Taken c. 1925. Johnston Collection.
From 1927 until 1939 Margaret self-published from her home at 8 Brimmer Street a series of leaflets which she distributed at her own expense. Under the overall title of Messages from God, the titles were: Intercession. 1927, 8 pages, A Gift For Almighty God October 1928, 9 pages, The Communion of Silence November 1928, 9 pages, Our Continuing City October 1932, 9 pages, Our Father’s House the Gate of Heaven-a Thanksgiving November 1934, 10 pages, and Christmas and the Cross November 1939, 9 pages. In a biographical note written in 1960 she describes the project thus:
“My music writing stopped soon after The Heavenly Noel’s many performances in many places, with orchestra; with piano; and once at request, with organ, piano, and harp; – for much-involved housekeeping took place during my mother’s last housebound years. At this time I obeyed a very strong spiritual call, and began to write, print, send forth, and reply to wide requests for spiritual religious messages-to which I gave my time and money-my life’s best work-over many years,anonymously [underlined twice], but with deep devotion; taking form in privately printed paper tracts. They were used by churches, far and wide, in the United States, England, Canada, and even one in Egypt.” (Lang Scrapbooks, Vol. 17)More details about these writings were included in a two page “Explanation of Enclosures and Biographical Note by M. R. L. in 1960.”She begins as she had in the above note: “My music writing stopped after the Heavenly Noel for chorus, solo, and orchestra, for much involved housekeeping took its place during my mother’s last, housebound years.But there came to my heart and mind, suddenly and insistently (one by one, a year or more apart,) messages from God, to be written and delivered.There would even be a call in the night, as a phrase or sentence.So, one by one, I would have a “Message” printed, and would send a sample to clergy in various parts of the country, with the offer of any quantity up to 50 copies, which would be sent free of charge, if only the number desired be indicated.Here are the names of the “Messages” with dates.Each one 8-10 pages.
1927 – Intercession
1928 – A Gift for Almighty God
1928 – The Communion of Silence
1932 – Our Continuing City
1934 – Our Father’s House
1939 – Christmas and the Cross
All my earnings and my savings went into repeated editions of 1000 each; for requests poured in, as the “Messages” became known and used, often sold in church porches. Requests came even from Canada, England, and one from Egypt! One was preached from a pulpit in Canada; some were reprinted in church magazines and papers.No authorship was ever asked or mentioned; they were “Messages from God,” and the sender was only M. R. Lang; no sex, usually addressed as Mr. M. R. Lang. So I feel that they are a
vital bit of legacy to leave behind me, because they came from God, and after many years are still being asked for, though at 92 I no longer send them forth. Here they are, bound roughly together for you; and they go to you with my love. Margaret Ruthven Lang.” (Scrapbook)
The 1920 census listed Frances M., aged 80 as head of the house with Margaret, aged 65, three servants: Helen O’Brien, aged 32 born in Massachusetts; Catherine McNulty, aged 55, born in Ireland and immigrated in 1889; and Margaret Magwil, aged 34, born in Ireland and immigrated in 1906-all the servants were single.
Various aspects of Margaret’s character are reflected in that she “had been raised to visit the sick and the ill, and visited Mass General Hospital every week. She wrote to a World War French war orphan until the end of his life. She was also a very practical person who never signed her birthday or other holiday cards ‘so that you could reuse them again!’” (Amy DuBois Interview)
“The Boston Social Register of 1929” had listings for “Lang, Mrs. Benj. Johnson (Frances Morse Burrage) and Lang, Miss Margaret Ruthven” at 8 Brimmer Street, Phone No. 1737 Hay. (Boston Social Register 1929, 113) The 1930 Census listed Margaret, aged 62, her mother, Frances, aged 90 as head of household, and a staff of four: Mary Matthew, nurse from Canada; Catherine Doherty, maid, aged 55 from Ireland; Nora Finn, cook, from Ireland; and Ann McAuliff, maid, aged 35 also from Ireland.
DEATH OF FRANCES M. LANG.
The Herald Obituary Headline of October 16, 1934 was: “BACK BAY WIDOW OF NOTED COMPOSER, BOSTON NATIVE.” The headline also mentioned that she was “aged 94.” The article noted that she had died at her home at 8 Brimmer Street “following a prolonged illness.” Funeral services were private. “Besides her close interest in music, Mrs. Lang was identified with the work of the Boston Home for Incurables.” Her three children were listed-Malcolm at 209 Bay State Road, Margaret, living at home, and Rosamond, Mrs. Frederic R. Galacar of 2 Acorn Street. (Herald (October 16, 1934): 13, GB)
On June 5, 1955 Margaret wrote to Edward MacDowell’s widow that she had been reading Honegger’s book Je Suis Compositeaur (probably reading it in the original French). “Honneger is bitter, sarcastic, amusing and almost without hope for hungary listeners of intelligence. Long ago I was thrilled by his King David – and also Jeanne d’Arc. But he is at his best and most sincere in such collaboration.” Margaret then talked about hearing Mrs. MacDowell play when she and her husband stayed with them. The letter ends with:
I am glad that you cannot see our Boston these days. Tis greatly changed. I sit very loose in the saddle, and I really long for release [she was then 88]. But I suppose I must stay here for many a reluctant day. Life has produced nieces and their children; and many old, sick people to be visited in forlorn homes; and I am glad, very glad, not to be active in any musical way, but only a thankful listener. (Library of Congress Letter Collection)
However, Miss Lang’s interest in music “as a thankful listener” continued unabated until her death on May 30, 1972 at the age of 104. Members of her family had occupied seat B-1 of the first balcony almost since Symphony Hall opened in 1900, and she continued to occupy it regularly attending by subway “until three years before her death.” (Fox, Sexual Aesthetics, 5) “The woman next to me wants my seat. We chaff about it. But I want to keep the name Lang on the subscriber’s list.”(Miller-Globe article) The Lang’s family friend, Isabella Stewart Gardner also bought season tickets the first season. She “paid a previously unheard-of premium of $560 each for two $12.00 seats (First Balcony Right, A15 and A16) for the twenty-four concerts of the Saturday evening series.” (Stebbins, 91) “The Lang family used to sit farther down the balcony. Directly behind them was Mrs. Jack Gardner. ”We were simple people. Mrs. Gardner was simple with simple people, not that other thing.” Still, Mrs. Jack could be an embarrassment to her young companion. ”She took me once to a concert and hissed the soprano.”” (Miller, 100th.)
The continued popularity of Margaret’s songs is reflected in a nine-paragraph letter dated May 4, 1939 from “IRVING BERLIN INC. Music Publishers 799 Seventh Avenue, New York” in which the firm asks if the copyright to An Irish Mother’s Lullaby had been renewed. The first paragraphs review the legal aspects of renewal and that their company always would “advise the writer to give the renewal of his copyright to his original publisher,” but they continue with examples of publishers renewing copyrights with no intention of further promotion of the piece.Then, after stating that it is not their usual practice to renew other publisher’s works, they write that “We are interested in acquiring your renewal copyright providing it is not your intention to give the same to the original publisher.” Obviously they had been watching the sales of this song and other pieces by Margaret. The letter finishes with a “P.S. If you would like us to take out the renewal of any of your copyrights in your name, without your assigning the same to us – but for the purpose of holding it subject to your future disposition – we shall be glad to extend that service to you.” unfortunately for IRVING BERLIN INC., THE ARTHUR SCHMIDT CO. had the right of renewal as part of their original contract with Margaret, and they had been making the renewals as they had become necessary.
A note from Margaret in the Library of Congress collection dated Aug. 29, 1942, said that after Sept. 7 her address would be Brimmer Chambers, 112 Pinckney Street. Another letter, addressed to Mrs. MacDowell dated Nov. 15, 1955 lists her address as 112 Pinckney. Cline listed her residences as: “Lang lived at the Hotel Victoria for one year, 1939. She lived the rest of her life at #8 and #2 Brimmer Street; 112 Pinckney Street (Brimmer Chambers); and, for a short period before her death, at ”Sherrill House”, Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts.”(Cline-Thesis, 26) In her interview with Margo Miller in 1967 she “exclaimed with glee” that Brimmer Chambers “was for swagger young men.I was the first woman to live there.” (Boston Sunday Globe (February 19, 1967) Margaret send a picture postcard of the “Charles River Basin and Esplanade” with a “X” in ink showing 112 Pinckney St. which seems to have had at that time a clear view to the river. In a letter dated Sept. 9, 1958 to Mabel Daniels Margaret wrote: “Nobody to-day has ever heard of ”Brimmer Chambers,” dear old title of 112 Pinckney!” She goes on to mention that she will return her copy of Mabel’s book about her student days in Munich: “Some day it shall go to you, – but first I must re-read it.” Mabel had sent a copy of her Carol of the Rose as a birthday present (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Mabel Daniels papers, MC 266) Mabel also had tickets to the BSO Friday afternoon series. (Ibid) [Need permission to use these quotes]
For the English Fair which was held at the Church of the Advent in November 1953 special murals were created in order to turn the Parish Hall into an English green and a Tudor interior. The event ran for 12 hours, 10AM until 10PM and a great number of booths and tables available. At the Garden Booth ivy brought from Canterbury Cathedral in England was on sale; a shine “to St. Francis will look down on the seedlings, potted plants, bayberry, bittersweet, and shells and driftwood for modern arrangements.” (Herald (November 8, 1953): 35, GB) And, reflecting her interest in books, Margaret and Miss Alice W. Clark were in charge of the bookstall.
As late as 1958 Margaret’s career was still well enough known to be outlined in the First Edition of Who’s Who of American Women-A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living American Women published by the A. N. Marquis Company of Chicago. Her bio of twenty lines represented the average length for entries in this volume. It listed her address at that time as 112 Pinckney Street.
A letter to Fletcher DuBois dated July 16, 1965 is written on notepaper with the address of 2 Brimmer Street. (photocopy of the letter-Johnston Collection) Letters through September 3, 1970 use this address. (Ibid)
In early November 1966 the BSO Trustees and Council of Friends presented a private concert played by the Boston Symphony Players in the Tapestry Room of the Gardner Museum. Nearly 500 women who had been members of the Friends for twenty-five years or more were invited including Margaret and five other women who had attended the “Symphony since the time of George Henschel…This unique occasion is the first of its kind…The guests were greeted by Henry B. Cabot, president of the Trustees, Erich Leinsdorf, music director and Mrs. Leinsdorf.” (Herald (November 3, 1966): 30, GB) After the event, Alison Arnold, in her column “Social Chatter” noted that these 500 women had been annual contributors to the BSO for 25 years or more, and that “During that time their gifts have amounted to more than $2,250,000…In contrast to the dignified, older Friends of [the] Symphony in their Bostonian hats and serviceable suits, were the new younger Friends with their modish hairdos and chic knee-length dresses. But the two groups mingle pleasantly as they work together for the Orchestra.” (Herald (November 8, 1966): 28, GB)
Until the end of her life, Margaret was in touch with many people. “In those advanced years she still had a voluminous correspondence using three languages, English, French and German.” (F. DuBois e-mail, June 15, 2009)
A note from James A. Wood, organist of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Nashua, New Hampshire dated October 15, 1967 told Margaret of his plan to perform Grant We Beseech Thee. Probably this was at the suggestion of Amy Lang Calfee, Margaret’s niece, who was a member of this congregation.The note mentions that Mr. Wood had read Margaret’s reply to the choir in order to inspire their performance which was in honor of the composer’s 100th. birthday.
Another celebration of her 100th Birthday was on Friday, November 24, 1967 when Erich Leinsdorf conducted the BSO in the “Old Hundredth Chorale” and the movement “Sheep May Safely Graze” from Bach’s Cantata #208 sung by Chloe Owen “In honor of Margaret Ruthven Lang” (written to celebrate another birthday some 259 years before), and Henry B. Cabot, one of the Symphony Trustees, made a personal contribution of $2,500 to the Commemorative Fund so that seat B-1 could be named in her honor. Before the concert Leindorf had met Blossy in the foyer of Symphony Hall and offered his arm to assist her to the elevator. She refused his kind offer, and instead used the stairs as was her custom. (Amy DuBois interview, June 20, 2103)Margaret and Erich Leinsdorf, BSO Conductor. Original photo. On the back: “Sun Forum, Fri Makeup, 2 Col Cut, Margaret Lang.” Johnston Collection.
Like a typical Bostonian, even at the age of 100, she used the subway to travel to Symphony Hall. She was described at this time as being “tiny and chipper as a semi-quaver…Dressed in black, with a knotted rope of pearls and rings her adornments, she sat in the long bay window of her Brimmer St. apartment.” (Miller-Globe article) The program book for this concert mentioned that “She has a vivacity and alertness that would put many people half her age to shame.” (BSO Program Book for November 24 and 25, p. 455) In addition to the long article in the Globe, other papers also ran stories.The Monday, November 27, 1967 issue of the Christian Science monitor ran “Birthdays, Bach, and Beethoven” by Roland Nadeau.”Friday afternoon”s concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra was prefaced by a charming gesture. Seated in the first balcony right was a lady who as about to have a birthday. She had been present at the orchestra”s genesis, a witness to each of its successive conductors, a long-time series subscriber, and a one-time composer for the orchestra.”The orchestra played Old Hundredth and Chloe Owen sang Sheep May Safely Graze in her honor.”The conductor, Mr. Leinsdorf, asked Miss Lang to rise and receive the warm congratulatory applause of her fellow listeners.It was her one-hundredth anniversary and she can be certain of a permanent place at the hall in the future, for the Trustees have named a seat for her, the one at balcony right, B-1.” (Scrapbook) Harold Banks recorded that Margaret’s reply to Cabot was: “Nothing, nothing yesterday meant-and will forever mean to me-as much as this blessed surprise!” (Record American (January 13, 1968): 18, GB) Another Globe article, this one by George Gelles entitled “Leinsdorf, BSO honor 100-year-old friend” gave more details. “Erich Leinsdorf”s words of greeting to Miss Lang were well chosen, to the point, and, undoubtedly representative of the audience’s admiration for this remarkable woman.” (Scrapbook) The Globe Society Editor, Marjorie Sherman wrote that “A brisk figure will emerge from the subway at Symphony Station today with ample time to take her place in a first balcony seat where she has been a familiar sight since the hall was opened in October, 1900…Miss Lang has listened to every conductor since George Henschel in 1881.” (Article courtesy Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives, Globe, November 24, 1967) Notice of this concert had also appeared in the London Daily Telegraph in December 1967.
In January 1968 Jim Morse interviewed Margaret for his column “Hub-Bub” which appeared on the 12th. The title was “This Music Fan Ignores Winter.” He wrote: “At fourteen she attended the first season of the Boston Symphony, in 1887. She has been attending ever since, under all eleven conductors, first in the old Music Hall in downtown Boston, and then in Symphony Hall since 1900. During a recent discussion of future plans for Boston and Symphony Hall, Miss Lang remarked: ”Everything is so interesting. I’d like to live to be 125 so I can see how it all turns out.”” (Scrapbook)
An article by John J. Mullins entitled “Composer Margaret Lang, 101, just ‘wants to live forever’ began with quote: “I’d love to see what’s coming. That’s why I want to live forever.”However, at that time she was living alone in a second floor apartment at the foot of Beacon Hill, and due to arthritis and the effects of several falls, her doctor had banned her from going out alone. therefore she had to give up going to the Symphony: “I don’t listen to music anymore. I’d rather read a book. Nothing takes the place of the symphony concert, and that’s gone.” However, she still subscribed to her regular seat dreading the thought “of not being able to have a seat,” but instead gave the tickets away. When asked why she stopped composing, her answer was: “Why did I stop, I had nothing to say.” Her first piece had been written for friends when she was 13 or 14. The article finished with: “I’d like to go on living forever.I’m terribly interested in what’s going on in literature and art and society, I mean people human beings.”But as to her view of the future: “I don’t think I should like it probably.I should like to go out-bang-like a candle…but, I’m full of curiosity about what’s coming.” Margaret remembered that “her parents knew opera composer Richard Wagner in Germany, and ‘the other day’ she read a letter written by her mother shortly after she was married saying that Wagner had hidden her bonnet so they couldn’t go home from a visit.” When asked about her own music she replied that “she did not think her music is played any longer-‘I’ve outlived everybody.’” The article finished with her comment that “As for living alone in the old brick building in the area where she spent most of her life, she says, ‘This is all right for me. I was a solitary person. I’m a solitaire.’ She gets up at 5 a.m. and goes to bed about 8:30 p.m.” An interesting comment was made on her approach to composing: “Don’t say I ‘liked’ to compose. I wasn’t composing because I liked it but because it was given me to do.” (Herald (July 20, 1969): 6, GB) An example of Margaret’s continued interest in the world around her is reflected in Amy DuBois’ remembering that during a visit in 1969, Margaret showed her that she was reading Aldridge Cleaver’s Soul On Ice. (Interview) Another example is that she “was known to correspond with over 60 individuals a month, writing letters in four languages.” (Cline, e-mail July 9, 2008)Margaret, when she was just over 100-taken by Amy DuBois.
The BSO kept in touch.Thomas D. Perry, Jr. manager wrote on October 18, 1971 an acknowledgement of her $50 donation. Noting that she could only listen to the BSO he asked: “Do you have a good radio on which to hear the orchestra? It would be a great pleasure, if you do not, for us to see that one is set up in your quarters so that you can keep track of your favorite orchestra.”The generous offer reflected her “persistent faith and interest in the Orchestra and your generosity to it over these many years (Ms. Lang, Vol. 24, No. 12).This was when she was at Sherrill House, 135 S. Huntington Ave., and couldn’t travel to Symphony Hall anymore.
The Lang Scrapbooks (Ms Lang Vol. 24) contain a folder of birthday greetings from the family. A photo of Anne Hooper on her way to string quartet rehearsal; congratulations to Aunt Maidie from Fred Galacar; a note from Charles Spencer dated November 27, 1967 saying: “You taught me what real youth and aliveness is! You participate in the vigor and life of change. Do you bemoan the most rapid 100 years of change the world has ever seen? No you honor it and the people who made it and look forward with excitement, ‘backing’ the people who work for tomorrow.” (Ms. Lang, Vol 24, No. 14, Item 9) A poem from Ambrose was followed by a note from Fletcher: “Dearest Blossy. Happy Birthday-today proves that my dreams do come true. Much love, Fletcher (Ibid, Item 13); David Spencer wrote an Ode in four sections the second of which said: Blossy, you have so richly blest us from your reservoir of zest, For living, surely, better fit for every harvest of your wit. There was also a verse from her sister Rosamond Galacar, a poem from Angela DuBois, a letter from Helen Hooper, a card to Aunt Maidie from Margot, three poems from Rosamond, three sprigs of Scottish heather from Ethel, notes from Ben, David, and Steve, a letter from Kate who was in Paris-Ethel had written to her about the festivities, a photo from Jim III standing on Mount Katahdin that summer signed “For Blossy-after her First hundred years: Jim Hooper, and a hand-made card from Hannah.
Ever a supporter of the BSO, Margaret sent a $50 donation to the Orchestra Fund in honor of the orchestra”s 90th. Anniversary. This was mentioned by Philip K. Allen, the first vice president of the BSO at a Friends of the BSO luncheon. He noted that had been a subscriber to the first BSO concert on October 22, 1881, and that she was “now 104 years old and living in a local Nursing Home.” (Record American (October 25, 1971): 13, GB)Johnston Collection.
Long a resident of Beacon Hill and a member of the Church of the Advent, Margaret died on Monday, May 29, 1972. Her last days were spent at a nursing home, Sherrill House in Jamaica Plain, and the Boston Globe obituary said, “She resided at #2 Brimmer St., Beacon Hill.”The funeral was held at the Church of the Advent on Friday, June 2nd. at 2PM, and she was buried in the family plot at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. “In keeping with Lang’s attention to detail in life, she had left directions to the clergy for her funeral and burial services. An interesting part of these directions is Lang’s request for music, ‘the softest possible organ background of Hymnal Music.’ She also asked for the service to be ‘very simple, plain, holy, and earnest.’” (Cline, Thesis, 22)The obituary notice requested that flowers be omitted, and instead, donations in her name were to be made to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The Boston Globe Death Notice said:
“LANG – In Boston, May 29. Margaret Ruthven Lang, sister of the late Rosamond Galacar of Ipswich and Malcolm Lang of Boston, survived by several nieces, grand nieces, grand nephews and a nephew.”(Globe (Wednesday, May 31, 1973): 39).
Margaret’s will listed the first account amount available in 1972 of $749,929.60 with amounts distributed in 1973 totalling $238,900 with the principal distributions going to relatives as follows:
Charles Galacar $39,000 Son of her sister Rosamond
Frederic Lang Galacar $30,000 Grandson of Rosamond
Charles David Galacar $30,000 Grandson of Rosamond
Margaret Lang Spencer $31,500
Helen Lang Hooper $31,500
Angela Lang DuBois $31,500
Ethel Lang Whitney $31,500
Also two/fifths to friends Phillips Ketchum of Natick, MA and Augustus W. Soule, Jr. of Dedham, MA who also were appointed joint executors of the will.
Jeannette Hart Howe and Constance Schmucher received $2,000 and Annabelle Jones received $5,000;various charities and church related organizations received $200 to $500 while the Boston Symphony received $1,000. In 1976 the fifth and final accounting distributed the residue of the estate of $271,975.87 to relatives as follows:
Charles Galacar$8,666.67 and $28,165.31
Frederic Lang Galacar$6,666.66 and $21,665.65
Charles David Galacar$6,666.67 and $21,665.65
Margaret Lang Spencer$7,000.00 and $22,748.92
Helen Lang Hooper$7,000.00 and $22,748.92
Angela Lang DuBois$7,000.00 and $22,748.92
Ethel Lang Whitney$7,000.00 and $22,748.92