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Biography Mabel Daniels (1878-1971)

Image: Mabel Daniels
Mabel Wheeler Daniels, undated. Photograph. A. P. Schmidt Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress. Box 213, Folder 16

Mabel Wheeler Daniels was born on November 27, 1878, into a musical family in Swampscott, Massachusetts, near Boston. Both her grandfathers were church musicians. Her parents sang in Boston's Handel and Haydn Society and her father also served that prominent musical institution as president. Mabel studied piano from an early age and began writing short pieces by age ten. Her musical interests continued at Radcliffe College, where she sang soprano in the glee club and performed leading roles in operettas. At Radcliffe she composed and conducted two student operettas.

After graduating magna cum laude in 1900, Daniels studied composition with George Chadwick at the New England Conservatory of Music. He suggested that she apply to the Munich Conservatory to study under one of his former classmates, Ludwig Thuille. She went to Munich and boldly tried to enroll in Director Stavenhagen's score- reading class, into which no woman had been admitted previously. She remembered entering Stavenhagen's class of thirty male students to play her audition. "You could have heard a pin drop, the place was so still. . . . Just as I took my seat before the keyboard, I heard one of the men smother a laugh. That settled it! I was bound to do or die, and with a calmness quite unnatural I played the bars set before me without a mistake. Nobody laughed when I had finished." [1]

Upon her return to America, Daniels joined Boston's Cecilia Society, where she was exposed to modern choral works with orchestra. She assumed the directorship of Radcliffe's glee club and the Bradford Academy music program (1911-13). In 1913, she was appointed head of music at Simmons College, where she served through 1918. She later established composition prizes and funds at Radcliffe to aid music students. Tufts University and Boston University awarded her honorary degrees in 1933 and 1939 respectively. Daniels died on March 10, 1971.


  1. Mabel Daniels, An American Girl in Munich: Impressions of a Music Student (Boston: Little, Brown, 1905), 39-44, in Carol Neuls-Bates, ed., Women in Music: An Anthology of Source Readings from the Middle Ages to the Present, rev. ed. (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1996), 222. [back to text]