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Jean Slater Edson Papers

Identifier: MSS.0009

Scope and Contents

The Jean Slater Edson papers span 3 boxes that contain her original music manuscripts, programs or news clippings that she was featured in, correspondence regarding her personal life and music, a vinyl of her original music, and other miscellaneous items that pertain to her. The dated materials span 1929 to 1984. Although the majority of her compositions are undated, most of her dated works were created during her time as a teacher at Mary Washington College. Additionally, most correspondence and publications in this collection are in reference to the publishing process for some of Jean Slater Edson’s musical works while she was residing in the Northern Virginia/DC area.

Of particular interest is a collection of letters written by her while she was conducting research across Europe to complete her Organ Preludes publication. These letters are addressed to both the family of MWC’s former Chancellor, Dr. Simpson, and MWC’s first archivist, Barbara Alden, and they document her journey through Germany, Denmark, and England. Some other items that are of note are the score and papers surrounding her large-scale work Missa Universalis, which include correspondence, a performance program, a newspaper article, and various other documents that denote Jean Slater Edson’s creative process for the piece as well as its public reception.


  • 1929-1984


Language of Materials

Contains songs written in German, French, and Russian.

Biographical / Historical

Jean Slater Edson was an associate professor of music and physics at Mary Washington College, which has since been renamed the University of Mary Washington. Born on December 22, 1906, as Jean Appel, she grew to be equally interested in science and music. This passion led her to pursue both topics in higher education. Jean Slater began her education by obtaining a liberal arts degree from Vassar College, a Bachelor of Music with a minor in both science and math. From there, she pursued a Master of Arts of Music at Columbia University, where she also studied physics and earned a music fellowship abroad in Vienna, Austria. Jean Slater became Associate Professor of Music at Mary Washington College in 1947. After her first thirteen years of teaching there, she was additionally hired as a part-time professor of physics. Later, she would evenly split her time between her organ studio and physics labs at MWC. During her time at MWC, she married Andrew W. Edson and garnered the name that she would be known by today and in history: Jean Slater Edson. Likewise, some accounts and records of her refer to her as “Mrs. Andrew W. Edson,” denoting her status as married. Despite teaching at MWC, Edson was also an active member of the American Guild of Organists, which she held an Associate Degree and a Choir Master degree within. She retired from teaching at MWC in 1972 and died due to declining health on September 19, 1985.

In addition to her research for physics, Edson also researched music and wrote composition pieces of a large variety. Her most well-known non-composition work is her book, Organ Preludes: An Index to Compositions on Hymn Tunes, Chorales, Plainsong Melodies, Gregorian Tunes, and Carols. Edson wrote this with other organ players, like herself, in mind; she wanted other organists to have a good reference to the vast world of the instrument’s repertoire. Her book outlines and cross-indexes over 3,000 different organ pieces for this purpose, and it was published by Scarecrow Press in 1970. Regarding compositional music, her two most popular pieces among the Fredericksburg community are those that she dedicated to Dr. Grellet C. Simpson, MWC Chancellor from 1956 to 1974. The first one titled “Fanfare on G.C.S.” for organ was composed for Dr. Simpson’s inauguration, and the other one, titled “From Age to Age” for women’s choir and organ, was composed for the tenth-year anniversary of his position. Other notable compositions by her include “Missa Universalis,” a work for men’s choir, solo baritone, and organ that was commissioned and premiered by the Dartmouth College Glee Club, which had nearly fifty members at that time.


MWC Today. “In Memory of Jean Slater Edson.” Winter 1986, 10. Accessed October 30, 2020.

U of Mary Washington.

The Bullet. “MW College Will Offer Physics Major Next Year.” February 19, 1960, 5. Accessed

October 30, 2020. U of Mary Washington

The Bullet. “Mrs. Edson is Composer.” November 16, 1963, 3. Accessed October 30, 2020. U of Mary Washington


3 Linear Feet (2 upright legal-size document boxes (Box 1 and 2) and one flat storage box (Box 3). All oversize material is located in Box 3.)


The collection is arranged in 5 series: 1) Musical Compositions, 2) Correspondence, 3) Printed Materials, 4) Unpublished Materials, and 5) Audio-Visual and Ephemera. The bulk of the collection consists of Professor Edson's written music, which has been arranged into sub-series to reflect the nature of the compositions and instrumentation.

Material is arranged alphabetically except in a few instances where arrangement by date was more appropriate.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The first documented instance of a donation to this collection was on May 19, 1971, when Mary Washington College associate professor Jean Slater Edson donated recital programs as well as her organ arrangement of the University of Mary Washington’s “Alma Mater.” The next series of donations occurred about ten years later and were given by Barbara Alden, Jean Slater Edson’s friend and MWC’s archivist at the time. On May 16, 1983, Alden donated some letters addressed to her from Mrs. Slater Edson; on November 01, 1984, she donated a revised score of Jean Slater Edson’s original piece “From Age to Age”; and then on September 23, 1985, shortly after Mrs. Slater Edson’s passing, she donated more correspondence.

There exists correspondence dated August 16, 1999, where James Baker, the then conductor of the Mary Washington College and Community Orchestra, writes about how he would like to donate some “materials (original music compositions [of Edson’s]… [that] came my way from the basement of Dr. G. C. Simpson.”

A Guide to the Jean Slater Edson Papers
Ivy Sanders '22
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the University of Mary Washington Special Collections and University Archives Repository

Simpson Library
1801 College Ave.
Fredericksburg VA 22401 USA