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The May Esther Peterson Thompson Collection

Identifier: MSS-0021

Scope and Contents

The May Esther Peterson Thompson Collection is divided into two sections, personal papers and sheet music. The personal papers include correspondence to and from May Peterson and Col. Thompson, relatives, composers, friends, and her lawyer. The collection also contains recital and concert programs; travel brochures from Europe and America; recital planning and repertoire ideas; advertisements for Peterson’s performances and recordings; newspaper clippings and articles related to May Peterson and Col. Thompson; and various ephemera including business and calling cards, greeting cards, and horoscope cards. There is also a scrapbook of early performances dating back to 1896.

The sheet music collection contains mostly American art songs published in the 1920’s but also includes art songs from the standard classical voice repertoire, folk songs, sacred songs, choral music, song cycles, pieces for organ and a book of cadenzas for arias. The sheet music collection was housed at Southwestern University’s School of Fine Arts for many years. When it was transferred to the library, some classical pieces were removed for cataloging in the general collection. The remaining pieces were sent to Special Collections where her personal papers were held. The popular sheet music also complemented the Carrie Minette Hickerson Sheet Music Collection housed in Special Collections.


  • 1896-1953

Biographical / Historical

May Esther Peterson Thompson, an opera singer with an international career, was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where her father was a Methodist minister. Her earliest musical performances were singing for her father’s services in church. After beginning formal musical studies at the Chicago Conservatory of Music, Peterson traveled to Europe when she was in her late teens to pursue a career in opera. She struggled financially for many years, sometimes living on bread and milk. Eventually, for health reasons, she moved to France where she was asked to learn the extremely difficult title role in Manon. Her performance was critically acclaimed, and in 1918, she signed a contract to sing soprano with the Metropolitan Opera Company. She also had a contract with the Vocalion record label and gave radio concerts. She famously declared that she avoided romance because of the demands of her career. In 1921, she apparently had a change of heart when Col. Ernest Thompson escorted her to a party in Amarillo, Texas, where she was performing. Thompson was a prominent lawyer, businessman and politician who ran for Governor and served in several political offices. They married in 1924, and Peterson, now known as May Esther Peterson Thompson, soon retired from the opera and relocated to Texas where she continued to give concerts in local venues. On October 8, 1952, she died of natural causes at their summer house in Colorado. Information obtained from:


4.08 Linear Feet (Personal Papers)

3.75 Linear Feet (Sheet Music)

Language of Materials


Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the SU Special Collections & Archives Repository

1001 East University Avenue
Georgetown TX 78626 United States