A century ago, Frances Glessner created quite a stir when she made a simple request to the members of her Monday Morning Reading Class – please remove your hats. The request made the news, with the Chicago Tribune reporting that it was “one of the greatest sensations Prairie avenue has ever known.” To further complicate matters for the well-dressed lady of the day, a similar order had been issued by the management of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
On February 20, 1915, the Tribune published an article entitled “Hats Off Edict Rules at Mrs. Glessner’s.” The article reads as follows:
“The members of Mrs. John J. Glessner’s Monday morning reading class, which for twenty years has been a feature of south side society have met with a great adventure this winter. It is needless perhaps to describe here the beatitudes of this Monday class, the smartly arranged women who file in from half past 10 onwards, the glossy furs, the becoming hats, the latest importation in work bags over the arm.
“Tout Prairie avenue” is present and not only is the latest reading provided by Mrs. Horace Kennedy, but a delightful informal luncheon is offered by the hospitable hostess, whose Prairie avenue mansion at Eighteenth street has the fine hardy lines of a Roman stronghold.
“The class, numbering about forty or fifty, sits around the long library. This fall, simultaneously with the stirring order to unbonnet all patrons of the Symphony concert, came the request that members of the Monday class should remove their hats during the morning.
“This created one of the greatest sensations Prairie avenue has ever known, for the hat of the woman who has ordered her household, looked over her mail, telephoned several times, and been to market, all before 10 o’clock, usually covers a multitude of sins of omission.
“But, trying as it was, the ground rules have obtained, and careful observers say that the women of Prairie avenue are now much better coiffed than formerly.
“Although the unhatting rule does not extend to the boxes at the Friday concert – and how one does enjoy those women in the loges whose hats and hatpins are not dropping to the floor every few minutes – it is noticeable that Mrs. Glessner always sits hatless in her box, the center of the grand tier, and in no way profits by the immunity to which her location entitles her.”
The issue did not end there. Two months later, the Tribune ran another article entitled “Unbonneting Rule at Symphony Irksome” written by a columnist identified only as “Cinderella.” In this article, we learn a bit more about the impact of the order, the journalist vividly describing what a woman must go through to comply - the picture of which “would be enlivening in vaudeville.”
“The rule to unbonnet during the concerts grows more and more unpopular. It is considered a very arbitrary ruling and rather inconsistent, as the box holders, who are amply supplied with hooks and chairs and mirrors and extra space, are outside the law and sit triumphantly in their most becoming hats looking down upon the sea of disordered hair and oddly variegated coiffures beneath them.
“Always excepting Mrs. Glessner, of course, who has the central box in the horseshoe and takes off her hat, presumably because she likes to.”
“The unhatting is especially irksome to certain elderly ladies who have been subscribers to the concerts ever since their beginning years ago.
“Their experience now at the erstwhile beloved symphony concert would be enlivening in vaudeville.”
“First comes the handbag, then the wraps folded across the knees, then a scarf, then a small knit jacket. Piled on top of that a muff and fur stole and high on top of the pyramid the hat perched jauntily with its hatpins, effectually cutting off from its owner’s view the graceful and poetic evolutions of Mr. Stock leading the orchestra.
“The lady desires her handkerchief, pokes for it in her handbag, and, O, help! the whole thing slides off her lap into the aisle.
“Younger women do not wear so many wraps, but they positively hate going forth in the late afternoon gayeties with their hats on crooked.
“After all, this unhatting phase seems rather provincial, and more worthy of a small German town under military rule, than of a large city. One hears that the back seats and the last row of side seats have suddenly become very popular because the women in them are permitted up to date to wear their hats.”
All the while, Frances Glessner was sitting in Box M at Orchestra Hall, no doubt amused at all the fuss caused by a simple rule that she herself had been observing for years.