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The Dena J. Epstein papers date between 1938 and 1991, and contain correspondence, clippings, scholarly material, publication contracts, and grant applications related to the music librarianship and musicology career of Dena J. Epstein. Topics in correspondence include music reference, professional mentorship, conference invitations, and job offers and inquiries. The collection documents Epstein’s education in librarianship, the beginning of her library career, and the scope of her mature scholarly and professional influence. Correspondence is mostly of a professional nature with evidence of friendship and mutual respect with colleagues. Formats include written and typed correspondence and printed materials. Correspondents includenotable figures in 20th-century music librarianship, such as: John T. Windle, Gladys Chamberlain, Carleton Sprague Smith, Richard S. Hill, Irving Lowens, William Lichtenwanger, George R. Hill, Kurtz Meyers, William McClellan, and Harold Samuel.
There are numerous records of note in this collection, including Epstein’s handwritten lecture notes for a freshman library orientation at the University of Illinois in 1941, Epstein’s handwritten 1946 application for employment to the Library of Congress, and an annotated draft of “Black Folk Music: The Facts, the Myths, and the Questions to Be Answered” presented at the conference “Music and Dance in 19th Century America” in 1984 at Stony Brook, NY. The Dena J. Epstein papers represents her national scholarly pursuits and the full trajectory of her professional career.
Dena Julia Polacheck was born in 1916 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from the University of Chicago in 1937, a Bachelor of Science degree in Library Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana in 1939, and Master of Arts degree in Library Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana in 1943. Her career in music libraries began as a part-time student assistant in the University of Chicago Music Library from 1936 – 1937, and then as a part-time binding assistant at the University of Illinois Library in the binding department from 1938 – 1939. Her first professional position was as a cataloger at the University of Illinois at Urbana, where she catalogued scores and rare books. Her next positions were at the Newark Public Library Art and Music Department in Newark, NJ, first as a junior librarian and then as a senior music librarian. In 1946 she moved to a cataloging position in the Library of Congress Music Division. After she stayed home to raise her children through the 1950s, Epstein returned to the University of Chicago as an Assistant Music Librarian from 1964 – 1986. Epstein served as President of the Music Library Association from 1977 – 1979, and was involved in numerous committees in the organization as both a chair and member. In 1995 she and her husband Morton endowed a grant for the Music Library Association, the Dena Epstein Award for Archival and Library Research in American Music.
Epstein’s scholarly output includes entries in music dictionaries and encyclopedias, conference paper presentations, books, and articles about 18th – 19th American music. Her books include Sinful Tunes and Spirituals (University of Illinois Press, 1977) andMusic Publishing in Chicago Before 1871 (Information Coordinators, 1969). Epstein’s 1969 book was originally published in the Music Library Association’s quarterly journal Notes in seven installments from 1944 – 1946. Journal articles from later in Epstein’s career include: "Way Up North in Dixie: A Black Family's Claim to the Confederate Anthem" (1994), "Frederick Stock and American Music" (1992), "Black Spirituals: Their Emergence into Public Knowledge" (1990), and "The Mysterious WPA Music Periodicals Index" (1989).
Epstein received numerous awards and honors over the course of her career. Epstein was awarded twogrants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Chicago Folklore Prize, and the Francis Butler Simkins Prize from the Southern Historical Association. She was also granted honorary membership in both the Music Library Association and the American Library Association upon her retirement from academic music librarianship. Just before her death in 2013, Epstein was featured in a documentary film by Jim Carrier,The Librarian and the Banjo.