Chester Wheldon Williams was born in Chicago in 1906.  He graduated from Oberlin College in 1929 and received a master’s degree from Harvard University in 1939. Prior to coming to NEC, Williams held positions as an instructor at Grinnell College, and assistant professor at Cornell College in Iowa.

In 1946 Williams was appointed to the theory department faculty at New England Conservatory – he would remain a faculty member for over 55 years.  During that time, he served in various capacities including Dean (1953-1962; 1967-1976) and as President (1962-1967). From 1957-1960 Williams held the position of regional vice president for the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM).

In 1976, Williams retired and received an honorary doctorate from NEC. However, he continued to serve NEC as Dean Emeritus and Special Assistant to the President for the remainder of his life. Williams also ran NEC’s Summer School for several years and served as a trustee for the Frank Huntington Beebe Fund (which provided financial assistance to students pursuing music study or performance abroad.) Williams’ memoir of his time at NEC, entitled Indeed Music:My Years at New England Conservatory, was published in 1989.

Williams and his wife Janet (Sprague) were long time residents of Wellesley, MA- with Williams only moving to Westwood in 1992. Williams conducted and played oboe in the Wellesley Symphony and conducted the Wayland-Weston Sudbury Community Chorus in the 1950s, as well as the Wellesley College Orchestra. He served as conductor of the Harvard Musical Association of which he was a member for over 50 years. Also, Williams was a member of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Wellesley, where he served on the music committee.

Williams passed away on Nov. 2, 2001 at The Clark House, Fox Hill Village in Westwood at the age of 95.

Physical description

This collection is comprised of one record carton, one document case, and one manuscript box; the collection consists primarily of paper files but also includes scrapbooks and photographs.


Some of this collection, particularly the personal papers, scrapbooks, concert programs, and photographs were donated to the New England Conservatory Archives by Chester Williams'daughter, Barbara Williams Olmsted, after his death in November 2001. The majority of the administrative files had been kept in storage at NEC since Williams’ tenure and were transferred to the Archives in 2003-2004.


Access to the Dean Chester Williams Collection is granted by the Archivist or Director of Libraries. Appointments must be scheduled in advance. There are no restrictions pertaining to this collection.


All copyrights to this collection belong to the New England Conservatory. Permission to publish materials from this collection is granted by the Director of Libraries. This collection should be cited as the Dean Chester Williams Collection, New England Conservatory Archives, Boston, MA