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Donald Nivison Ferguson papers

Identifier: ua00483


This collection documents the life and career of Donald Nivison Ferguson, Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Minnesota. Contents include articles, speeches, clippings, correspondence, manuscripts, programs, photographs, awards, publications and scrapbooks. Family history materials, to include school assignments and drawings of John Ferguson, and information about Ferguson Hall at the University are included.


  • Creation: 1922-1985


Language of Materials


Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Biographical Note

Donald Nivison Ferguson was born June 30, 1882 at Waupan, Wisconsin. Ferguson completed a B.A. at the University of Wisconsin in 1904, and later went to London to study piano under pianist Michael Hambourg and composition from composer J. Holbrooke. He settled in Minneapolis in 1909 where he taught piano briefly at the Minneapolis School of Music before opening a private studio for lessons.

In 1913, Ferguson was appointed as Assistant, and later promoted to Instructor, in the Department of Music at the University of Minnesota. He also served as an Assistant Professor (1917-1923), Associate Professor (1923-1927), and Professor of Music (1927-1950). (1) Ferguson obtained an M.A. degree from the University in 1922. (2)

Ferguson was was a member of the American Society of Aesthetics, served as President of the Minnesota Music Teachers' Association, and was Vice-President of the National College Music Association. He was the author of several books, including: A History of Musical Thought (1935, 1948), A Short History of Music (1940), Masterworks of the Orchestral Repertoire (1954), Music and a Metaphor (1960), and The Why of Music (1969). A History of Musical Thought became a standard text in colleges for many years. He was also a founder and director of the Bach Society, and wrote program notes for the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Upon his retirement from the University of Minnesota in 1950, Ferguson was named Professor Emeritus of Music. (3) He later served as the Head of the Department of Music at Macalester College in St. Paul for nine years.

Ferguson died in 1985 at the age of 102. Donald N. Ferguson Hall, a music building on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus was named in his honor.


(1) Board of Regents Minutes, February 7, 1913; Board of Regents Minutes, June 11, 1913; Budgets, 1917-1918; Board of Regents Minutes, June 18, 1923; Budgets, 1927-1928
(2) Commencement Program, 1922.
(3) Board of Regents Minutes, June 10, 1950


3 Cubic Feet (3 boxes (2 record carton, 1 oversize))

Source of acquisition

Donated to University Archives in 1977, 1991, and 1992 by the University of Minnesota Music Library.

Donald Nivison Ferguson papers
Ellen Miller; updated by Kelly J. Shorrel; updated by Kyle Boeser
April 2004; 2020
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Revision Statements

  • November 2020: Contents list added; Notes updated

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area