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Bok Zimbalist, Mary Louise Curtis

The Grove Dictionary of American Music
Gary GalvánGary Galván

Bok Zimbalist, Mary Louise Curtis (b Boston, MA, 6 Aug 1876; d Philadelphia, PA, 4 Jan 1970.) 

Writer and music patron. She was the only child of columnist Louisa Knapp Curtis and publisher Cyrus H.K. Curtis, the founder of Ladies’ Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post, as well as a major Philadelphia philanthropist. She married the Dutch-born Pulitzer Prize-winning author and editor Edward William Bok when she was 19.

She became an active supporter of the Settlement Music School (est. 1906) and provided $150,000 to establish its home on Queen Street in Philadelphia in 1917. In 1924, she purchased three mansions on Rittenhouse Square to create the Curtis Institute of Music in honor of her father and provided an unprecedented $12.5 million endowment. With artistic guidance from Josef Hofmann and Leopold Stokowski, she assembled a faculty of world-class performers, tapped former Symphony Club conductor Johann Grolle as its first director, and established a tuition-free, merit-based admission standard. She served on the board of the Philadelphia Orchestra until Stokowski's departure, sponsored Sunday evening chamber concerts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art that featured Curtis students, and served as board chairman to the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company from 1929 to 1934 in a partnership beneficial to Curtis students. Other significant ventures included a fellowship for the Maitland Art Center in Florida, her gift of the Annie Russell Theater to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and a $175,000 organ to the Philadelphia Academy of Music. At age 66, she married violinist and Curtis director Efrem Zimbalist Sr.—widower of Alma Gluck and father of a famed actor. She served as president of the Curtis Institute until her death. Recognitions for her dedication to music included an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Pennsylvania in 1932, an honorary Doctor of Music from Williams College in 1934, and the National Institute of Social Sciences Gold Medal in 1937.


M.L.C. Bok: The Curtis Institute of Music Catalogue, 1927–1928 (Philadelphia, 1927)Find this resource:

    “Mrs. Efram Zimbalist Sr., Curtis Heiress is Dead,” New York Times (6 Jan 1970)Find this resource:

      E.A. Viles: Mary Louise Curtis Bok Zimbalist: Founder of the Curtis Institute of Music and Patrons of American Arts (diss. Bryn Mawr College, 1983)Find this resource:

        M. Mender: Extraordinary Women in Support of Music (Lanham, MD, 1997)Find this resource:

          Gary Galván