The following is taken from Women of Courage, Ten North Country Pioneers in Profile, written and produced by the St. Lawrence County, NY Branch of the American Association of University Women (1989).
The Faculty History Project documents faculty and staff members who have been associated with The Crane School of Music since it's beginning. This project is part of a larger effort to prepare a complete history of the Crane School of Music.
The first music teachers for public schools in the United States were graduated from Potsdam Normal School thanks to the efforts of Julia Etta Crane. The life story of this dedicated educator, singer, conductor and shrewd business woman makes fascinating reading.
Julia Crane, the eldest of six children, was born in Potsdam, NY on May 19, 1855. Her father was a lumberman who operated a mill in Hewittville near Potsdam. He was described as a large, burly man who showed great support to his children. Her mother was a warm, loving woman from whom Julia learned her gracious manners and her ability to see the best in everyone she met.
Julia's main love from early childhood was music. She learned to play the piano and was fascinated with bands, concerts, operas and singing groups. People described her as a talented musician.
When Julia was 14 she enrolled in the State Normal and Training School in Potsdam. After graduation in 1874, she taught school for three years in District 8. Each summer during this period she traveled to Boston, where she took courses in music education.
In 1877, Julia moved to Shippensburg, PA where she taught music, but returned to Potsdam in 1880 and opened a vocal school on Elm Street. It was during this time that she went to England to study under the talented and well known singer Manuel Garcia who also taught the famous Jenny Lind, the "Swedish Nightingale." She was constantly trying to discover ways by which students could get the best music education possible.
She was invited in 1884 to join the faculty of the Potsdam Normal School. She was delighted at the opportunity to try her own ideas and theories of teaching music. Two years later she founded the now famous Crane School of Music, then called the Crane Normal Institute of Music, which was located in her studio on Elm Street.
Before long Julia was writing helpful instructional books for teaching music in primary grades through college level. She formed an orchestra, choral clubs, as well as other singing groups. The music school was growing and she found a need for more space and more people to assist her, but the Normal School was slow in meeting her needs. Only after threatening to sell the Institute to Syracuse University in 1909 did she receive more classroom space. Four years later an assistant was hired to help her set up instruction in instrumental music.
Finances were always a problem for Julia Crane. In the 1920s she petitioned the Julliard Foundation to purchase her school. In 1922 she appeared before the Board of the Normal School to get the State Legislature to purchase the Crane Institute. She asked a price of $20,000 to incorporate the Crane Institute with the Normal School under the Department of Education. The bill was brought before the State Legislature and defeated.
In 1923 she was granted a leave of absence due to ill health. She died unexpectedly June 11, 1923 in her sister's home at 8 Lawrence Avenue, Potsdam. Thus ended a life dedicated to improving music education in the country. She is buried in Bayside Cemetery at Potsdam, NY.
Her death had local and national impact. Her will offered the State of New York first choice to purchase her school. In case of the State's rejection, the school would be offered to any private buyer who would carry on her work. After two attempts the legislature passed a bill to purchase the school in 1926. Her curriculum for music teacher education had been approved in 1924 by the State Education Department. The class of 1927 was the first to graduate from the Crane Department of Music of Potsdam State Normal School.
Thanks to the work of Julia Etta Crane and the institution she founded, the North Country and the nation today continues to enjoy a rich musical tradition.
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