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Coolidge, Elizabeth Sprague

Coolidge, Elizabeth Sprague

Born in 1864


Inducted in 2000

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge inherited management ability from her father, who moved to Chicago from Vermont and founded a wholesale grocery business. Coolidge’s life of philanthropy began immediately following the losses of many family members. In 1916 she became the benefactor of the string quartet begun by Austrian violinist Hugo Kortschak, which would become the Berkshire Quartet. Coolidge founded the South Mountain concerts outside Pittsfield, in the Berkshire Mountains, to be a summer home for the quartet. This she called the Berkshire Festival. Coolidge was inspired to seek institutional affiliation for her endowment of chamber music so that the gift would be perpetuated beyond her lifetime. Her introduction to the Library of Congress came through Ernest Bloch, a mutual friend to Coolidge and Carl Engel, the newly appointed Chief of the Music Division of the Library of Congress. In November of the same year, Coolidge paid for the construction of an auditorium for the Library of Congress, to become the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Auditorium. The Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Medal for Eminent Services to Chamber Music was inaugurated in 1932. Later, The Coolidge Foundation Program for Contemporary Chamber Music was established to lend scores and parts of contemporary music to enable performing groups to broaden their repertories. She paved the way for other private endowments of the Library, of which there are now 150; 20 in the Music Division. Honorary degrees were awarded to Coolidge by Mount Holyoke, Smith College, Yale, Mills College, the University of California and Pomona. She was inducted into France’s Legion of Honor in 1931, received a key to the City of Frankfurt, and in 1935 was awarded the Order of the Crown of Belgium, and in 1937, the Order of Leopold, King of Belgium.