and cottages scattered throughout the wooded grounds. More than 200 writers, composers, visual artists, photographers, print makers, filmmakers, architects, interdisciplinary artists, and those collaborating on creative works come to the colony each year from all parts of the United States and abroad. ‘Colonists’ receive room, board and the exclusive use of a studio.
– Each year the MacDowell Colony presents the Edward MacDowell Medal to an American artist whose work is judged to have made an outstanding contribution to our nation’s culture.
– MacDowell “Colonists” have won 61 Pulitzer Prizes, 7 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Awards,” and 60 Rome Prizes, among hundreds of awards (and many of them were relatively unknown before they stayed at MacDowell Colony).  At the colony, Leonard Bernstein composed “Mass,” Aaron Copeland composed “Appalachian Spring;” Thornton Wilder wrote “Our Town,” and “A Bridge Over San Louis Rey;” Dubose & Heyward wrote “Porgy & Bess” and Virgil Thompson composed the opera, “The Mother of All of Us.”
– The MacDowell Colony was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1997, for its contributions to our national greatness.
– The colony has always been largely free of paying property taxes as a non-profit organization, but in 2005, the board of selectmen of Peterborough revoked much of that status, and asked that the colony pay more than the $9,000 it has usually paid.  The colony paid the bill but contested its taxable status and is seeking a refund in court. In March of 2007, after a long legal battle for it’s tax-exempt property status, the New Hampshire court ruled in favor of the MacDowell Colony.



– The Granite Monthly, March 1925 “Giving the Creative Artists Better Opportunities” by Henry Bailey Stevens [About the MacDowell Colony]
-NPR: MacDowell Colony Celebrating 100 Years
-PBS: 100 Years at the MacDowell Colony-
-Hill Country of Monroe County Mississippi: MacDowell Music Club
New Hampshire Supreme Court Declares MacDowell a Charity – March 2008 (PDF)

David-1 NEVINS, son of — and Jonnet/Jennet Nevins, b. abt 1725 prob Scotland; was of Canterbury CT; he may have come from Kingston, Massachusetts to Connecticut. He married 14 Oct 1746 to Mary, dau of Col. Simon Lathrop of Norwich.  She b. 1 June 1729. He settled in Canterbury CT, on a farm of 300 acres given by her father. In  the Spring of 1757 he was “engaged in repairing a bridge over the Quinebaug between Canterbury and Plainfield, which had been partially destroyed in a severe freshet.” “He was standing on one of the cross beams of the bridge, giving directions to the workman, and had his watch in his hand, which he had just taken out to see the time, when losing his balance, he fell into the swollen stream, was swept down by the current, and drowned before he could be rescued.”
Children of David & Mary (Lathrop) Nevins:
1. Samuel Nevins, b. 4 March 1748 in Canterbury CT; died young, unmarried
2. Elizabeth “Betsey” Nevins, b. 15 Feb 1753 in Canterbury CT; died young unmarried
3. Mary Lathrop Nevins, b. 8 March 1751 in Canterbury CT, m. 31 Oct 1771 Norwich CT to Nathan Lord of Lord’s Bridge, Lisbon CT. Had issue.
4. Martha Nevins, b ab 1755 in Canterbury CT, d. 1823; m. 5 Apr 1774 in Norwich CT to Capt. James Hyde of Norwich CT. He b. 1752 and d 1809; had issue
5. +David-2 Nevins, b/ 12 Sep 1748 in Canterbury, Windham Co CT; m. 1777 Mary Hubbard

David-2 Nevins, son of David & Mary (Lathrop) Nevins, b.12 Sep 1748 in Canterbury, Windham Co CT, d. 21 Jan 1838 in NY Co NY; m. 7 Dec 1777 to Mary Russell Hubbard, dau of Russell & Mary (Gray) Hubbard, and granddau of Daniel & Martha (Coit) Hubbard.  She b. 22 July 1756 in New London CT and d. 23 Sep 1820. According to “Old houses of the ancient town of Norwich, “In the early years of the war [of the Revolution] he “was employed as the confidential messenger of the Norwich Committee of Correspondence, to obtain exact news from the seat of war. His personal activity and daring spirit, combined with trustworthiness and ardent participation in the popular cause, peculiarly fitted him for the work. But the battle of Lexington carried him from all minor employments into the army. He joined the Eighth Company, Sixth Regiment, which was organized on Norwich Green in May 1775, and was its color-bearer on Dorchester Heights.  In October 1776 he was commissioned as Lieutenant and later as Captain. He remained with the army during the siege of Boston, the occupation of New York, and the retreat through the Jerseys, returning home in the winter of 1777. He did not, however, relinquish the service of his county, but was several times again in the field upon various emergencies during the war.”  He died in New York in 1838, aged 90.  He had twelve children. His sons became prominent citizens of New York and Philadelphia.
Children of David & Mary (Hubbard) Nevins:
1. Mary “Polly” Nevins, b 7 Sep 1778 Norwich CT, d. 23 Oct 1800 at Norwich CT, unmarried; “died at the age of 22”
2. +Henry-3 Nevins, b. 26 Dec 1779 at Norwich CT
3. David Nevins, b 24 Sep 1781, d. Aug 1806 Norwich CT
4. Russell Hubbard Nevins, b. 10 Jan 1785 Norwich CT, d. 27 Nov 1853 New York City NY; resided 36 Union Place; broker, New York City
5. Frances Nevins, b. 28 Dec 1786 Norwich CT; m. 29 Nov 1810 to Charles THOMAS. He b 1784, d. 1835. Had issue
6. Samuel Nevins, b 10 Nov 1788 Norwich CT; d. 31 May 1859 in Germantown PA; m. 14 Aug 1816 to Eliza WEST. She b. 15 Oct 1792 in Gloucester Co NJ, and d. 5 Nov 1865 in PA; Had issue.
7. James Nevins, b. 7 Aug 1790 Norwich CT, d. 11 March 1866 prob Philadelphia PA; m. Achsah Willis. She b. 27 May 1792 in Bucks Co PA and d. 20 March 1827 in Lower Makefield, PA; Had issue
8. Elizabeth Nevins, b. 14 June 1792 Norwich CT, d. 1858; m. 22 May 1812 to Elihu Townsend. He b. 6 Dec 1786 in New Haven CT and d. 26 June 1853, had issue.
9. Rufus L. Nevins, b. 14 April 1794 Norwich CT, d. 7 March 1839 New York City; buried Central Presbyterian Church, Broome St., NYC; m. 25 May 1814 in Newark NJ to Jane Ten Brook; elder of the Central Presbyterian Church. In 1829-30 a stock and exchange broker in NYC at 30 Wall Street, residing 34-1/2 Pine Street NYC; working from 1814 to 1819 with James N. Hyde in NYC as Hyde & Nevins, jewelers and importers of fancy goods, especially from Bradbury & Sons, Sheffield England; also resided 79 Spring Street NYC. Had issue: Helen Augusta (b 1817, d 1839, m. 1837 Henry Hopkiss), William R., Sylvester, Rufus L., Louisa, Maria
10. Richard Nevins, b. 27 Oct 1795 in Norwich CT, d. 16 Sep 1831 in New York NY; was “of Philadelphia PA” at one time. He married 15 May 1826 to Louisa McAlester. Had issue: Mary N, m. — Bull; Richard m. Flora Medary;
11. Rev. William Nevins, b 17 Oct 1797 at Norwich CT; d. 14 Sep 1835 at Baltimore MD; pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Baltimore in 1820; married 13 Nov 1822 to Mary Lloyd KEY. She b. Aug 1801 in Baltimore MD and d. 8 Nov 1834 prob Baltimore MD
12. Isabella Hubbard Nevins, m. — Whelen.

Henry-3 Nevins, eldest son of David & Mary (Hubbard) Nevins, was b. 26 Dec 1779 at Norwich CT. He married 10 June 1805 to Lucretia, daughter of Dea. Robert and Elizabeth (Rogers) Manwaring. She b. 28 Oct 1783 at New London, CT. They settled at Norwich where she d. 1 March 1834. He d. March 1835 at Rockford IL. (Reportedly through his mother, Mary Hubbard he was descended from the kings and nobility of England.). They had three children, born at Norwich CT:
1. Mary Nevins, b. 11 March 1806 and d. 28 Feb 1819 unm.
2. +David Hubbard-4 Nevins, b. 26 Apr 1811, m. 25 May 1847 his fourth cousin, Cornelia Leonard Perkins
3. Lucretia Nevins, b. 26 June 1817; m. Melancthon Starr. They removed to Rockford Ill., where she died, and where he was living in 1860. They had six children: Henry b. 12 Aug 1840; Florida L., b. 3 Aug 1842; Elizabeth S., b. 5 Jan 1846; Chandler, b. 29 Apr 1851; David, b. Sept 1853; and Lucretia M., b. 20 April 1857

David Henry [or Hubbard]-4 Nevins, son of Henry & Lucretia (Manwaring) Nevins, b. 26 Apr 1811 in Norwich CT, d. by 1884; married 25 May 1847 to Cornelia Leonard Perkins, dau of Thomas Shaw & Marian (Griswold) Perkins.  b. 2 March 1821 at Waterford Conn., eldest dau of Thomas Shaw & Marian (Griswold) Perkins. He was a broker and resided in  New York City and Waterford CT.
1860 United States Federal Census > Connecticut > New London > Waterford
David H. Nevins 49 W Retired Merchant 15,000 / 50,000 Conn
Cornelia L. Nevins 39 F NY
Thomas P. Nevins 10 M NY [b abt 1850]
Russell H. Nevins 7 M NY [b abt 1853]
Marian G. Nevins 3 F NY [b abt 1857]
Cornelia L. Nevins 1 F NY [b abt 1859]
Mary A. Perkins 58 F 2000/8000 Conn
Lucretia T. Perkins 17 F Conn
Ann McGrauty 30 F servant Ireland
Sarah Gringle 37 F servant Ireland
Elvira Gallup 16 F servant Conn
Ellen Beebe 16 F servant Conn
Henry Dart 22 M servant Conn
1870 United States Federal Census > Connecticut > New London > Waterford
Nevins, David 59 W M Ret’d Broker 95,000/140,000 Conn
Nevins, Thomas P. 20 W M Student Conn
Nevins, Russel H. 17 W M Student Conn
Nevins, Marian G. 13 F  Attends school Conn
Nevins, Cornelia S 11 F W attends school Conn
Nevins Anne L 8 F W attends school Conn [b abt 1862]
[plus servants]
1880 United States Federal Census > Connecticut > New London > Waterford > District 122
Nevins, David H. W M 69 retired Broker CT CT CT
Nevins, Marian G. W F 23 dau at home CT CT CT
Nevins, Cornelia L. W F 21 dau at home CT CT CT
Nevins, Anna L. W F 18 dau at home CT CT CT
[plus 2 servants]
1910 United States Federal Census > Connecticut > New London > Waterford Twp > District 551
Nevins, Cornelia L. Head F W 51 single NY CT CT own income
Nevins, Anna L. sister F W 48 single CT CT CT own income
Nevins, Russel H. brother M W 57 widow NY CT CT
[servants & boarders]
1930 United States Federal Census > Connecticut > New London > Waterford > District 75
Nevins, Cornelia L Head 12,000 F W 71 single NY CT CT
Nevins, Anna L. sister F W 68 single CT CT CT
Gallagher, Mary F servant F W 48 single CT Ire Ire
Children of David H & Cornelia L. (Perkins) Nevins:
1. Thomas P. Nevins, b. 1 March 1850 NY
2. Russell Henry Nevins, b. 12 Oct 1852 in New York City, NY, and d. 21 Dec 1916 in New York City NY; he married Catherine BROWN, and had children: Russell H., Henry B., Frank H., and Roger G.
3. +Marian Griswold-5 Nevins, b. 22 Nov 1856/57 in New York City, NY, and d. 23 Aug 1956 in Los Angeles, California; she married July 21, 1884 in Waterford CT to Edward MacDowell.  He was a composer and concert pianist.
4. Cornelia Leonard Nevins, b. 5 March 1859 NY
5. Anne/Anna Nevins, b abt 1862 CT

NEGHS Register 136:322
Distant Kinsmen of Dr. Joseph Strong and the Princess of Wales
[NOTE, actually it is MARIAN who is related, not Edward]
133. Edward Alexander MacDowell, 1861-1908, composer (wife, Marian Griswold Nevins; David Henry Nevins & Cornelia Leonard Perkins; Thomas Shaw Perkins & Marian Griswold; Elias Perkins & Lucretia Shaw Woodbrudge; Joseph Perkins III & Joanna Burnham, Ephraim Woodbridge & Mary Shaw; Joseph Perkins Jr., & Mary Bushnell, Benjamin Burnham & Mary Kinsman, Paul Woodbridge & Sarah Goodridge; Joseph Perkins & Martha Morgan, Thomas Burnham & 25, Ephraim Woodbridge & Hannah Morgan; 30-1 [parents of Martha], John Morgan & Rachel Deming [parents of Hannah]; 60-1).
#25. Hester Cogswell, b. Ipswich ca 1656, d. after 17 Jan 1703/4. She m. 2) at Ipswich 16 Dec 1689 Thomas Burnham.
#30 Joseph Morgan, b. Roxbury, Mass 29 Oct 1646, d Preston 5 Apr 1704, m. at New London 26 Apr 1670
#31. Dorothy Parke, b. New London 6 March 1652, d. at Preston date unknown.
#60 James Morgan, b. England ca 1607, d. New London 1685, immigrant to Boston in Roxbury 1640, New London 1651 m. at Roxbury 6 Aug 1640.
#61 Margery Hill, whose origin and birth and death dates are unknown


Alexander McDowell, son of Alexander & Ann (McCurran) McDowell, b. 17 May 1800 in Belfast, Ireland, d. 15 Nov 1877 in NY, buried Prospect Park Cemetery, Brooklyn NH; m. in NYC to Sarah THOMPSON. She b. 19 Aug 1798 in Ireland, and d. 7 Apr 1883, buried same place.
Children of Alexander & Sarah (Thompson) McDowell:
1. James T. McDowell, b. 28 Nov 1832 in Cornwall, Orange Co NY; m. Sarah Filkins, had issue.
2. Joseph T. McDowell, b. 16 Aug 1825 in NY, d. 1910 Brooklyn NY
3. Elizabeth Ann McDowell, b. 18 Aug 1827 NY
4. +Thomas F. McDowell, b. 4 Aug 1829 in Cornwall, Orange Co NY
5. Henry W. McDowell, b. 9 Sep 1831, d. 1850
6. Sarah Marie McDowell, b. 22 Apr 1837 NY, d. 1838
7. George Alexander McDowell, b. 1840 in NY

Thomas Fair McDowell, son of Alexander & Sarah (Thompson) McDowell, b. 4 Aug 1829 in Cornwall, Orange Co NY, d. 25 March 1910 in New York City, NY, buried Quaker Cemetery, Brooklyn NH; 1880-81 and 1889-90 milk business at 92 Henry Street, NYC, resided 129 E 17th and 227 E. 18th Street.  He married abt 1855 to Frances Morse KNAPP. She b. Dec 1837 in Harmony, Chautauqua, NY, dau of Darias & Mary C. (Moury) Knapp. She d. 12 July 1909 in New York City, NY and is also buried in Quaker Cemetery in Brooklyn NY.  In, 1880 and 1900 census in NYC.
U.S. Census > 1860 United States Federal Census > New York > New York > New York Ward 7 District 3
Thos McDowell 30 M Milk business 2000 NY
Fannie McDowell 22 F NY
Walter McDowell 3 M NY
Emily Knapp 17 F NY
Mary Knapp 57 F NY
U.S. Census > 1880 United States Federal Census > New York > New York City-Greater > New York (Manhattan) > District 70
McDowell, Thos F W M 50 Milk Dealer NY NY NY
McDowell, Fanny, W F 42 wife Keeping House NY NY NY
McDowell, Walter W M 22 son Milk Dealer NY NY NY
McDowell, Edward, W M 19 son Pianist NY NY NY [b abt 1861]
Brishel, Mary W F 29 servant domestic Ire Ire Ire
Buitrago, Juan, boarder, Violinist, Bogota SA, Bogota, Bogota
Children of Thomas F. & Frances M. (Knapp) McDowell:
1. Frank McDowell, b. 1857 in New York City, NY, died 1858 NYC
2. Walter Thomas McDowell, b. 26 July 1857 in New York City, NY, d. 15 May 1918 in Brooklyn NY. He married 29 Apr 1889 in NYC to Ida MILLER. In 1900 census living in Shandaken, Ulster Co NY. Had children: Francis M. (b 1890); Marian Susan (b 1891 NY); and Edna Matilda (b 1893). 1880 FC w/par, age 19. NF 1900 FC NY. NF 1920 NY Sx.
3. +Edward Alexander McDowell, b. abt 1861 in New York City, NY

Regarding Edward Alexander & Marian Griswold (Nevins) MacDOWELL:

From: Biographies of Notable Americans, 1904
MacDOWELL, Edward Alexander, composer, was born in New York city, Dec. 18, 1861; son of Thomas F. and Frances M. (Knapp) MacDowell and grandson of Alexander MacDowell and of Darius Knapp. He studied the piano under several masters and in 1876 went to Paris, France, where he continued his studies under Marmontel. He studied composition under Savard in Paris and Joachim Raft in Germany. He resided in Frankfort-on-the-Main, Germany, 1879-81, and devoted himself to composition and teaching the piano in Wiesbaden, 1884-88; was a teacher of the piano in the Darmstadt conservatory, 1881-84, and in 1888 returned to America, settling in Boston as a teacher and concert pianist. He subsequently made several visits to Germany. He was appointed professor of music in Columbia university, N.Y., in 1896. He appeared frequently as soloist with the Boston Symphony orchestra and other well-known musical organizations. He was elected to the presidency of the Society of American Musicians and Composers, New York, in 1899, holding it one year, and was director of the Mendelssohn Glee club, 1896-98. Princeton university conferred upon him the honorary degree of Mus. Doc. in 1896. His compositions include several symphonic poems for orchestra, concertos for piano and orchestra, suites for orchestra including Indian Suite, and numerous notable songs and piano works, among the latter two suites and four sonatas.

1900 United States Federal Census > New Hampshire > Hillsborough > Peterborough > District 135 [living on MacDowell Road]
Macdowell Edward A. Head W M Dec 1861 38 married NY NY NY Prof of Music
Macdowell, Marion G wife W F Nov 1861 38 married  NY CT CT
1930 United States Federal Census > New Hampshire > Hillsborough > Peterborough > District 109
Viovieri, Emile F. Head  M W 44 married Italy Italy Italy steward art colony
Viovieri, Mary A wife F W 46 married Irish Free State Ire Ire
Carling, Maud P. servant F W 35 single England England England servant, private family
MacDowell, Marian Head F W 73 widow CT CT manager art colony [b abt 1857]
Draper, LeRoy R. boarder M W 24 single MA MA NH bookkeeper woolen mill

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3 Responses to Peterborough New Hampshire Art Patron and Pianist: Marian Griswold (Nevins) MacDowell (1857-1956)

  1. Homer Richard Hansen says:

    I am disappointed that I find no reference to the songs commposed by Marian MacDowell for school children. I know they exist because I sang them as a school child in Evanston, Illinois grade schools. Partial lyrics of one song are —-

    Oh it’s joy I feel when I ride my wheel, my wheel
    The town fades away.
    Fades away into green and brown
    and rambling brooks and shady nooks
    till we meet the sun!

    Oh it’s joy I feel when I ride my wheel,
    when I ri-ide, when I gli-ide,
    on my steed of steel.
    The world and it’s miseries are far behind,
    When I ri-ide, when I gli-ide
    all the world is mine!

    Now please give me a little slack! I am now 94 years old, so although I clearly remember singing songs by Marian McDowell, and some of the lyrics, I am sure they have suffered some alteration by my old memory.

    I seem to remember a song book by Marian McDowell. I feel sure there were multiple songs by her. In Evanston, each spring, grade school students all over town practiced these songs, then all gathered, perhaps gathered in a big gym at Northwestern University to make a city-wide chorus singing these songs! I would dearly love to find these songs again. Homer

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