Guggenheimer, Minnie (1882–1966)

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Guggenheimer, Minnie (1882–1966)

American music patron and philanthropist. Name variations: Minna Schafer; Minna Guggenheimer; Mrs. Charles S. Guggenheimer. Born Minna Schafer in New York City on October 22, 1882; died on May 23, 1966; daughter of Samuel and Sophie (Schwab) Schafer; educated at private schools in New York City; married Charles S. Guggenheimer, on April 22, 1903 (died 1953); children: son (born 1904, died four months later); Elizabeth (1905–1912); Sophie Guggenheimer Untermeyer ; Randolph Guggenheimer (who married Elinor Coleman [Guggenheimer] ).

Minna Schafer Guggenheimer, the seventh of eight children, was born into wealth in New York City in 1882. Her father, a stockbroker, was the son of a Bavarian entrepreneur who made his fortune in the gold mines of California. "Minnie" received her education at a series of fashionable private schools, learning piano at an early age and maintaining a love of music throughout her life. She was raised in a house she described as monstrous and cluttered with dust-collecting antiques, but her family also spent time at their summer house in West End, New Jersey.

At the West End house Minnie met Charles S. Guggenheimer, a family friend. She and Charles married in 1903 and settled in with her mother-in-law, Eliza Katzenberg Guggenheimer . Her relationship with her in-laws was cool, with both mother-in-law and sister-in-law controlling the young bride's activities. The women made it clear that Minnie's primary purpose was to have children, and limited her to this sphere alone. The monotony of this life was broken only by the afternoon concerts arranged by Eliza Guggenheimer, who was well acquainted with artists and musicians of the day. In this environment Minnie met such notable performers as Rachmaninoff, Prokofieff, and Enrico Caruso.

Guggenheimer faced tragedy early in her marriage when a son born in 1904 died when he was only four months old. A daughter born in 1905 died of a mastoid infection when she was just seven. During this time, Guggenheimer became the patron of the outdoor concerts at the Lewisohn Stadium on the campus of New York's City College, raising the initial $10,000 needed to fund the symphony concerts. On June 23, 1918, Arnold Volpe conducted the first open-air concert with Sir Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance."

The two-week series had a modest beginning and over the next 50 years more than tripled in size. The first season cost approximately $41,000, with that figure mounting to over $300,000 by the mid-1960s. Guggenheimer's fund-raising efforts covered any deficit experienced by the concert series. She maintained a select list of donors which she carefully guarded, but she was not beyond approaching total strangers and soliciting donations if she thought they looked like they had money to spare.

The Lewisohn Stadium concerts frequently suffered from failure in acoustics, noisy audiences, and the greatest plague of all—uncooperative weather—but on the whole the concerts were brilliant. The series was a showcase for both established and new performers. In 1925, Marian Anderson made her debut performing an aria from La Favorita by Donizetti. Nelson Eddy's first major solo appearance occurred when he sang a solo part from Verdi's Requiem and in 1927 George Gershwin performed his piano concerto, Rhapsody in Blue, for the first time.

Minnie Guggenheimer generally remained behind the scenes, but eventually began to appear during intermissions to address the audiences. As a result of these off-the-cuff discussions, she became known as the "Mrs. Malaprop of 20th-century America," for her amusing mispronunciations of names and unique sense of humor. Her announcements came to be anticipated with as much enthusiasm as the music; a reporter commented after one of her appearances, "Minnie Guggenheimer was a disappointment at last night's Stadium opening. She made sense…. The crowd was perfectly able to fol low her comments and felt it just hadn't gotten its usual money's worth."

Guggenheimer's support of musical endeavors did not go unrewarded. She sat on the board of directors of the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra; received the ribbon of the French Legion d'Honneur (1951); the National Arts Club annual award (1959); the Annual Music Award of New York City presented by Mayor Robert F. Wagner (1960); and the annual Gold Medal of the 100 Year Association (1961).

Minnie Guggenheimer had other passions besides music, including mushroom hunting, which she pursued during the late summer and fall with total disregard for the property of others. Her outgoing personality and inimitable style endeared her to audiences and she particularly enjoyed being interviewed on television. She chain-smoked, vowing to give up the habit one week and starting anew the next. Guggenheimer's daughter, Sophie Guggenheimer Untermeyer , wrote in her biography about Minnie that she suspected her mother's "compulsive dedication" to the stadium concerts was self-indulgent. She felt her mother did not want to see the concert series succeed without her.


Brody, Seymour. Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America. Lifetime Books, 1996.

Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1962.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland

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Guggenheimer, Minnie (1882–1966)

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