Alice Doty Wernicke (January 10, 1862 – December 6, 1945), “…musician, composer, organizer, teacher and benefactor…,” was born in Plano, Illinois to Hiram and Odissa Doty. The family moved to Aurora, Illinois two years after Alice’s birth, and relocated to Batavia six years later. At age 24, Alice returned to Aurora in 1886 to serve as the organist and choir mistress at the First Congregational Church, and her musical skills at the church led to public performances by early 1887.
In February 16, 1887, Doty was the key musician in an organ recital with Oliver Barr and a choir. Three days later, The Aurora Beacon’s review noted that “Miss Doty gave additional evidence of being thoroughly the mistress of the pipe-organ.” The following month, she appeared in concert with Earl Drake (violin), Mrs. Constant (vocalist), Mamie Morris, Jessie Johnson and H. N. (A.?) Wade at Dorn’s Hall in Batavia. Despite a severe thunderstorm on the evening of May 23, 1887, Miss Doty’s reputation for musical excellence filled the First Congregational Church to overflowing for a piano recital featuring Fannie Quereau (vocalist, singing Luzzi’s “Ave Maria”), Earl Brown (organ), Earl Drake (violin) and Frank Holden (violin). Of Miss Doty, The Aurora Beacon stated, “To an almost perfect execution she adds a power of interpretation that makes the best performers upon the pianoforte…” and “Miss Doty is to be congratulated on the high order of excellence that was shown on every number of the programme.” Further performances in 1887 included a concert on June 4th featuring Fred Doty (her brother) on flute, Julia Holden, Emma Rice, Helen Page, Sophie Miller, Minnie Thorwarth, E. C. Prentiss and E. D. Whiting. Later that year, she was selected to be one of the performers at the Illinois Music Teacher Association’s first conference, held in Chicago.
In October 1887, Doty was organizing classes on choral singing, and had 30 to 40 people interested in receiving instruction. She also organized the Women’s Amateur Chorus in addition to attending classes at the American College of Music in Chicago. During this period, she was playing at the services for the Western Avenue Methodist Church and Centenary Methodist Church in the Windy City besides her duties in Aurora. All of this hard work paid off when Doty received two diplomas from the college in July 1888 for her expertise on piano and organ.
Doty left Illinois for further study in Berlin, and was in Germany from 1890 to 1892. Afterwards, she used to tout her musical genealogy by pointing out that she was student of Fannie Bloomfield Ziesler who studied under Theodor Leschitizky, a student of Carl Czerny who studied under Beethoven who had received some musical training from Haydn.
Subsequent activities included a stint as organist and choir director at Aurora’s First Methodist Episcopal Church (resigned December 31, 1902), and a series of trio recitals that featured Frederick Henke on violin and Day Williams on cello. These musical gatherings allowed her to successfully entice Chicago singers and musicians to perform in Aurora. Of her work in these sessions, the Aurora Beacon wrote on January 24, 1899, “Miss Doty’s small hands grasp the keys of the piano with steady firmness, and at the same time they seem to coax out a tune that is round, full and singing.” Shortly thereafter, she founded the Symphonie Club (Doty favored the German spelling), a series of concerts which started at the New England Congregational Church. The ensemble’s second appearance in April 1900 featured another local artist, Katherine Howard [Ward] as organist in this and other performances. Reviews praised the group, stating, “The enthusiastic reception of each of the seven numbers evidenced the growing appreciation in Aurora of classic music; and the firm hold gained by the musicians of the club upon the music-loving people of the city.” Later concerts were moved to Doty’s 512 Main Street (Galena Boulevard) home. For these gatherings, she had the room equipped with a cork floor, and removed some of the walls to create a space that would contain two grand pianos, room for other players, and seating to accommodate an audience. When the Blackhawk Orchestra was formed a few years later, they used her home for their rehearsals.
Before her departure for study in Berlin, Doty took German lessons from Magdalena Wernicke, and formed a longstanding connection with the instructor and husband. Magdalena died in 1904, and Doty afterwards became the bride of Freidrick Wernicke, a German-born former professor of Agriculture at the University of Berlin who had relocated to the United States, and who was employed with the Aurora, Elgin and Chicago Electric Railway. He departed this life in May 1921, and was buried at Spring Lake Cemetery.
In April 1918, the Wheaton College Bulletin listed her as Instructor of Pipe Organ at the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music. She was also affiliated as teacher of piano, organ and harmony alongside former Ziegfeld Follies local, Emma Baker Broderick (vocal music department) at the Columbia Conservatory in Aurora as indicated by the 1922 East Aurora High School Speculum.
Wernicke formed and led the St. Cecilia Piano Ensemble, a group that consisted of 16 players performing on eight pianos in 1928. In 1936, after fifty years of musical service to the community, she retired, and donated some 23,575 musical scores to the Aurora Public Library, thereby creating one of the largest musical libraries in the state. For the first nine years of its existence, this collection was kept with Ms. Wernicke at her home. In March 1945, she was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal for her longstanding contributions to the music scene of Aurora. Alice Doty Wernicke died December 6, 1945, and was buried in Batavia West Cemetery.
Topic: Alice Doty Wernicke
Researcher: Robert Winder, Aurora Public Library
Wheaton College Faculty. Wheaton College Bulletin: The Annual Catalog.”
17.2 (1918): 56. Web. 15 December 2015.
Alice Doty Wernicke. [file folder]. Newspaper Clippings File (People).
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Senior Class. Speculum. Aurora, IL: 1922 pg. (185)
Moeller, Tracy. “Consummate Artist Preserved Musical Legacy of Beethoven.” Aurora Beacon News 13 Aug. 1987, E13.
“Service Medal Presented to Alice Wernicke.” Aurora Beacon News 13 Mar. 1946, 1.
Aurora Beacon 12 Feb. 1887. 4.
Aurora Beacon 19 Feb. 1887. 4.
“Musical Matters.” Aurora Beacon 25 May 1887. 1.
Aurora Beacon 4 June 1887. 8.
Aurora Beacon 15 Oct. 1887. 8.
“Trio Recital Very Fine.” Aurora Daily Beacon 2 Feb. 1898. 1.
“The Doty Trio Recital” Aurora Daily Beacon 24. Jan. 1899. 1.
“Concert” Aurora Daily Beacon 15 Jan. 1900. 1.
“Symphony Concert” Aurora Daily Beacon 17 Apr. 1900. 1.
Aurora Daily Beacon 31 Dec 1900. 4.