Dean Chester W. Williams

Portrait of Williams

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

These papers consist 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 Papers granted by the Archivist. 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 NECA 4.1. Dean Chester Williams Papers, New England Conservatory Archives, Boston, MA.

Scope & Content

This collection pertains only to Chester Williams' time as Dean.  For his presidential records, see his presidential collection page. This collection is organized into the following twelve series:

  1. Correspondence
  2. Department Files
  3. Curriculum Records
  4. Funds/Scholarships/Gifts
  5. Special Events
  6. Subject Files
  7. External Files
  8. Writings
  9. Concert Programs
  10. Photographs
  11. Scrapbooks/Newspaper clippings
  12. Musical Compositions

The Correspondence series is divided into three subseries: General Correspondence; NEC Correspondence; and Personal Correspondence. The General correspondence spans the years 1961-2001, with the majority dating from the 1990s. The NEC correspondence consists of letter and memoranda to/from NEC faculty members and administrators. The personal correspondence is split into two folders, the first covers the years 1937, 1966-1986 and the second the years 1988-2003. Some of this personal correspondence is from NEC alumni, including Mildred Miller and Barbara Dinger Jacobsen. Enclosed with Miller’s correspondence are three press photos of herself inscribed to Williams.

The Administrative Department series includes only three folders consisting of materials from the Admissions Office, the Health Services Department, and the Libraries.

The Curriculum Records include files concerning academic policies, the doctoral program at NEC, the Kodaly program, the Orff-Schulwerk program, the NEC Summer School and the music theory department.

There are several folders concerning various loan funds, scholarship funds, and gifts. Many of these files contain student loan agreement forms.  There is also one folder which documents non-monetary donations to the Conservatory.

Two of the Special Event files document NEC Commencements primarily during Williams’ tenure as Dean Emeritus. These files include planning materials and correspondence concerning honorary degree candidates. The first of these includes materials from the 1958 and 1976-1992 Commencements.  The second continues with the years 1994-1999.  The other special event folders contain papers relating to two occasions in Chester Williams’ career: his 25th anniversary at NEC (1971) and a tribute to him upon his formal retirement as Dean in 1976. Additional correspondence relating to the 25th Anniversary tribute for Williams can be found in the Scrapbook series.

Dean Williams’ Subject Files contain much historical information concerning a number of topics. Included is information regarding the instruments owned by or donated to NEC, the Carr Organ room, NEC’s collection of paintings/other artwork, the Voice of Firestone Collection. This series also contains Faculty Protocol lists compiled by Williams, which document by year when faculty members started teaching at NEC. There are also a few other historical lists including one of honorary doctorate recipients and another of Chadwick medal recipients. Also contained in this series is one folder of information about a few NEC alumni (including Christopheren Nomura, Elwyn Adams, Joseph Roche, ; biographical information about Williams; materials relating to sororities / fraternities at NEC, and the Vuillaume Violin Competition.

The External Files series consists of materials relating to or correspondence with organizations out side of NEC in which Williams was involved.  Among the organizations covered are the Association of Independent Colleges of Music, the National Association of Schools of Music, the Fenway Group, the Institute of International Education, and the Harvard Musical Association.

There are four folders in the Writings series. The first contains notes, drafts, and a final copy of the paper “The Woodwind Instruments” that Williams wrote while he was a student at Harvard University. The second folder contains the Musical examples booklet and the teacher’s manual (written by Williams) for “Understanding Music: The Wiscasset Music Listening Course, Section 5.” There is a compact disc that accompanies this teacher’s manual.  Also found in this series is a complete typewritten draft of Williams’ book, Indeed, Music, which was published in 1989. The last folder in this series contains speeches, tributes, recollections primarily written by Williams. These include tributes to Miklos Schwalb, Lucille Monaghan, Lorna Cooke de Varon, William Hibbard (Outstanding Alumni award), Shelby Harrington (registrar), Mildred Collins (Business manager), Roger Voisin, Leta Whitney, J. Stanley Ballinger and Larry Lesser. Also included is the text of Williams’ talk given at the 100th anniversary of the Beneficent Society, Founders Day remarks (1992), a Preparatory School graduation address, an outline of Frederick Converse’s career at NEC, and Williams’ recollections of events that had taken place in Jordan Hall. Lastly this folder contains tributes to Wallace Goodrich and Arthur Foote written by Homer Humphrey.    

The Concert programs series includes several folders of programs from various parts of Williams’ life. In addition to concert and commencement programs from NEC, there are also programs from Grinnell College (1929-1936), Harvard University (1937), Cornell College (1939-1945), Wellesley College (1955), and the Community Chorus of Wayland, Weston, and Sudbury (1949-1958).  Additional concert programs can be found in the Scrapbook series.

There are two folders of photographs in the Dean Williams collection.  Subjects include: Williams, Peter Row, Gunther Schuller, Harrison Keller, Raymond Jackson, Coretta Scott King, McHenry Boatwright, Scatman Crothers, The Bordeleaus ensemble, Cooper Drum and Bugle Corps, 1935, Harvey Phillips, Ivana Themmen, Lorraine DiSimone, Flossie Dunn, Laurence Lesser, Charles Munch, Howard Hanson, and Lorna Cooke deVaron

The Scrapbook series consists of three scrapbooks and one guestbook. The largest of the scrapbooks contains programs dating from 1932-1938. A smaller scrapbook from 1953 primarily includes correspondence to Williams.  A folder contains the contents of what was another scrapbook, containing congratulatory correspondence to Dean Williams on the occasion of his 25th Anniversary at NEC. There is also a guestbook containing the signatures of the attendees of the release party for Williams’ book, Indeed Music. Finally there is a small collection of newspaper clippings included in this series, mostly dating from the 1930s.

There are two musical compositions in this collection, both dedicated to Chet Williams. The first is photocopy of a manuscript for the Duet for Viola and French Horn by B. (Betsy) Warren. A cassette recording accompanies the music. The second work in this collection is Numina V….(1988): A Williams Fanfare by Thomas Oboe Lee. This copy is inscribed by the composer.


Container list

Box 1

Series 1: Correspondence

Folder 1 - Correspondence, General

Folder 2 - Correspondence, NEC

Folder 3 - Correspondence, Personal 1937; 1966-1986

Folder 4 - Correspondence, Personal, 1988-2003 and undated

Series 2: Administrative Department Files

Folder 5 – Admissions

Folder 6 - Health Services

Folder 7 – Libraries

Series 3: Curriculum Records

Folder 8 – Academic Policies

Folder 9 – Doctoral program

Folder 10 – Kodaly

Folder 11 - Music education – Orff Schulwerk concentration

Folder 12 - Music Theory

Folder 13 - Summer School

Series 4: Funds/Scholarships/Gifts

Folder 14 - Phillip R. Allen Fund

Folder 15 - Frank Huntington Beebe Fund

Folder 16 - Dean Williams Discretionary Fund (Dean’s Scholarship and Loan Fund)

Folder 17 - Alvin T. and Viola D. Fuller Fund

Folder 18 - Charles Hayden Foundation

Folder 19 - Henry M. Rogers Fund

Folder 20 - Charles O. Sink Memorial Fund

Folder 21 - Charles Irwin Travelli Fund

Folder 22 - Warren Benevolent Fund

Folder 23 - Scholarship Funds, Other

Folder 24 - Gifts, monetary

Folder 25 - Gifts, non-monetary

Series 5: Special Events

Folder 26 - Commencements, 1958; 1976-1993

Folder 27 - Commencements, 1994-2000

Folder 28 - Chester Williams, 25th Anniversary at NEC (1971)

Folder 29 - Chet Williams Tribute, 1976, Correspondence

Folder 30 – Chet Williams Tribute, Other materials

Series 6:  Subject Files

Folder 31 - Alumni Materials

Folder 32 - Biographical information

Folder 33 - Faculty Protocol Lists

Folder 34 - Other Historical Lists and Information

Folder 35 - Instruments

Folder 36 - Instruments, Carr Organ

Folder 37 – Miscellaneous

Folder 38 - NEC

Folder 39 - Paintings/artwork

Folder 40 - Sororities/Fraternities

Folder 41 - Voice of Firestone Collection

Folder 42 - Vuillaume Violin Competition

Series 7: External Files

Folder 43 - Association of Independent Colleges of Music (AICOM)

Folder 44 - American Society for the Development of Music

Folder 45 - CIPSOM

Folder 46 - Fenway Group

Folder 47 - Harvard Musical Association

Folder 48 - Institute of International Education

Folder 49 - Mass. Dept of Education

Folder 50 - Mass. Federation of Music Clubs

Folder 51 - NASM

Folder 52 - NEASC

Folder 53 - U.S. Department of the Army

Folder 54 - U. S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare

Folder 55 - Young Audiences

Series 8: Writings

Folder 56 - The Woodwind Instruments

Folder 57 - Understanding Music

Folder 58 - Indeed, Music

Folder 59 - Speeches/Tributes/Recollections

Box 2

Series 9: Concert Programs

Folder 1 - Programs, Grinnell College

Folder 2 - Programs, Harvard University

Folder 3 - Programs, Cornell College

Folder 4 - Programs, Wellesley College

Folder 5 - Programs, Community Chorus of Wayland, Weston, and Sudbury

Folder 6 - Programs, NEC Concerts

Folder 7 - Programs, NEC Commencements and Steiner Inauguration

Folder 8 - Programs, Fox Hill Village

Folder 9 - Programs, Other

Box 3

Series 10: Photographs

Folder 1 – Photographs

Folder  2 - Photographs

Series 11: Scrapbooks/Clippings

Folder 3 – Scrapbook (loose), 25th Anniversary at NEC

Folder 4 – Newspaper Clippings

Scrapbook, 1929-1945 (Green)

Scrapbook, 1953 (Black)

Guestbook, for release party of Indeed, Music

Series 12

Folder 5 – Musical compositions