“In my opinion, there is no business in the world so large or so complicated that Miss Millar could not handle it with intelligence and success. I have not met with any one of clearer brain, greater tact or clearness.” A wealthy New York businessman couldn’t say enough good things about Anna Millar, the business manager of the Chicago Orchestra in 1896.
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Millar, an Iowa farm girl from Muscatine, had moved to Chicago to attend Northwestern University; and after managing concert engagements for Electa Gifford, her friend and a well-known soprano, Millar had landed her job as manager of the orchestra. Not bad for an under-30 year old. As manager, she planned tours; handled details of contracts with hotels, theaters and baggage men; arranged newspaper publicity and engaged guest soloists at the local venues. She was responsible for arranging train travel, hotel accommodations and meals for 70 musicians—people with varying temperaments. Millar also arranged advance ticket sales.
At home in Chicago, she managed memberships for the orchestra. The season which ran from October to May consisted of 22 concerts; and subscribers paid $100 for a season ticket, which included two additional weeks of performances including rehearsals. When some patrons complained that their tickets cost $2 for a performance, while season ticket holders paid only twenty-two cents, Millar explained, “Artists as we have cannot be got cheap.”
In 1897 when a guest performer canceled an appearance because of illness, Millar sprang into action and lined up another musician. It meant a quick trip to Europe, but in the end she saved the day. The Chicago Tribune reported she made up her mind at 10 a.m. one day to travel to Europe to negotiate a deal with famed pianist Josef Hofmann, and was on a ship the next day by 10 a.m. Within six days, Millar had in her satchel a signed contract. “Young Hofmann will arrive in America to play with the Chicago Orchestra at the Metropolitan on March 1,” she reported. It was all completed before concert managers in America had time to telegraph their terms to the performer, but Millar couldn’t wait.
Millar’s stint as manager ran for three seasons, but in 1899 Davenports’ Quad-City Times newspaper reported that she was bankrupt with her only assets being $100 worth of clothing. The paper suggested maybe she should have stayed on the Iowa farm. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Board of Trustees of the orchestra was considering replacing Millar because she was suffering from poor health. A spokesperson for the orchestra said, “…the work is really too heavy for a woman to shoulder.” Early in 1900 the Tennessean newspaper reported the rumor was true—Millar had resigned from the orchestra position.
Millar continued to manage musicians, including her old friend, Electa Gifford throughout the early 1900s. By 1921 she had taken a position as manager of the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra Association, where a spokesperson had this to say about her, “The phenomenal work of Miss Millar, accomplished in short time, is worth a book of praise.” Millar died in 1928 in Daytona, Florida.
- Ammer, Christine. Unsung: A History of Women in American Music, Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press, 2016.
- “An Iowa Girl,” Quad-City Times, Dec. 7, 1899.
- “Future is Bright for Musical Kansas City,” Music Trades, vol 62, p 11, July 23, 1921.
- Horowitz, Joseph. Classical Music in America: A History of Its Rise and Fall, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005, p 170.
- Locke, R. and Barr, C., Ed. Cultivating Music in America: Women Patrons and Activists Since 1860, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997, p 178.
- “Miss Anna Millar,” Tennessean, Jan. 14, 1900.
- “Miss Millar May Retire,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 25, 1899.
- North-western Christian Advocate, vol 45, p 29. Jan. 13, 1897.
- “Orchestra Secures Hofmann,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 19, 1897.
- “She Invaded a New Field,” Springfield Leader, Oct. 22, 1895.
- “Society Amusements,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 22, 1895.
- “Theodore Thomas May Come,” Morning Democrat (Davenport, IA), March 8, 1895.
- “Thomas’ Orchestra at the Funke,” Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star, Apr. 19, 1895.