Mary Emery

Mary Emery, one of the founders of what became Children’s Hospital, moved with her husband into a mansion they built in Walnut Hills in 1881. They called their house “Edgecliffe;” just east of Eden Park, it shared the same sweeping view of the Ohio River. When her husband died in 1906, Mary inherited a guided age fortune. The couple’s two sons had died as adolescents. With no descendants, Mary assumed control of the family fortune. She started boldly, with a bequest of $100,000 to the Cincinnati Art Museum “on the condition that … the public shall have admittance, free of charge, on Saturdays each week.”
Mary Emery donated a building to the Ohio Mechanics Institute in 1911, important in the development of Cincinnati’s machine tool industry. An avid patron of music, she specified an auditorium, which was designed by Harvey Hannaford using new construction techniques. The space was acoustically superior; Leopold Stokowski compared it to Carnegie Hall. The Cincinnati Symphony played in the hall from 1912-1936.
Mary Emery followed the example of her friend Anna Sinton Taft, who on the death of her father in 1900 embarked (with her husband Charles) on a career of serious art collecting and philanthropy. Mary and Anna together bought the failing Cincinnati Zoo in 1916, anticipating losses, and operated it until their deaths when the city assumed control. Mary Emery was also a patron of the Cincinnati Summer Opera, which for more than 50 years performed at the Cincinnati Zoo. This arrangement, which strikes many not from the city as eccentric at best, allowed the company to hire top performers during the off season in the East, and to provide summer employment to the musicians of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
Mary Emery acquired a collection of old master paintings. She made the purchase decisions herself, and curated them at Edgecliffe. Upon her death, she donated the collection valued at three and a half million dollars to the CAM, as well as funds for a building to house them.