Hidden Heroes - The Sisters Abbott

During this pandemic, many have found music to be an invaluable help as it changes our mood, and helps us relive memories of special moments in our lives. No matter what your age, music has the power to make us healthier and happier by enriching our lives. Two Union Springs women did all of that and more both locally and nationally through their music.


The Abbott sisters, Muriel (1887-1949) and Ethel (1885-1953) were the two daughters of well-known and prolific Union Springs' photographer, R.R. Abbott and his wife, Susan Young Peterson Abbott. Following R.R.'s death at the age of 41, Susan taught piano from their home on Cayuga St. Her musical talents were inherited by both Muriel and Ethel.

Both Ethel and Muriel studied piano and violin respectively at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University located in Baltimore. Today the Peabody is the oldest conservatory of music in the United States. Ethel had been a teacher, accompanist and composer often performing in Baltimore, New York City and other major Eastern cities. A search of old area newspapers found hundreds of references to her performing in venues throughout the East as well as locally in both Cayuga and Tompkins counties. She was described as a "gifted young woman...a pianist of much brilliancy, power and promise." In 1941, while living, teaching and performing in New York City and Washington, she was named by the State Department to the cultural division of Inter-American Friendship. The mission of this organization was cultural diplomacy, promoting hemispheric solidarity and countering the growing influence of the Axis powers in Latin America. It was led by Nelson Rockefeller. Additionally during this time, she was named to the Women's Committee of the National Symphony Orchestra, attesting to the esteem in which she was held professionally.


Muriel Abbott Marshall also showed exceptional talent while young and first studied music at Wells and in Ithaca. She then won the only full three year scholarship given by the Peabody Conservatory at that time. At the conclusion of her studies, she gave a successful recital in which Ernest Hutcheson, international virtuoso, served as her accompanist. Muriel studied in Europe, graduating with distinction from the conservatory in Geneva. She played first violin in the Philadelphia, Washington and Cleveland Symphony orchestras. In later years, she returned to Union Springs, teaching violin at Wells and performing for many area organizations. On May 6, 1949 and not feeling well, she visited the office of Dr. Norman Woodford, located just across the street from her home. Shortly after arrival at "Doc" Woodford's office, she died suddenly leaving memories of her mellow tones and spirited, pure attacks on the violin to those who enjoyed her musical excellence.


In 1888, who would ever have imagined that two young girls, who studied piano in a Cayuga Street living room under the guidance of their mother, would become such accomplished and internationally recognized virtuosos? During Women"s History Month, we are honored to remember the sisters Abbott for the joy and pleasure they brought to our forebears.