Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Brief History of the Humble Window Screen

The light bulb, the telephone, the automobile, and the phonograph are all ranked among the greatest inventions of the 19th century.  But what about the humble and often overlooked window screen?  Prior to its introduction during the Civil War, hot weather meant either keeping the windows and doors of a house closed, or opening them and subjecting the occupants to wasps, flies, mosquitoes, and a range of potentially infectious diseases.   In this article, we will briefly explore the history of the window screen, and then look at how they were used at the home of John and Frances Glessner.

Cheesecloth was sometimes used to cover windows as a way to keep out insects.  Being loosely woven, it allowed air to circulate, but it was easily torn, soiled quickly, and limited the visibility from inside.  Advertisements for wire window screens started to appear in the 1820s and 1830s, but the idea didn’t take off.  It was the onset of the Civil War that made window screens a household word (and necessity).

Gilbert and Bennett factory (destroyed by fire in 1874)

Gilbert and Bennett, a Connecticut based company that made sieves, is generally credited with the invention of the modern window screen.  The company’s business suffered during the Civil War, as they could no longer sell their products in the Southern states.  An enterprising employee had an idea that changed history – paint the wire cloth to prevent it from rusting, and sell it for use as window screens.  The idea took off, and the company made the production of wire cloth a major part of its business.  Homeowners would purchase the wire cloth and then nail it to wooden window and door frames they constructed.  The firm later introduced steel wire, which did not rust.

The firm of Bayley and McCluskey filed a patent in 1868 for screened windows on railroad cars, which helped to prevent sparks, cinders, and dust from entering the passenger compartments.   Screens were first advertised in the Chicago Tribune in May 1869, the advertisement reading in part:

“The annoyances of spring and summer, such as flies, mosquitoes, dust, etc., can be obviated by using the wire window screens manufactured by Evans & Co., No. 201 Lake street.  These can be obtained at fifteen to fifty cents a foot.”

Window screens not only made houses more comfortable, they also had a direct impact on health, as they kept disease-carrying insects out of homes.  Over time, the incidents of these diseases declined dramatically.  This aspect of window screens was considered so important that the Boy Scouts and other volunteer organizations would help communities install and maintain screens.

As was the case with window shades, artists soon saw the possibilities of window screens, which were basically canvases with holes in them.  Screens were painted on the outside, normally with landscape scenes, leaving the holes unobstructed.  In addition to being decorative, the screens were practical as well.  From the outside, the painted scenes blocked the view inside the house, providing a level of privacy.

Painted screen, National Museum of American History
Click here for more images from their collection

Painted window screens became extraordinarily popular in Baltimore, after a Czech immigrant named William Oktavec painted a screen to advertise produce in his store in 1913.  He was soon asked to paint screens for homes, and other artists jumped on the bandwagon.  It is estimated that there were 100,000 painted screens in Baltimore at its peak, many adorning the row houses with windows at sidewalk level, where privacy was most desired.  The screens are considered a Baltimore folk art and are still produced today, and a collection is displayed at the American Visionary Art Museum in that city.  There is even The Painted Screen Society of Baltimore, formed to preserve and encourage the art form.

The building specifications prepared by H. H. Richardson for Glessner house specifically include window screens:

“Finish and put up to all the outside doors and windows, the best patent wire screens, to have steel frames and hardwood runs, except one window over main stairs on 18th St., one in library, one in Parlor, two in dining room and one in upper hall.  The window screens will be on the outside.  The doors will be made of 1 ¼” clear pine stock.”

Male servants' door at right, with screen door, 1923

It is interesting to note that the specifications call for the screens to be on the outside – an indication that screens were far from being universal at the time, so the contractors needed to be given extra instruction.  One will also note that screens were not put on every window in the house – the specifications list six windows that would not have screens, in each case in rooms where there were multiple windows.  

This bit of information relates directly to instructions written by Frances Glessner in 1901 for the servants who were to remain in the house during the summer.  She noted:

“When the weather is warm, open the windows and doors to court yard early in the morning and at about six in the evening – open only doors and windows which have wire screens.  Keep all closed from 9 o’clock in the morning until six in the evening.”

Screen door for the Prairie Avenue door, in storage in the basement.
Note the custom made wall brackets to hold the door.

The screens for the Glessner house were manufactured by E. T. Burrowes & Co. of Portland, Maine, the largest manufacturer of window screens in the late 19th century.  They were sold locally through Robinson & Bishop, the western managers for the company, with offices at No. 1202 Chamber of Commerce Building.  In October 1893, the firm won the top award at the World’s Columbian Exposition for their production of wire window screens and screen doors. 

The company noted that “our screens are in use in the best dwellings in every city in the United States,” listing the homes of Thomas A. Edison, P. T. Barnum, General P. H. Sheridan, George Westinghouse Jr., and Grover Cleveland in their advertisements.

In the early 1890s, the company published a 12-page booklet listing the names of hundreds of Chicago area residents who used Burrowes window screens in their homes.  Listed were many Prairie Avenue residents including George Pullman, Joseph Sears, Philip Armour, and William Hibbard.  The booklet was illustrated with photographs of thirty houses, including the “Residence of Hon. Robert T. Lincoln (U.S. Minister to England)” which adorned the cover. 

The Glessner house was illustrated as were several other prominent South Side residences.

2720 S. Prairie Avenue (demolished)

2904 S. Prairie Avenue (demolished)

2838 S. Michigan Avenue (demolished)

1826 S. Michigan Avenue (demolished)

Next time you open your window on a warm summer day, without the worry of a mosquito flying in, take a moment to recall the interesting history of one of the most useful and practical items ever invented to keep our homes safe and comfortable.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Ada Small Moore, Art Collector

In our last two articles, we have discussed Frances Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class, organized in 1894.  This week, we look at one of the most fascinating members of the class – Ada Small Moore.

Ada Moore (center) with Reading Class members
Alice Hyde (left) and Julia Herrick (right), May 5, 1902

In her journal, Frances Glessner recorded the last meeting on May 5, 1902 before the class broke for the summer season.  This was the class at which the iconic photo was taken.  In the journal, she noted “Mrs. Wm. Moore was here.”  This was a reference to Ada (Small) Moore who had moved to New York City in 1900, but was visiting Chicago, and therefore able to join the class that morning.

Ada Waterman Small was born in Galena, Illinois on August 17, 1858 to Edward A. and Mary C. (Roberts) Small.  Her parents were both born in Maine, and moved to Galena shortly after their  1852 marriage, where Edward entered into business.  In 1857, he entered the law office of the Hon. Wellington Weigley as a law student, and was admitted to the bar a year later.  He formed a partnership with Weigley, and then continuing his own private practice until 1869 when he moved his family to Chicago. 

In October 1875, Ada Small was married to William H. Moore, an attorney who had joined her father’s law firm three years earlier.  He was ten years her senior.  Edward Small died in 1882 at his residence, 1910 S. Indiana Avenue, and Moore then formed a law partnership with his brother James, who in turn, married Ada’s sister.  The William H. Moores took up residence at 3625 Grand Boulevard (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive), later moving to 2922 S. Michigan Avenue.

William H. Moore, often called Judge Moore, became an extremely successful attorney, financier, and corporate organizer.  He organized and sat as a director for several steel companies that merged to create United States Steel.  With his brother, he organized numerous companies including Diamond Match Company, National Biscuit Company (later Nabisco), the American Can Company, the Western Union Telegraph Company, and several railroads.  He was also known as an expert horseman.

In 1900, the Moores moved from Chicago to New York City, purchasing the home then under construction at 4 East 54th Street.  The house had been commissioned in 1898 by William Earle Dodge Stokes and was designed by Stanford White of McKim, Mead and White.  However, Stokes marriage was quickly failing and in December 1899 he sold the partially completed house to William and Ada Moore for $325,000.  In reporting the sale, the New York Times stated that the house “may safely be classed as one of the finest private dwellings in the city.”

The house lived up to the description.  Standing five stories tall and three bays wide, it was clad in white marble and designed in the Italian Renaissance style, complete with a balcony extending across the second floor, and a balustrade at the roof level.  The rusticated ground floor was set behind a marble and wrought iron fence.  The interior featured elaborate stained glass, inlaid floors, cast plaster ceilings, and a five-story winding marble staircase.  (Later history:  The house was listed on the National Register in 1972 and is a rare survivor of the residential prominence of 5th Avenue.  It was purchased by the present owner, Banco Di Napoli, in 1993 for $12.8 million and extensively renovated).

The Moores hosted lavish dinner parties for opera stars and the elite of New York City, and Ada Moore filled the house with Asian antiques.  She became well known as a fine and decorative art collector with her collecting interests including painting by Peter Paul Rubens and John Singer Sargent; Chinese bronzes, paintings, jades, and porcelains; Roman and early Christian glass; Persian miniatures and textiles; Luristan bronzes; Japanese woodcuts; and French furniture.

Rockmarge (above), stables (below)

In 1901, the Moores commissioned the Boston architects Herbert Brown and Arthur Little to undertake a major remodeling of the 1870s E. V. R. Thayer House in the Georgian style.   The remodeled house, set within the stretch of homes in Beverly, Massachusetts known as Prides Crossing or “the Prides” was named “Rockmarge” and was a full sporting estate, to accommodate Moore’s interest in horses.   The home was frequently the site of local charity events, and the extensive gardens were open to the public.  For more information on Rockmarge, visit

Ada Small was deeply interest in archaeological excavations in both Iran and Greece.  She donated a scientific library to the American College in Teheran, Iran and received the Order of Elim, First Class.  She was also made an honorary member of the community of Corinth, Greece, funding the museum there, and received the Greek Golden Cross of Saviour’s Regiment. 

She frequently loaned items from her collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University for exhibition, many of the items later donated as gifts and bequests.  The Chinese and Japanese collections at the Yale University Art Gallery were built through her gifts.  She donated cylinders and other ancient Oriental seals to the Morgan Library.  She also presented the Library of Congress with a set of 46 Chinese paintings depicting tilling and weaving, executed in the 17th century.

Deeply proud of her ancestral heritage, she was a member of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, the Society of Colonial Dames, and the Daughters of the American Revolution.  She was also a member of the Society of Women Geographers.

William Moore died in 1923, and Ada continued to travel extensively throughout Europe and Asia, collecting many of the objects she later donated to museums.  She lived in the family’s New York home until her death in January 1955 at the age of 96. 

Prominent descendants of the Moores include their son Paul Moore, Sr., founder of Republic Aviator; grandsons the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, Jr. and Bankers Trust chairman William Moore; and great-grandson poet and author Honor Moore.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Monday Morning Reading Class, Part 2

The photograph of Mrs. Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class, taken by her son George on May 5, 1902, is one of the most iconic images of Glessner House.  Thousands of visitors see the image each year, as a copy is on display in the library where the class took place.  It has also been reproduced in various articles and publications about Frances Glessner and her home.

But there have been a few fundamental problems with the interpretation of the photo.  For one, the image is interpreted primarily as a group photo, with little thought given to the individuals within the class.  Secondly, when the women are described, they are usually identified with respect to their husbands. For example, one will learn that several of the women were the wives of professors at the University of Chicago.  While this is true, it minimizes the women under the umbrella of their husbands and their husbands’ profession.  Given Frances Glessner’s propensity for surrounding herself with people of cultural, artistic, and musical backgrounds and interests, it would seem that she in fact gave very careful thought to the women whom she invited to be members of the class.  Mrs. X would not be selected simply because she was the wife of Mr. X, but rather because she would contribute to the intellectual and social structure of the class. 

This led to a journey to discover the identity of the 34 women who are pictured.  Social convention of the time made the journey a bit more difficult.  On the one copy of the photo on which Frances Glessner identified all the ladies, she refers to them simply as Mrs. Clarke, Mrs. Perry, etc. with no first names.  Additionally, the annual roster of the class she prepared only gives the initials, or occasionally the first name, of the husband.  By consulting the 1902 Blue Book of Chicago and the 1905 Book of Chicagoans (with some additional help from, we have, at long last, been able to give names to the faces we have so long gazed upon.

The roster for the 1901-1902 class year indicates that there were 64 members of the class, so just over half of those women were in attendance for the final class before it disbanded for the summer.  It also happened to be the last class with Miss Anne E. Trimingham as reader, as she had earlier announced her retirement.  Louise Goldsmith, one of the two sisters of Miss Trimingham who were members of the class, prepared and read a history of the class from the time of its founding in 1894.

Frances Glessner identified the women beginning with the ladies standing on the porch from left to right, then right to left for the middle row, and finally left to right again for the women seated in the front row.  (See key below).   For purposes of this article, the women are listed with their husband’s full name first, followed by their own name, including maiden name, in parentheses. 

1 – Mrs. William R. Linn (Nellie B. Butler)
2 – Mrs. William R. Stirling (Alice I. Hibbard)
3 – Miss Helen Macbeth
4 – Mrs. Henry L. Frank (Henrietta Greenbaum)
5 – Mrs. Hugh J. McBirney (Mary Campbell)
6 – Mrs. John J. Glessner (Frances Macbeth)
7 – Mrs. William H. Colvin (Bessie Small)
8 – Miss Anne E. Trimingham, reader
9 – Mrs. Andrew R. Sheriff (Marguerite Mitchell)
10 – Mrs. Henry H. Donaldson (Julia Vaux)
11 – Mrs. Frederic I. Carpenter (Emma Cook)
12 – Mrs. Benjamin S. Terry (Mary Baldwin)
13 – Mrs. Shailer Mathews (Mary P. Elden)
14 – Mrs. Alfred L. Goldsmith (Louise Trimingham)
15 – Mrs. Frank S. Johnson (Elizabeth B. Ayer)
16 – Mrs. Frank Allport (Kate A. Ellwood)
17 – Mrs. Harry P. Judson (Rebecca A. Gilbert)
18 – Mrs. Philo A. Otis (Alice J. Sanford)
19 – Mrs. Robert B. Gregory (Addie V. Hibbard)
20 – Mrs. Secor Cunningham (Althea I. Stone)
21 – Mrs. John J. Herrick (Julia T. Dulon)
22 – Mrs. William H. Moore (Ada W. Small)
23 – Mrs. James N. Hyde (Alice L. Griswold)
24 – Mrs. Howard E. Perry (Grace Henderson)
25 – Mrs. William E. Casselberry (Lilian Hibbard)
26 – Mrs. William G. Hale (Harriet K. Swinburne)
27 – Mrs. John H. Hamline (Josephine Meade)
28 – Mrs. Carl D. Buck (Clarinda Swazey)
29 – Mrs. Blewett H. Lee (Frances Glessner)
30 – Mrs. Frederic A. Delano (Matilda A. Peabody)
31 – Mrs. Horace K. Tenney (Eleanor Favill)
32 – Mrs. William G. Hibbard, Jr. (Susan D. Follansbee)
33 – Mrs. Frank P. Wheeler (Elizabeth F. Trimingham)
34 – Mrs. Edmund A. S. Clarke (Louisa H. Ward)

There are only two single ladies in the photo – Miss Trimingham, the reader, and Helen Macbeth, the sister of Frances Glessner.  As a general rule, only married women were invited into class membership.  Additionally, residency on the South Side was a requirement, although one could remain a member of the class if they later moved to another part of the city.  Only two of the women pictured had “defected” to the north side by 1902 – one moving to Cedar Street, the other to Wellington Avenue.  (The number of north siders would increase dramatically in later years as Prairie Avenue fell into decline.)  Seven of the ladies lived in Hyde Park due to their husbands being on the faculty of the University of Chicago, but it was interesting to note the presence of three women married to physicians who were also professors at Northwestern University.

Surprisingly, one lady pictured resided in New York City, Ada Small Moore.  We shall learn more about her in our next installment.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Monday Morning Reading Class

Monday Morning Reading Class, May 1902 (Photo by George Glessner)

I began my summer project on Frances Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class with little idea of what I would uncover. As I looked more and more into the class, I was struck by the similarities between this group of women and my college sorority. As a sorority girl who loves everything about sorority life from the sisterhood to rituals to formals, I think of the organization that brought me and my sisters together quite often. As such, while reading about the Monday Morning Reading Class through my collections project, I was struck by the similarities between this class and my sorority.

Mrs. Glessner had the first meeting of her Monday Morning Reading Classes in November of 1894 with the goal of gathering young married women from the South Side of Chicago together, including the wives of the professors of the newly opened University of Chicago. Mrs. Glessner hosted a meeting every week while she was in town, typically November through May. The class ran for two hours and involved a reading from a book (provided by a paid professional reader) or a lecture, followed by a performance from a visiting musician and lunch the first Monday of each month. It was a popular social event that was by invitation only; Mrs. Glessner created a roster of members every season that included around 90 names. The Monday Morning Reading Classes continued until Mrs. Glessner’s declining health required that the class be disbanded 1930.

Chi Omega - Tau Mu Pledge Class, 2016

It’s plain to see the similarities between the class and my sorority at first. Sororities are women-only groups, just like the Reading Class. There’s a special sacredness to women-only spaces where we don’t have to worry about the impression we make and can form bonds with those around us. Women who wouldn’t otherwise meet become close friends. It’s also a relief to have a gathering where men may be invited but are not allowed to invite themselves. In a sorority, a male visitor is permitted to speak and must leave directly afterwards. In the Reading Class, a male visitor was held strictly to their role as lecturer or musician, leaving swiftly after completing his task.

There are other small details of the Monday Morning Reading Class that match closely to sorority life. The members paid dues and went to weekly meetings, at which attendees were expected to dress a certain way, much like a sorority chapter. The class operated during the Glessners’ yearly Chicago stay, November through May, and sororities operate throughout the school year, from September to April with a break for the winter holidays. There were select people in charge of the class: the hostess, Mrs. Glessner; the reader, Miss Trimingham and later Mrs. Kennedy; and the treasurer, Mrs. Philo Otis. Similarly, sororities have their own set of directors.

The roster of Monday Morning Reading Class members changes slightly from season to season, as some members leave and others are selected. While there isn’t any record of how Mrs. Glessner selected the new members, one can assume that the names were given to her by members and friends of the class, just like sorority recommendations for recruitment. Although in this aspect, I must say that the class seems to be more exclusive than my sorority was during our recruitment process.

The small details that I found to be the most intriguing were descriptions of rituals. The Reading Class went out with a bang at the end of every season. Much like a sorority ends with a formal, the class concluded with a luncheon for all members complete with gifts and more flowers than Mrs. Glessner could handle. However, there were several journal entries by Mrs. Glessner describing elaborate rituals.

On January 13, 1901, Mrs. Glessner described a peculiar scene from the Reading Class in her journal:
I gave some tapers to some of the ladies who lighted them at the library fire—they were passed from one to the other until every one had touched them. Then they were carried out in procession to the dining room where the new lamp was lighted. The lamp stood in the centre of the dining table with a wreath of green ferns and red carnations around it. We all applauded the lighting.

There were also extra parties that hinted at some ritual aspects, such as the one described in Mrs. Glessner’s journal, held on April 25, 1904:
The day was rainy but there were sixty of the ladies at the party. Mrs. Stein stood in the hall watching for us and as soon as we stepped out of the elevator disappeared telling the ladies we had arrived. We left our cloaks in the dressing room and went in to the Fortnightly assembly room where the ladies stood in a circle at the door, Mrs. Kennedy and Miss Trimingham being without hats. The rooms were most beautifully decorated with flowers which had been sent by the ladies. The mantel was trimmed with pink snapdragons. The rest of the room seemed done with yellow and white flowers and green palms. Two large baskets of daisies, violets, hydrangeas and white lilacs stood on the rostrum and came from the University ladies. A large box of yellow jonquils came from the Hibbard sisters. The dining room had tulips all around the wainscoting and the table decoration was made in a pyramid of all sorts of spring flowers and was very beautiful. After the greetings were over twelve members of the orchestra came and played a beautiful program. Mrs. Thomas read her paper on the musician’s life and temperament. Then Kramer played, the musicians played again and after that a very pleasant tea was served. It was all most beautiful, the spirit of affection and whole tone was especially charming. I came home quite tired and headachy but never enjoyed a more beautiful afternoon in my life.

On November 20, 1904, Mrs. Glessner described a memorial service at the class for one member who committed suicide: “Monday we had a good sized meeting of the Reading Class and had a little memorial to Mrs. Donaldson, a written word to the class from me and a very pretty tribute from Miss Trimingham.” Descriptions became briefer after that; Mrs. Glessner described a couple more parties given for the Reading Class in 1907 and a memorial service for Miss Trimingham and Mrs. Smith on November 16, 1913.

Rooms were decorated in an elaborate and specific way; the description of greetings was vague and may be more ceremonial than a casual hello. This is all conjecture of course, but the combination of several parties with specific details about actions and decorations leads me to believe that these were more like ceremonies. The repeated ceremonies, such as the memorial services and the end-of-year celebrations, could be considered rituals.

Given its many sorority-like characteristics, Mrs. Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class was a proto-sorority. If the Glessners had not purposefully disbanded the group due to Mrs. Glessner’s illness, I believe that the class would have gone on for much longer. Maybe they would have eventually picked out a couple of Greek letters in order to abbreviate such a long title.


Our guest author is Genevieve Leach, an Art History and Archaeology major at Washington University in St. Louis. During her summer internship at Glessner House Museum, she organized the collection of documents related to Mrs. Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...