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Student Exhibit: Elise Fellows White

written by Chelse Fagan

image of Elise Fellows White

Elise Fellows White dressed for a performance. Mrs. White performed for many years on the concert stage In Europe, North America and Canada.

Early in her life, Elise Fellows was a violinist who traveled all over the world to share her music. Later she was a poet and a writer and wrote a chapter in the book Skowhegan on the Kennebec.

The story of Elise begins here in Skowhegan on November 22, 1874. was a very talented young violinist and attended her first concert when she was five years old. She graduated from Skowhegan Area High School worked at Colby (1897-1898) Then she studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. This was later called the New England Conservatory.

image of May Fellows

This may be the first photograph of May Fellows (Later know as Elise Fellows White). She was probably about the age of ten.

After her studies in Boston, she went to Austria and played for audiences in Vienna. She studied under Dr. Franz Kneisel and Camilla Urso, she described as "the world's greatest women violinist." While in Austria she even had an hour audience with Johanes Brahms and he signed his photograph for her. This photograph is included in the scrapbook at the Skowhegan History House. I have read through the book and included there are her many poems and letters. As a talented violinist, she participated in many programs, among them, a concert at which she was an assisting artist to the famed Lilian Nordica. When she returned to America, she played for audiences all over America and Canada.

image of May Fellows

May Fellows in her late teens, formal pose in an outdoor setting. The location is probably at Lakewood Theatre in Madison, Maine. May Fellows was the maiden name of Skowhegan violinist, Elise Fellows White.

From the information pieced together, it appears that when Elise White married at age 20, it is then that she stopped playing the violin for audiences. She moved to British Columbia with her husband who was a a manager in a silver mine. After being married for fifteen years, he died in WWI and left her with two children. They had two sons.

Later in life, at age 40 Elise moved back to her hometown, Skowhegan, and nursed her mother until her death. While in Skowhegan, she wrote articles for musical publications and reviews that were very interesting . She wrote many poems and they are all in the collection at the history house.

image of Frank Swan's Summer Camp

Notes on back of the picture by Elise Fellows White: "Open air kitchen of Swan-Fellows camp. The original 'Red Shed' in which the Fellows family and 'Uncle Frank Swan' camped out for years, before the cottage was built in 1901-2. This dates from about 1886-7. Tents were used for sleeping rooms".

In her lifetime, Mrs. White was a composer of music and author of many poems and articles. She was a member of Sigma Kappa, the Rossini Club of Portland, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. From the accounts that are available, it appears that Elise was a young talented musician but for some reason, she stopped playing for audiences before age 20.

At the close of her life, she had no source of income, and we know this because she wrote to Colby College asking for a free subscription to the "Echo" the school newsletter. She stated that she couldn't afford the cost. She was living with a family here in Skowhegan when she died March 22, at the age of 78. She was survived by two sons, Bruce White of Brunswick and James White of Ithaca, New York, seven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. The column in the newspaper telling about her funeral listed few people present. She had lost contact with all her former musician friends and contacts.

image of Swan's dining room

The family dining area at the Swan/Fellows summer camp. A careful examination revealed several pieces of "India Temple" pattern stoneware from the early 1800's in use on the table. This set was later donated to Skowhegan History House and is now part of the permanent collection.

image of Frank Swan's camp

Skowhegan's world renowned violinist, Elise Fellows White and her family, spent many happy summer vacations at uncle Frank's summer camp on Wesserunsett Lake in Madison. Certainly many inpromptu family concerts took place in this room on summer evenings. Mrs. White seemed much impressed with the Grizzly Bear rug in front of the hearth. "The rug was a silver-tip grizzly bear, shot at the Molly Gibson Mine near Nelson, British Columbia, home for ten years of Mr. & Mrs. Bruce M. White ( Elise Fellows of Skowhegan). Bruce Fellows was mine manager and the bear rug was sent by him to James Fellows and Deborah (Swan) Fellows, about 1902. The head contained all the original teeth".

image of Frank Swan's dining room

Written on the back of this photograph: "This cottage on the east shore of Madison Pond, later known as Hayden Lake, and then Lake Wesserunsett, was built entirely alone by Francis Wilson Swan, (Frank Swan) bachelor brother of Mrs. James Fellows. He drove every single nail in the buildings, and raised the roofs alone. He only called in a stonemason to help him with the chimney. It was finished and occupied by his sister and family about 1899-1900. It was the summer home of Frank Swan, James and Deborah Fellows, and often their daughter Mrs Bruce White (Elise Fellows White and her two sons. Frank Swan died in 1912. The place was sold to Blynn Page about 1915. (This description was written on the back of the photo by Elise Fellows White, a world class violinist who was born in Skowhegan. Mrs. White and her husband Bruce apparently spent some happy summer vacations in this camp built by her uncle Frank.)

Chelse Fagan is seventh grader at Skowhegan Area Middle School.


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