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Eloise Owens Strothers papers


Held at: African American Museum in Philadelphia [Contact Us]701 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA, 19106

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

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Eloise Owens Strothers (1920-1991) was a Philadelphia municipal employee, labor activist, and singer known for over two decades as the "Grand Songbird of Elkdom."

Eloise Strothers was born in Philadelphia in 1920 to Professor Frank V. and Florence C. Franklin. She was the sister of Jack T. Franklin, the noted photojournalist and photographer known for his images of 1960s Civil Rights events. Eloise married three times, most recently to Charles O. Strothers, a District of Philadelphia school teacher. She attended Simon Gratz High School and then Penn State University, where she focused on labor studies. She received her musical education from the Ornstein School of Music, Philadelphia Musical Academy, University of Illinois, Delaware State College, Southern University, and the University of Indiana.

Eloise Owens Strothers was supported by and was a member of many organizations devoted to Civil Rights and education. She was very active in the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World (IBPOE of W), serving as Grand Ruler of the Elks, Pride of North Philadelphia Temple No. 657. She was a member of Temple Divine Lover Church (at 1516 W. Girard Avenue in Philadelphia). Strothers was affiliated with the Coalition of 100 Black Women of Pennsylvania, the Afro-American Historical Museum (now the African American Museum in Philadelphia), the Utilities Emergency Committee, and the United Negro College Fund. She was appointed to the Mayor's Commission on Women by Philadelphia Mayors William Green and Wilson Goode.

Eloise worked for the City of Philadelphia for over 30 years, employed in the departments of Revenue, Collections, and Water until her retirement in 1985. She was deeply involved with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), serving on the Executive Board of Local 696, a leader in District Council 33. Strothers was a founder (in 1979) and former chairperson of the Concerned Women of District Council No. 33, AFSCME. She was a member of the Affirmative Action and Education & Research committees.

An accomplished musician, Eloise was the National Soloist of the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World (IBPOE of W); soloist-lecturer for Yale University, Wells College, and other schools throughout the United States, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico; and appeared on several television shows. She was affiliated with the Fellowship Choir, the New York Playhouse, the WFLN Radio Chorus, the Repertory Opera Company, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Dra-Mu company. She worked with many notable musicians including Eugene Ormandy, Leonard Bernstein, Sir Thomas Beecham, and Duke Ellington.

Chronology of Eloise Owens Strothers' Life: 1920 Birth 1950 Won scholarship from the National Freedom Day Association attending the Ornstein School of Music, Philadelphia, performing as soloist at the 1950 Commencement ceremonies, Academy of Music 1951 Operatic debut in Carmen with the Dra-Mu Opera Company, in the role of Frasquita 1953 Christmas Cotillion singing "Cantique De Noel" 1954 Town Hall recital, accompanied by W. Russell Johnson, held by The Greater Philadelphia Press Club 1955 Soloist at Inaugural Ball for Governor George M. Leader in Zemba Mosque, Harrisburg 1956 Salaried soloist at First A.M.E. Zion Church of Brooklyn, NY (seems to have continued for nine years) 1956 Sang role of "Aida" with Windsor Ontario Symphony Orchestra in a concert version of the opera in Jackson Park, Windsor, Canada 1956-1957 Sang with the original Philadelphia Orchestra Chorus, under the baton of Eugene Ormandy, Franz Allers, Sir Thomas Beecham, and Leonard Bernstein 1958 Vocal artist during National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM) convention in Philadelphia 1959 Sang at inaugural ceremonies for Genevieve Blatt Secretary of Internal Affairs for the State of Pennsylvania 1961 Made official soloist for Grand Lodge of the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World, "Grand Song Bird" 1961 Appeared as soloist at the 52nd National convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) circa 1947 Guest Soloist for 50th Anniversary of Puerto Rico, San Juan, given by Mayoress Dona Felisa Rincon De Gautier 1964 Soloist at Lincoln University Alumni Banquet 1966 Performing with Duke Ellington's Sacred Music Concert, both in Brooklyn, and in Philadelphia 1968-1970 Cast member in many local performances of "God's Trombones," musical play based on work by James Weldon Johnson 1974 Soloist on tribute program to the memory of Raymond L. Smith 1981-1985 Founder and Chairperson of Concerned Women's Committee of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 33 1985-1988 Member on Mayor's Commission on Women 1991 Death

This collection of over 300 items includes programs, photographs (some taken by Strothers's brother, Jack Franklin), newspaper reviews, performance announcements, letters, telegrams, and cards. The materials largely document Strothers's career as a soloist lyric soprano (which began in 1951 and continued into the 1980s) and interest in musical performance; there is less about her labor activism, Civil Rights involvement, and community service.

The collection includes a large number of theater programs from events featuring African American performers at major concert halls in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C., as well as programs from local theaters and companies in Philadelphia. A script and lecture notes from a lecture/concert Strothers gave on African American Music History is also in the collection. There are some programs from shows in which Strothers performed, as well as some photographs and clippings of her performances. A quantity of materials relates to the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World (IBPOE of W), including programs, photographs, and papers; materials relating to Strothers' appointment in 1962 as National Song Bird for the Elks; and materials relating to the Elks Education Department Fez Club, which was founded by Eloise's mother, Florence Franklin, in 1948. There are some other items from Strothers's family, notably some photographs by her brother, photographer Jack T. Franklin. Additionally, the collection includes correspondence (mostly thank-you notes and invitations), 1950-1972, sheet music, and several awards.

Gift of Eloise Owens Strothers, 1986 (AAMP.86.064).

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2012-2014 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact African American Museum in Philadelphia directly for more information.

African American Museum in Philadelphia
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Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Sarah Leu through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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