Elsie Irwin Sweeney Memorial Scholarship Fund


"We would reaffirm her consistent encouragement of youthful talent...nowhere more loyally and spiritedly than at Indiana University." So went the tribute as Miss Elsie Irwin Sweeney was presented an honorary doctorate degree in Music on Founders Day, 1967. She devoted much of her life to organizations and activities which supported the arts, and her dedication and commitment helped to advance the careers of hundreds of young performers.

Elsie Irwin Sweeney, the daughter of Linnie Irwin and Zachary Taylor Sweeney, was born in Columbus, Indiana on July 18, 1888. She graduated from Columbus High School in 1905 and from Smith College, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1910. In 1946, for her service to Great Britain in World War II, she received the King's Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom. For her efforts after the war to restore the Festspielhaus at Bayreuth as a world center of music, she received the Officer's Cross, Order of Merit, from the Federal Republic of Germany in 1956. For her services to her community, state and nation, she received the Community Service Award and the Senior Citizen Award.

For 50 years, Sweeney was a Sunday school teacher and gave strong support to ecumenical undertakings—locally, nationally, and internationally.

The activity which claimed her greatest enthusiasm was music. As a small child she was one of those, as reported by her mother, who never had to be reminded to practice. She majored in music at college and played a piano concerto with the orchestra for her senior recital. She was also the Glee Club accompanist.

On graduation from college, she determined to go to Germany to study, and with her mother, spent the year of 1912-1913 in Berlin as a student of Josef Lhevinne. She practiced daily throughout her life and gave recitals on many occasions. She studied with various teachers after World War I—among them were Ernest Hutcheson, Ernest Hofzimmer, and Bela Nagy of IU.

Many good causes, but especially musical ones, enlisted her life-long support. At her death in 1972, she was Chairman of the Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation, member of the Executive Board of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Director of the Friends of Music, Indiana University, member of the National Council of the Metropolitan Opera, and member of the Executive Committee at Indiana Historical Society.

Sweeney and the progress of music at IU are inextricably entwined. It was she who suggested to former Dean Wilfred C. Bain that the school begin its annual presentations of Wagner's epic opera, Parsifal, which consequently placed the Indiana University Opera Theater on the world musical map. She aided in the negotiations which furthered the state government's approval for the building of the Musical Arts Center, and her gift to the university's 150th Birthday Fund ensured the facility's completion.

The Jacobs School of Music is honored to award the Elsie I. Sweeney Memorial Scholarship to a deserving music performance student at the Jacobs School of Music.