Ledgers and scrapbooks make up the largest part of the Mendelssohn Glee Club papers. This material chronicles the evolution of the Club from its informal first years into a large, highly structured organization. The correspondence files primarily document membership and planning issues. The administrative files, which contain by-laws, constitutions, meeting minutes, and reports, contain a wealth of information about the Club's activities. Categorized as publicity material, the clippings, photographs, and programs, attest to the Club's expansion. The vocal scores, most of which are undated, provide a sample of the type of music utilized by the Club in its performances.
Founded in 1865, the Mendelssohn Glee Club (MGC) is the second oldest musical organization and the oldest singing organization still currently active in the United States. The club originally began as an amateur singing group of men and women, named in tribute to the German composer. The group quickly disbanded in 1866, but the men decided to continue as a male voice group. In 1867, the composer Joseph Mosenthal became the new conductor and under his exacting direction, the Club raised its standard of musical performance and quickly gained a following within New York's most exclusive circles. As much a social club as a musical one, the MGC experienced its greatest period of growth during Mosenthal's twenty-nine year tenure as musical director. In addition to its three regular annual concerts, the MGC also made numerous appearances at cultural and social events, both inside and outside of New York City. Spurred on by these appearances of the Mendelssohn Glee Club in other cities, male choral groups began to be formed along similar lines, first in East Coast cities, but eventually throughout the United States and Canada. The club's success led to the construction of a new concert hall in New York, financed by the Singer Sewing Machine Company heir, Alfred Corning Clark. The lavish Mendelssohn Hall, was designed by Robert H. Robertson, a noted architect who also served as the Club's president. When it opened in 1892, the structure featured an 1,100-seat auditorium, a rehearsal hall, committee rooms, library, smoking room, and three floors of apartments. The Club, however, faced serious setbacks just a few years after the opening of Mendelssohn Hall with the deaths of Mosenthal and Clark in 1896. The MGC did not own the building and eventually was evicted from the property in 1911; it never was able to raise sufficient funds to create a new permanent home. Despite the challenges of declining membership rolls and shifts in musical taste during the latter half of the twentieth century, the club is still in existence. Over the years many professional musicians of note were MGC members, including Richard Crooks, Herbert Witherspoon, and Cesare Sodero, who served as conductor from 1934 to 1947.