The Story of Sr. Mary Agnes Gubert: How did a "Caged Songster" Acquire National Fame?

1) Purpose: Recovering the story of Sr. Mary Agnes Gubert and her impact on music at a nationally-famous Catholic school is significant because her story complicates and enriches our understanding of Appalachian women’s history. Born Louise Gubert in 1832 in Philadelphia, she acquired fame as a musician there. She moved to the Georgetown Visitation Monastery of the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Visitandines) in 1855-56 and to Wheeling in 1856. There she joined the Visitandines and taught music in their Wheeling Female Academy, which became Mount de Chantal in 1865. They were a cloistered order, prompting the moniker of “caged songster.” However, renowned musicians met and publicized her work. She sold her Vocal Culture books from New York to California and, when she died in 1882, was eulogized across the country.

2) Scholarship: My articles in West Virginia History are: “Pioneers on a Mission for God: The Order of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Wheeling, 1848-1860,” NS 4 (Spring 2010): 59-92; and “Expansion Despite ‘National Difficulties’: The Order of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Wheeling, 1861-1870,” NS 5 (2011): 59-101. The Visitation: A Monastic Way of Life in the Church (2008) is a history of the order.

3) Sources include sales records of Vocal Culture, newspapers, obituaries, miscellaneous records in the Visitandines’ archives, and biographies of visitors like the Patti sisters.

4) Findings: This research explains the contributions of a nationally renowned woman who is now too forgotten outside the community of Mount de Chantal alumnae and Visitandines, especially after the school closed in 2008.