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Today' New Yorker Birthday Honoree is August Juilliard, Whose Bequest Founded the Famed Conservatory

Augustus D. Juilliard (April 19, 1836 – April 25, 1919) was an American, businessman and philanthropist, born at sea during a three-month voyage as his parents were immigrating to the United States from France. Making a successful career in New York City, he bequeathed much of his estate to the advancement of music in the United States.

Juilliard's father, Jean Nicolas Juilliard, was a shoemaker and both Jean Nicolas Juilliard and his wife, Anna (Burlette) Juilliard were Huguenots, or Protestants, from Burgundy. The Juilliard family emigrated to and settled in Ohio to work in the dry goods market. Augustus Juilliard often traveled to New York on buying trips and impressed textile merchants with his fluent French.

In 1866 Augustus settled in New York and worked for a manufacturing company of worsted fabrics. The company went bankrupt seven years later in 1873 and he created his own corporation, the Augustus D. Juilliard Company, in 1874 distributing textiles including wool, silk, and cotton. Augustus Juilliard became very wealthy through his business' success and remained the senior partner of his company until his death. Juilliard was a very genial and charming man and has been described as "possessing outstanding executive ability, high character, unusually keen business sense and a forceful, commanding personality." He also spoke French. An effective businessman, Juilliard served as a manager or trustee of several banking and insurance businesses. He had a wide range of interests and supported many leading New York cultural institutions, including the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as the Metropolitan Opera, where he served as a Board member. Juilliard especially loved the opera and was always expanding his knowledge of the art form by asking questions of trained musicians.

Augustus Juilliard married Helen Marcelus Cositt in 1877, but they never had children. Together, Augustus and Helen built two houses in the city and lived on West 57th Street close to Carnegie Hall.


The Juilliard Conservatory was initially founded in 1905 as the Institute of Musical Art by Dr. Frank Damrosch, the godson of Franz Liszt and the head of music education for New York City’s public schools. Damrosch was convinced that American musicians should not have to go abroad for advanced study and created the Institute as an American music academy that would provide an educational experience comparable to that of the established European conservatories.

With the initial enrollment figures nearly five times what was expected, the Institute quickly outgrew its original home at Fifth Avenue and 12th Street (seen at left) and moved to new quarters in Morningside Heights near Columbia University in 1910. The conservatory relocated to the newly completed Lincoln Center in the 1960’s and the Manhattan School of Music moved into the vacated building.

On April 25, 1919, in the age of 83, Juilliard succumbed to pneumonia in his house at 11 West 57th Street in NYC. Two months after his departure, Juilliard’s will was filed for probate. His will included the largest single bequest for the advancement of music at that time. The trustees of the bequest founded the Juilliard Graduate School in 1924 to help worthy music students complete their education. In 1926, the Graduate School and the Institute of Musical Art merged to become the Juilliard School of Music under one president, the distinguished Columbia University professor John Erskine. Gradually programs were added in dance and theater.

Among the notable alumni are Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Pat Benatar, Tito Puente and Miles Davis. It is difficult to envision exactly what the world of artwork and music would appear to be today without Juilliard’s generous bequest.

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