Edna Sadie Farnsworth

1884 -1966

Edna Sadie Farnsworth, Atlantic Union College's first full-time music teacher, began her work there as she graduated from its music program in 1904. For the next 33 years she provided energetic leadership for the music program that would increase both its size and influence in the region. As the school evolved in those years, from a struggling academy to a junior college preparing for full college accreditation when she left in 1937, Farnsworth was a stabilizing force in music and on the campus.

Born in Andover, Vermont and raised in South Lancaster, Massachusetts, she started piano study at an early age. As her skill developed, she chose to pursue her interests in performance and teaching by studying at what was then known as South Lancaster Academy, a school where her mother, Emma, had been a staff member until her death from pneumonia when Edna was eight.

Although the school had opened in 1882, music lessons in voice, piano and organ had not been available until the beginning of the 1890-91 school year. Even so, music had been part of school life from its earliest years, as evidenced by the participation of a vocal quartet and soloist in the first academy graduation in 1888.The invitation from the principal, Frederick Griggs, a talented singer himself, for Farnsworth to take charge of the department when she was hired was the result of her exceptional talent as a performer and evident love of music.

She quickly established a reputation as an excellent keyboard teacher and attracted students from the immediate area and region, with some coming from as far as Worcester, at that time a city some distance away. By the 1928-1929 school year, a total of 96 students were enrolled in "pianoforte" lessons and classes. Her energetic approach to teaching, coupled with her love for all aspects of music, also made her an effective and popular classroom teacher in music theory and music appreciation.

An active performing musician, Farnsworth was an integral part of worship and chapel service music, a frequent recitalist, pianist for the orchestra, and, on occasion, provider of spirited music for marching at student socials, an activity referred to by the students as "vegetarian square dancing." Besides this heavy involvement in all aspects of campus music, the students regarded her as a friend, one who was always willing to visit with them, offering encouragement to many.

As busy as she was on campus, Farnsworth still found time to accompany a women's chorus in Lancaster and a nearby public high school chorus. She also continued taking piano lessons for many years, studying with Hienrich Gebhard, noted pianist and composer of that time, who in his later years would also teach Leonard Bernstein. Her teaching methods and approach to playing reflected Gebhard's as well as those of his teacher, Theodor Leschetizky, internationally known pianist and teacher in Vienna, who had taught Rubinstein, Paderewski, and Artur Schnabel.

Because of her ability as an accompanist she traveled widely, playing in many of the major cities of that time. During these travels, she met several noted performers and composers from the early years of the 20th century. An article in the school paper, The Lancastrian, written in the spring of 1937, her last year at AUC, indicated that she was taking a leave of absence, after over thirty years of teaching, so that she could complete a bachelor of music degree. She did not return.

Instead, following completion of a B.F.A in 1938, she began teaching at Southern California Junior College, now La Sierra University, in the fall of 1939. Two years later, at the age of 56, she completed an M.Mus. at nearby Redlands University. By the time she retired in 1961, at the age of 77, she had taught music for 55 years in two SDA colleges.

A remarkable person and consummate musician, Farnsworth's record number of years in running the music department at AUC was unmatched by any subsequent chair in music at an SDA college or university until 1999, when Marvin Robertson retired following 33 years of leadership at Southern Adventist University. That contribution, coupled with 22 more years at another SDA school on the opposite side of the country during its formative years, made her role in the beginning years of music in SDA higher education truly unique. She was living in Riverside, California, at the time of her death at age 81.


Sources: And There Was Light, A History of South Lancaster Academy, Lancaster Junior college, and Atlantic Union College, Volume I, Myron F. Wehtje, 1982, 83, 84, 104, 135, 149, 156, 182; The Lancastrian, October 27, 1932, 3, February 8, 1935, 1, April 15, 1937, 3; AUC Lancastrian Yearbook, Volume 3, 1929; Melvin S. Hill, A History of Music Education in Seventh-day Adventist Western Colleges (Doctoral Dissertation), 1959, 207, Obituary, The Review and Herald, July 21, 1966, 4; Social Security Death Index.