Catherine Filene Shouse, a philanthropist and avid lover of culture, music, the arts and nature had a compelling vision to develop and share this love with the community. Shouse was instrumental in the establishment and development of Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, a one-of-a-kind, unique experience and her vision which she saw realized.
Catherine Filene was born on June 9, 1896, in Boston, Massachusetts, to Abraham Lincoln and Therese Filene. She spent her childhood between the family homes in Boston and Weston, Massachusetts where the Filenes were able to enjoy nature. Born into a family whose fortune was built from the famous department store, Filene’s, their family tradition was laden with a love of nature and for the arts. Her father was the founder of the Boston Symphony and her mother started the Boston Music School Settlement for Underprivileged Children. Her parents’ love of the arts was infectious and resonated with Catherine which helped to shape Filene Shouse’s ultimate vision for Wolf Trap.
Home Away From Home
Mrs. Shouse began acquiring farmland outside of Washington, DC in 1930 for use as a refuge from city life and a departure from the family’s primary residence in historic Georgetown. The family estate started out in a traditional manner as a working farm with crops, animals and dog breeding. The family grew such crops as alfalfa, oats, and wheat for family and friends, but during World War II, Wolf Trap Farm fed and served as a refuge for many soldiers.
Love For The Arts And Nature
Catherine Filene Shouse had an ardent love and passion for the arts and was very involved. She was a volunteer fundraiser for the American Symphony League which is now the National Symphony Orchestra. Candlelight Concerts in Washington, D.C., were organized and sponsored by Shouse from 1935 to 1942 in order to supplement the National Symphony Orchestra's salaries. From 1957 to 1963, Mrs. Shouse served as chair of the President's Music Committee Person-to-Person Program. The program produced national and international performances each year and under her direction, they produced the first International Jazz Festival in 1962.
Mrs. Shouse, at the age of 71, on October 15, 1966 donated nearly 100 acres of her personal farm land to the United States Department of the Interior, as well as the funds to build the large outdoor amphitheater, now known as the Filene Center. This land was donated with the express intent to develop the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. Mrs. Shouse’s goal was to protect the land from encroaching roads and suburbs, as well as create a natural backdrop where the arts could be enjoyed in harmony with nature. Congress accepted Mrs. Shouse’s gift and the ground-breaking ceremony took place in 1968.
The Filene Center, 1982 vs. 2019
The Filene Center, after a destructive fire on April 5, 1982. NPS Photo
The Filene Center, June 2019. NPS Photo
In 1981, Mrs. Shouse donated another venue to house smaller acts, which is owned and managed by the non-profit Wolf Trap Foundation. She had two 18th century barns from New York brought to Virginia and rebuilt in a manner that kept their rustic charm but offered superb acoustics and amenities.
Last updated: April 3, 2020