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Mary Wolfman Epstein Papers

 Collection
Identifier: P-998

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains news clippings, photographs, recordings, correspondence, sheet music, scripts, and performance programs. These documents chronicle MWE’s work with various Jewish and/or music-centered organizations, including the New England Jewish Music Forum (NEJMF), Brookline’s Congregation Kehillath Israel, and the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS); the establishment of her talent management company, Mary Wolfman Management; a library of recordings and reference materials relating to Jewish music, Jewish history, and music teaching; as well as her own personal life in Boston and Brookline, Massachusetts. Of particular interest are the scripts and music of the more than 30 original musical plays she wrote, which often centered on Jewish themes or history, as well as her vast collection of Yiddish and Hebrew sheet music. Titles with asterisks denote original plays written by MWE.

Dates

  • undated, 1908-1998

Language of Materials

The collection is in English, with some items in Yiddish, Hebrew, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for researcher use. Please contact us to request access or to make an appointment to view this collection at jhcreference@nehgs.org.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of this collection. For more information contact jhcreference@nehgs.org.

Biographical Note

Mary Wolfman Epstein was born on August 18, 1908 in Boston, Massachusetts to Morris and Sarah (Lesberg), both immigrants from Russia. As a child, MWE lived in Mattapan (Boston), Massachusetts, graduating from Dorchester High School in 1926. At the age of six, a teacher discovered her vocal talents. Epstein studied music at the Carl Lamson School of Music, and later, as a non-degree seeking student at the Boston University School of Music. She made her professional singing debut at Jordan Hall in 1932.

MWE began her career as an entertainer, musical director, and mistress of ceremonies at summer resorts in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. She worked at numerous resorts, including the Sinclair Hotel, Gray’s Inn, and Wentworth Hall. During the rest of the year, she worked as a secretary to talent manager Aaron Richmond, who was MWE’s own manager.

MWE also worked with various Jewish organizations in the Boston and Brookline areas, including Congregation Kehillath Israel (KI), Brookline-Brighton-Newton Jewish Community Center (BBN JCC), and local chapters of Hadassah. For these organizations, she performed vocal shows, wrote and directed musicals, and led glee clubs and choruses. MWE served as the director of the KI Brotherhood’s Glee Club from 1952 to 1967 and also worked with the KI Sisterhood to write and direct musicals, which often centered on Jewish people or events. These plays include The Golden Door (1955) and Emma Lazarus, the New Colossus (1953). MWE worked frequently with the Boston and Mattapan chapters of Hadassah, writing and directing musicals for them, including Golda Meir, Woman of the Century (1980) and Happy is the Flame (1956). From 1967 to 1980, MWE directed the BBN JCC’s chorus.

MWE was also actively involved in many non-Jewish musical organizations, particularly the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS). After becoming a member in 1952, she held many positions in this organization, including vice president of the national organization, president and treasurer of the Boston chapter, and regional governor for New England. In 1992 she received an award from NATS in recognition of her forty years of dedication to the organization.

In 1958, MWE helped found the New England Jewish Music Forum (NEJMF), a non-profit organization dedicated to organizing and presenting performances of Jewish music in the Boston area. She served as president of the organization from 1966 to 1974 and served as a program advisor after that. Due to low membership and financial difficulties, NEJMF disbanded in 1990.

In 1977, having learned talent management skills during her employment with Aaron Richmond, MWE formed her own management company, Mary Wolfman Epstein Management. She worked with numerous clients inside and outside of the Boston area, many of whom performed songs in Hebrew or Yiddish.

MWE was also a vocal coach, working with professional and amateur clients alike. Epstein was interested in musical teaching theory, collecting numerous articles and attending various workshops and conferences on the subject. Throughout her lifetime, she amassed a vast reference library of articles, sheet music, and musical recordings on Jewish history and music.

MWE’s decades of service to the Boston Jewish community was recognized with various awards. In 1987, she was inducted into The Jewish Advocate’s “Class of Eighty-Five,” and in 1994, she received an honorary doctoral degree from Hebrew College.

On August 18, 1946, MWE married Benjamin Epstein (August 18, 1906- June 2, 1996). The couple settled in Brookline, where they lived their entire lives. They had no children. MWE passed away on March 18, 1998 at the age of 90.

References

  1. Material from the collection.

Chronology

August 18, 1906
Benjamin Epstein born in Boston, Massachusetts.
August 18, 1908
Mary Wolfman (Epstein) born in Boston, Massachusetts to Morris and Sarah (Lesberg).
1926
Graduates from Dorchester High School.
1929-1940
Attends Carl Lamson School of Music.
1932
Makes professional singing debut at Jordan Hall.
1933-1956
Serves as Musical Director in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
1952
Joins National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS).
August 18, 1946
Marries Ben Epstein.
1952-1967
Serves as Director of Kehillath Israel Brotherhood's Glee Club.
1958
Co-founds New England Jewish Music Forum.
1959-1963
Attends Boston University School of Music as a non-degree seeking student.
1966-1974
Serves as President of the New England Jewish Music Forum.
1967-1980
Serves as Director of the Choral Society of the Brookline-Brighton-Newton Jewish Community Center.
1977
Establishes Mary Wolfman Mangagement.
1987
Inducted into The Jewish Advocate's "Class of Eighty-Five."
1994
Receives honorary doctoral degree from Hebrew College.
June 2, 1996
Benjamin Epstein dies in Brookline, Massachusetts.
March 18, 1998
Mary Wolfman Epstein dies at age 90 in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Extent

10.55 linear feet (9 document boxes, 1 half-manuscript box, 1 oversized box)

Abstract

Mary Wolfman Epstein was a singer, playwright, director, vocal teacher, and talent manager in the Boston area. Epstein worked with many Jewish and secular organizations, and she co-founded the New England Jewish Music Forum. She wrote over 30 original musicals, most of which were based on Jewish themes or individuals. This collection contains news clippings, photographs, recordings, correspondence, sheet music, scripts, and performance programs.

Physical Location

Located in Boston, Mass.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Hebrew College of Newton, Massachusetts in 2012.

Processing Information

Processed by Lindsay Sprechman, Joshua Barton, and Zach Shovein, 2016
Title
Guide to the Mary Wolfman Epstein Papers, P-998
Author
Processed by Lindsay Sprechman, Joshua Barton, and Zach Shovein
Date
2015

Repository Details

Part of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society Repository

Contact:
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Boston MA 02116 United States
617-226-1245