Finding Aids

Thompson, May Esther Peterson Papers

Manuscript Collection Number:
0021, 0044 (2013 Accession)
May Esther Peterson Thompson, 1880-1952
The May Esther Peterson Thompson Collection
Data Span:
4.08 linear feet personal papers, 3.75 feet sheet music
English, French, German

  • 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:

  • 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.

  • Box.Folder

    1.1 Correspondence- Personal, 1915- Includes correspondence of May Peterson and Col. Ernest Thompson: Introductory letters, Correspondence from friends, relatives and attorneys, American Free Milk Relief for Italy, telegrams, Handwritten correspondence, Speech given by Thompson, Chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas, Engagement/Wedding Congratulations, Wedding Expenses, Bill from Florist, Telegram from the S.S Leviathon.
    1.2 Correspondence- Career, 1919- Correspondence pertaining to musical career: letters from Composers; Scheduling.
    1.3 Correspondence- Performances, 1921- Correspondence pertaining to performances May Peterson gave, most about her radio concerts.
    1.4 Tax Return and Stock Certificate, 1925- Tax return for the calendar year 1925, Sample Stock Certificate for the Amarillo Building Company.
    1.5 Wedding Invitations, 1923- A Set of Wedding Invitations for the June 29th Wedding of May Peterson to Ernest Thompson.
    1.6 Business, Calling Cards, n.d.- Business , Calling Cards: Dressmakers in Paris, La Contess Jean de Castellane, Goldsmith and Phillips physiotherapy, Cartier, Ivory Manufacturer G. Schreiber, Nain Bleu toy store.
    1.7 Ephemera: Post Cards, Seasonal Cards Etc, n.d.- Postcards, Seasonal Cards, Monthly Horoscope Cards, Place settings from luncheons, Menu, Small Calendar.
    1.8 Ephemera, n.d.- Spare Envelopes, Drawing of Lindinbergh, Tyrell Antiseptic inhaler brochure, Map of Paris.

    2.1 Programs- Recitals/Concerts Performed, n.d.- Programs for May Peterson Performances.
    2.2 Programs- Recitals/Concerts Performed, n.d.- Programs from recitals given by May Peterson.
    2.3 Programs- Recitals/Concerts Performed, n.d.- Programs from recitals given by May Peterson.
    2.4 Diary. January - December, 1925.- Brief descriptions of travel, performances, and daily activities. Includes description of Dan Moody’s January 19 inauguration.

    3.1 Programs- Recitals/Concerts Attended, n.d.- Programs from recitals attended by May Peterson.
    3.2 Programs- Recitals/Concerts Attended, n.d.- Programs from recitals/concerts attended.
    3.3 Programs- Recitals/Concerts Attended, n.d.- Programs from Recitals Attended by May Peterson.
    3.4. Repertoire Ideas/ Recital Planning, n.d.- Various clippings of recital programs from magazines with possible repertoire marked. Scrap paper with notes about song order for recitals.
    3.5 Musical Magazines/Booklets, n.d.- ” The Forward”- Music Number, “The Colony Chronicle”, “The National Federation of Music Clubs”- Official Bulletin, Musical Advance, Pavlowa Booklet, “My Lady’s Bouquet of Beautiful Songs”, Chappell’s Famous Ballad Successes, “Favorite American Songs and Their Singers”, L’opera Comique season book.
    3.6 Record Catalogues, 1923.- Vocalion Red Record Catalogue, Brunswick Record Catalogue, Victor Records Catalogue 1923.
    3.7 Col. Ernest Thompson News Clippings, 1922.- News clippings dealing with Ernest Thompson, pertaining to: The Amarillo Hotel, the American Legion, the Panhandle Hotel, the Amarillo Building, Thompson as a Statesman.

    4.1 Scrapbook, 1896.- Very Interesting- A scrapbook of May Peterson’s early performances, includes opera performances in Paris.
    4.2 Travel Brochures/Booklets- Europe, 1923.- German Brochures- Billed Albums (3), Kothenburger hausfpruche, Die kolher Woche, Hotel zum eifenhut. American Women’s Club of Paris Bulletin 1923, Cunard Line Brochure.
    4.3 Travel Brochures- American, n.d.- Travel Brochures from locations in America- Palo Duro Cannon, Harding Ranch, Yellowstone Park, Old Oregon Trail Guidebook, Carlsbad Caverns, Highway map of Idaho, Yellowstone Nat’l Park road map.
    4.4 Amarillo/Texas Booklets, 1924.- Booklets pertaining to Amarillo and Texas: Amarillo Building Groundbreaking invitations, Amarillo’s Blue Book, Amarillo as a convention city pamphlet, Senate Journal, “Texas Commercial News” article about Panhandle, Hotel Amarillo Book, “The American Region Weekly”, “The Texas Special Magazine” September 1924, Amarillo Board of City Development brochure of “Beautiful homes”; advertisement of Amarillo as a “city of homes and refinement and a center of culture” with photograph of businesses, homes, city facilities, also has a letter written by Ernest Thompson to “Miss Peterson” on the blank side of the brochure.

    5.1 May Peterson Advertisements, n.d.- May Peterson Promotional Posters.
    5.2 Music Articles., n.d.- Articles from Magazines and Newspapers about Music.
    5.3 May Peterson News Clippings, 1914.- News Clippings about May Peterson: Growing Career, Reports from Paris during World War I, Engagement/ Wedding Stories, American Legion Performance, Music Festival, Radio Broadcasts, Injury.

    6.1 Opera Photographs, n.d.- Photographs of May Peterson, posing in 3 different operatic roles.
    6.2.-6.7 Recitals given, 1918-1923- Programs collected from recitals/appearances by May Peterson.

    2013 Accession:

    7.1 Correspondence- Personal, 1910-1913, 1934-1937- Handwritten letters and post cards.
    7.2 Correspondence- Personal, 1952-1953- Materials related to her later life and death: letters, news clippings, funeral oration.
    7.3 Memorabilia- Notebook, 1952- Handwritten entries, biographical information and performances of May Peterson.
    7.4 Memorabilia- Passport, 1923- May Peterson’s United States of America passport, issued on May 16, 1923.
    7.5.Photographs- Miscellaneous, n.d.- 
    7.6 Photographs, n.d.- 6 different photographs of May Peterson
    7.7. Printed matter- Promotional Materials, n.d.- Printed Christmas note cards, small promotional posters autographed May Peterson.
    7.8 Printed matter- programs, 1914-1915, n.d.
    7.9 Printed matter- programs, 1913-1917, n.d.

    8. Sound recordings, 1916-1921, n.d.- 10 inch recordings of May Peterson by Aeolian Company and hand-labeled test records, some original sleeves.

    9. Sound recordings, 1916-1921, n.d.- 12 inch recordings of May Peterson by Aeolian Company and hand-labeled test records, some original sleeves.

    FF17 Printed matter- posters, map, 1904-1912- Posters advertising May Peterson’s performances, 1904 map of railway routes in Germany and nearby countries.