September 11, 1920
Page 1

Quaker City Amazed On Learning Identity of Man Who Kept Orchestra On Its Feet During War Years—Story Made Public in Advance Sheets of Editor’s Biography to be Published This Month—Other Philanthropies of Similar Nature Disclosed

PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 4. —The “unknown donor” whose benefactions of a quarter of a million dollars literally financed the Philadelphia Orchestra over the lean “war years” when musical and other domestic enterprises naturally suffered on account of the demands made on the cheerful givers and liberal citizens by the numerous war philanthropies, was Edward William Bok. Musical Philadelphia, astounded at the revelation of the identity of the mysterious anonymous benefactor, who has been thanked for his generosity by formal minutes at each annual meeting since 1916, has not yet recovered from its surprise and also its chagrin at having been such a poor “guesser.” The secret came out through receipt in Philadelphia of advance proofs of a noteworthy autobiography, “The Americanization of Edward Bok,” which Charles Scribner’s Sons are to publish this month, the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival on America’s hospitable and hopeful shores of an immigrant boy from the Netherlands, whose industry and intelligence during half a century has evolved Edward William Bok, journalist, editor, publicist, citizen, American in the best sense of the word.
One of the chapters of his autobiography is rich in material for the music lover, giving Mr. Bok’s reminiscences of his musical evolution from a much occupied business man with a liking for music but no special knowledge or aptitude for it, to a connoisseur of the best in symphonic and operatic compositions and performances. Mrs. Bok from the early days of the Philadelphia Orchestra was interested in its development and through her, both her father and husband became interested in its development into a great community organization rich in inspiration and fertile in public culture. Both Mr. Curtis and Mr. Bok became members of the Board of Directors and on occasion officers of the Orchestra Association.
Mr. Bok describes his study of the financing of the orchestra mainly through the large contributions of a small group of public spirited persons and smaller sums from less opulent music lovers, as a supplement to the annual subscriptions and seat sale, which by no means covered the yearly budget of expenses. He saw that permanence depended on a sounder business arrangement minus annual appeals for footing the deficit and superhuman endeavors of the ever-faithful women’s committees in Philadelphia and its environs. He felt that the true solution of the problem lay in the establishment of an endowment fund, deeming this better than the current group footing of deficits each year or subsidy by a single individual, as in the New York Symphony and the Boston Symphony. He therefore developed a plan, with the co-operation of Alexander Van Rensselaer, and one other director, who with Mr. Bok are signatories of a trust agreement that reposes in the vaults of the Orchestra Association in the Pennsylvania Building. These two men were the only participants in the secret, not even Dr. Leopold Stokowski, conductor, Arthur Judson, business manager, Andrew Wheeler, secretary, or any other official or director of the organization having an inkling as to the identity of the benefactor who was solving the financial problem of the organization.
Mr. Bok uses the third person, impersonal style utilized by Henry Adams in his “Autobiography.” He says in part: “The public support given orchestras greatly interested Mr. Bok. He was surprised to find that every symphony orchestra had an annual deficit. This he immediately attributed to faulty management. But in investigating the whole question he learned that a symphony orchestra could not ·possibly operate at a profit or on a self-sustaining basis because of the change of programs, the incessant rehearsals required, and. the limited number of times it could actually play within a contracted season. An annual deficit was inevitable.
“As already stated he did not think the system in vogue of having a small group defray the ·annual deficit was a sound business policy. It made the Orchestra ‘a necessarily exclusive organization, maintained by a few, and it gave out this impression to the general public, which felt that it did not belong, whereas the true relation of public and orchestra was that of mutual dependence. The plans of financing the Boston and New York Philharmonic he thought even a worse system, since it excluded the general public, making the orchestra dependent on the continued interest and life of a single individual. This does not in any way depreciate the fine generosity of the magnanimous donors who have supported these great-organizations, but the wisdom and foresight of Mr. Bok are revealed in what has happened in the case of the Boston Symphony, owing first to the Muck episode and then to Major Higginson’s death.
“Public participation and popular sharing in the maintenance was therefore the keynote of Mr. Bok’s idea for a great community organization devoted to the highest in music. But it needed both initiation and background, and these he set himself to supply, through the arrangement made, as described, with Mr. Van Rensselaer. The main feature of this was to provide a permanent endowment fund for the orchestra and he himself volunteered to cover the annual deficits for five years on the provision that his anonymity would be respected absolutely and that the money hitherto contributed to foot the deficits should be collected as usual and set aside for the basis of the endowment. The annual deficits ran from $50,000 to $60,000 per year. He guaranteed to foot this if the orchestra’s friends would in five years supply an endowment fund of $500,000. As a matter of fact, the joint contributions of the customary subscribing friends of the organization, the donations of new people interested in the movement with such a goal in sight, and the efforts of the several branches of the women’s committee resulted in the collection of $800,000 before the end of the five-year period, when America’s entrance into the world war brought an end to the activity of the movement.
Launches Endowment Drive
“In the autumn of 1919,” describing the outcome in Mr. Bok’s own analysis, “a city-wide campaign for an addition of one million dollars to the endowment fund was launched. The amount was not only secured but oversubscribed. Thus, instead of a guarantee fund contributed by 1400 subscribers with the necessity of annual collection, an endowment fund of $1,800,000 contributed by 14,000 persons has been secured and the Philadelphia Orchestra has been promoted from a privately owned organization to a public institution in which 14,000 residents of Philadelphia feel a proprietary interest. It has become in fact, as well as in name, ‘our orchestra.’”
The deficit for the four years since the offer was made, cost Mr. Bok $200,000 and in addition it is known that he contributed more than $60,000 to the endowment fund drive. It is also understood that he feels himself under obligation to meet whatever deficit accrues, on account of higher railroad fares, increased salaries, etc., this coming season, as it falls within the five-year period, even though the income from the endowment will be available for the first time. Higher costs all along the line make it problematical whether the income will suffice to cover all expenses.
During the war years Mr. Bok created a trust fund of $250,000 by which the Girard Trust Company held this money absolutely for use in meeting the orchestra deficits and from which Mr. Bok himself could not draw a cent for other than Orchestra needs and purposes. He thus protected the orchestra even from any unforeseen decline in his own fortunes.
Saves Academy of Music
The orchestra endowment fund is by no means all Mr. Bok’s sole claim to altruism toward the city of his adoption, Only a few months ago when it looked as if the historic Academy of Music would be sold and the Philadelphia Orchestra lose its auditorium and when the sale of the Metropolitan Opera House left the Philadelphia opera season without a domicile Mr. Bok organized a committee which obtained a five-year lease on the house which will for that period at least house the orchestral, operatic and concert season of Philadelphia.
On Jan. 1 Mr. Bok, after more than thirty years incumbency, retired as editor of The Ladies’ Home Journal, with the avowed purpose of devoting the rest of his life to “play” after fifty years of strenuous toil. The orchestra, the opera, the Academy of Music, besides other nonmusical philanthropies—this represents the Bok idea of play. Everybody in Philadelphia is wishing him a good time. As for himself, he seems to be enjoying himself·a lot! Thank you! ·— W. R. M.


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