Oliver Ditson Society

Fund for the Relief of Needy Musicians

The Oliver Ditson Society for the Relief of Needy Musicians was named for its benefactor, Oliver Ditson. The following is a brief biographical sketch of Ditson:

Oliver Ditson was a bookstore worker turned entrepreneur who was a partner in a music-publishing business that started in Boston in 1835, gained national prominence under his personal direction in the middle years of the 19th century, and had a great deal of success well into the 20th century. Oliver Ditson & Co. had several locations as it expanded, starting out on Washington Street and moving down to Tremont Street near Boylston. Its headquarters during its final years of independence (1917-1930) was the Oliver Ditson Building at 178-179 Tremont, according to street directories of the time.

Ditson didn't stick to publishing solely. In 1861, according to a recent article in the American Flute Guild by Susan Berdahl, the company set up a subsidiary firm (John C. Haynes & Co.) that made and repaired musical instruments in its offices at 150 Tremont St. Ditson died in December 1888 and soon after, the company, including the Haynes division, began operating under the name Oliver Ditson Co., with John C. Haynes as its chief executive. In 1894, Haynes established the Boehm flute factory as part of the old Haynes section -- an operation which, however short-lived, had a very considerable impact on that industry in the United States, according to Berdahl. By early in the 20th century, the Haynes division was no longer making instruments; it had become a retail store selling pianos and instruments under the Ditson name. In 1907, Charles Healy Ditson, Oliver Ditson's eldest son, succeeded Haynes as president. He died in 1929 and the Oliver Ditson Co. was purchased by Theodore Presser Co. of Philadelphia in 1931. In its corporate history section, Presser traces its origins to 1783, when Batelle's Book Store, a predecessor to Oliver Ditson & Co., began a music publishing business in Boston.

Oliver Ditson Society: In his will dated December 1886, Oliver Ditson left $25,000 in trust to Charles Ditson, B.J. Lang, and John K. Paine, to invest and manage; the net income was to be used for the relief of poor and needy musicians. These three men, along with Charles F. Smith, A. Parker Browne, John C. Haynes, and R.E. Demmon, formed the corporation, Oliver Ditson Society for the Relief of Needy Musicians in 1889. In 1968, the Oliver Ditson Society petitioned for its dissolution as a corporation with assets going to G. Wallace Woodworth, Francis C. Welch, and Elliot Forbes, who wanted to use this money to create the Oliver Ditson Trust Fund.  Apparently this did not occur and there was discussion of merging with or joining with other funds for the purposes of providing financial assistance to student musicians. Two possibilities considered were partnering with the Weyman Trust or transferring the governance of the fund to the Harvard Musical Association. In 1980, this fund was dissolved and its assets were given to New England Conservatory to establish the "Oliver Ditson Scholarship Fund for Needy Musicians."

Physical description

This collection is housed in two folders and consists solely of paper records.


This collection of materials about the Oliver Ditson Society has been in storage at NEC. Most likely, the materials were retained by Chester Williams (who served as both President and Dean at NEC).


Access to the Oliver Ditson Fund for the Relief of Needy Musicians collection is 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: Oliver Ditson Fund for the Relief of Needy Musicians Collection, New England Conservatory Archives, Boston, MA.

This collection is organized chronologically into two folders: 1. 1966-1975; 2. 1980-1981. Included in this collection are correspondence, financial/investment records, and court records pertaining to the Oliver Ditson Society.  The second folder primarily relates to the transfer of assets from the Society to New England Conservatory.