Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Monday Morning Reading Class, Part IV

In this fourth, and final, installment of our blog series about the history of Mrs. Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class, we will look at the last 24 years of the class, during which time the class thrived in spite of the changing fortunes of Prairie Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood.  Although many of the members abandoned the South Side for new homes in other parts of the city, most continued to travel to 1800 S. Prairie Avenue each Monday for the class and its treasured friendships.

The standard readings for the class, led by Mrs. Nathalie Kennedy, were often supplemented by special presentations from authors and others.  In April 1905, Frances Glessner noted “Last Monday I had Mrs. Wainwright of Boston give a lecture before the Reading class on English Gardens – it was illustrated with a stereopticon and was very delightful.”   

The last class of the season was always special, often including musical entertainment, and Frances Glessner was always the recipient of abundant flowers.  The last class held in May 1907 was typical:

“Monday, May 6th was the last meeting of the Reading class.  There was a large attendance and many flowers sent by the ladies.  We had a pleasant hour’s reading and before the ladies moved from their places, Frank Baird’s quartette sang standing back in the parlor.  It was very beautiful.  After the singing (an hour) we had luncheon.  The quartet ended the program with “Come Dorothy” and this was kept for me as a surprise.  We all went into the parlor and enjoyed the music.  After the luncheon, I gave each of the ladies a box of flowers, Miss Trimingham and Mrs. Kennedy each a box.  Later, I sent some to the children and some to St. Luke’s Hospital.”

A special treat for the class took place in April 1908, when “Miss Anna Morgan read a paper on Kipling, and read selections from Kipling which she did exceedingly well.”  Morgan was a prominent teacher of the dramatic arts and was well known as a reader in the naturalistic style.  A decade earlier she had opened the Anna Morgan Studios in the Fine Arts Building, where she taught the Delsarte method of reading, which emphasized the conveyance of emotions through body positioning and gestures.

In November 1908, John Glessner read the first of several papers before the class.  “Monday, we had the first meeting of the Reading class.  Over sixty ladies were here.  Mrs. Kennedy read the first hour and John read his paper on The Potato which he reads tomorrow night at the Literary Club.  We had a fine time.”

Two speakers of note in 1909 were Frances Shaw and May Morris.  Frances Shaw, the wife of architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, was a talented writer and read her paper “Wanted” which she had prepared for the Friday Club.  

May Morris

Later that year, May Morris, the daughter of the English designer William Morris, and a noted designer and embroiderer in her own right, spent a month in Chicago speaking on a variety of topics.  Given Frances Glessner’s great interest in William Morris and her widespread use of his wallpapers, fabrics, and rugs, she was no doubt very pleased at this opportunity to welcome May Morris into her home.  (The wallpaper Frances Glessner selected for her courtyard guestroom, Arcadia, was a design by May Morris).  Frances Glessner noted that May Morris gave a lecture entitled “Design in Costume” to the Reading Class in November of 1909.

William French

A notable presentation took place in April 1910.  “Mr. French of the Art Institute came up at twelve and gave us the most interesting talk imaginable about the wit and wisdom of the crayon.  He illustrated the talk with very rapid and clever crayon sketches.”  William French was the first director of the Art Institute, serving in that capacity from 1885 until his death in 1914. 

When the class concluded its season the next month, Frances Glessner was too ill to attend.  Frances Glessner Lee hosted the class in her home at 1700 S. Prairie Avenue and did a splendid job, as noted by John Glessner in the journal:

“Frances Lee had the Reading Class on Monday May 2, with the luncheon, and Frank Baird’s quartet of singers and about 60 ladies present.  Altogether the meeting was a very good one and well managed.  I have heard much praise of Frances Lee’s entertainment.  Her house was beautifully decorated with flowers etc.”

January 1914 brought an entirely different type of entertainment to the class:

“There were about 65 ladies at Reading Class.  Mrs. Kellogg played her accompaniments and Mr. Charles Kellogg of Kellogg Springs, Morgan Hill, California, gave the most remarkable entertainment the class ever has had – reproductions of the songs of birds and talks of their habits and his experience with them.”

The class ended in April that year due to the reader, Mrs. Kennedy, sailing for an extended trip to Europe:

“On Monday the Reading Class at its last meeting for the season gave Mrs. Kennedy a purse of $250 in Express Co. checks and Frances gave her $100 in gold, preparatory to her sailing for Europe on Wednesday.  Her class on the North Side gave a purse also.”

Notes:  Her European travels took an unexpected turn when Mrs. Kennedy found herself in Austria when the Austro-Hungarians fired the first shots of World War I in anticipation of their invasion of Serbia.  She quickly made her way to Milan, Italy and then back to the United States.   The “North Side” reference is to a class, similar to the Monday Morning Reading Class, that had been established in the Gold Coast area several years earlier.  Mrs. Kennedy served as the reader for that class, as well, which followed the same course of reading as Mrs. Glessner’s class.  It met on Thursday mornings.

The twentieth anniversary of the class was celebrated at a special breakfast held on Thursday January 7, 1915.  Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the well-known music patron, and the daughter of the Glessners’ close friends, Albert and Nancy Sprague, hosted the event and wrote and read an original sonnet:

“Dear Guest, whom we delight to honor most,
We drink to more than twenty happy years
Of comradeship that heartens and endears.
Come, join we all!  Friends, sisters, hostess, host!
Let’s drink to constancy, of whose modest boast,
Of quiet work and steadfast aim, one hears
Nothing at all; Btu in whose train appears
Uplift with sweet benevolence.  A toast!

Stand with me now, and pledge the heart and mind
Whose love and wisdom guided you to this.
Pledge me the Roof beneath whose shelter kind
No warmth nor freedom has been known to miss,
Now, Class, stand up! And bless the ties that bind,
Leaving “within the cup” a First-class Kiss.”

Coolidge presented Frances Glessner with a beautiful illuminated copy of the sonnet, which hangs, to this day, in Mrs. Glessner’s dressing room.

The class season of 1914-1915 was memorable for another reason as well.  In the fall of 1914, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra passed an order requiring female patrons to remove their hats during concerts.  The ruling met with opposition, although Frances Glessner fully supported the idea.  To show her support, she made a similar request of the ladies at the Reading Class that they, too, remove their hats for the class.  This move was noted in a February 1915 article in the Chicago Tribune, entitled “Hats Off Edict Rules at Mrs. Glessner’s” which read in part:

“The members of Mrs. John J. Glessner’s Monday morning reading class, which for twenty years has been a feature of south side society has met with a great adventure this winter. . . 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.”

World War I brought a new flurry of activity to the class.  The women gave up their embroidery needles and knit hundreds of sweaters for servicemen.   John Glessner noted their devoted work in his informal history of the class written in 1925:

“And while the readings went on, the Class members have worked women’s work – the needle trades, you know, they call it commercially, and I know it when I come home on Monday evenings and find pins on the floor and needles sticking in the arm of the sofa at my place – but it’s all right – I only reflect on the dainty fingers that put them there.  The ladies have worked with a will for the needy, for soldiers of the World War, for hospitals and sweet charity, generally.  Did you ever think how far it would extend if your work of these thirty-one years were stretched out in one continuous line?  Like Banquo’s ghosts’ procession before the horrified Macbeth, it would stretch to the crack of doom.”

Additionally, in late 1918, when Frances Glessner Lee took up management of Wendell House in Boston, which served as a half-way house for soldiers and sailors returning from the war, the ladies of the Reading Class financed the equipment and set up of the cafeteria.

The class continued uninterrupted until the spring of 1930 when Frances Glessner became seriously ill.  By summer, it became apparently her condition would not improve, and so her husband John sent out a letter to all class members in September announcing that the class would have to be disbanded.  The letter read, in part:

“Mrs. Glessner’s prolonged serious illness, beginning last spring, has so impaired her vitality that she should withdraw at this time as far as possible from social activities.  She is improving, but very probably may never have the same physical strength s before.  I am constrained therefore to ask that The Monday Morning Reading Class be disbanded, and its name be no longer used.

“Mrs. Glessner has had great joy and pride in this Class since its inception nearly forty years ago.  She has looked forward with eager pleasure for each meeting, and she hopes that you have had some measure of the same enjoyment.  It will be a great cross to her to give up this delightful intimate association with her friends, and we would not think of it did not the conditions imperatively demand it.

“Of course neither she nor I can or will have the slightest objection to your forming another class for a similar or other purpose if you so desire, thought much preferring that this organization and its name be abandoned.”

Frances Glessner died two years later, in October 1932, and her husband John died in January 1936.   With his passing, ownership of the Prairie Avenue house passed to the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.  Before that organization took possession, however, Frances Glessner Lee and her sister-in-law, desired to have a final reunion of the Reading Class.  Invitations were sent out for a reunion meeting and luncheon on April 6, 1936, before the house was “altered or dismantled.”

Dozens of ladies attended the reunion, one of the last grand social events to take place on Prairie Avenue, which by now consisted largely of boarding houses, printers and publishers, and vacant lots.  The Chicago Tribune ran an article on the reunion and wrote, in part:

“Mrs. Frances Glessner Lee, who was hostess at yesterday’s meeting, occupied the chair that her mother, the late Mrs. John J. Glessner, occupied for so many years, but the chairs of the other members who have died, including Mrs. Harry Pratt Judson and Mrs. Charles L. Hutchinson, were left vacant. 

“There was no reading yesterday by Mrs. Kennedy, although she made a brief talk, but Mrs. Lee read a greeting that her father, the late John J. Glessner, had written several years ago when he had planned to invite the members of the Monday reading class for a final reunion.

“Illness prevented his carrying out the plan so his daughter and his son’s widow, Mrs. J. George M. Glessner, were hostesses at the reunion, probably the last social affair that will be held in the old mansion at 1800 Prairie avenue. 

“Mrs. Lee’s younger daughter, Martha, who made her debut in the old mansion in December 1915, was at the meeting yesterday, having arrived just a few hours before from California on her way back to her home in Milton, Mass.  She is Mrs. Charles F. Batchelder, Jr.

“Mrs. George Glessner, who lives in Littleton, N.H. where the John Glessners had their country home and where Mrs. Lee also has a home, also arrived from California yesterday, accompanied by her daughter Miss Emily Glessner.

“All of the members signed the late Mrs. Glessner’s autograph album, a cherished possession of Mrs. Lee’s.”

Frances Glessner Lee also presented each member of the class with a small memento – a tea cup, small vase, silver spoon, etc. – accompanied by a note which read:

“Believing that the members of Mrs. Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading class would care to possess some tangible memento of the house wherein the Class met for so many years, Mrs. Frances Glessner Lee has pleasure in tendering this trifle to ______.”

The reunion was, in fact, the last social event to take place in the house.  Soon after, the contents of the house were packed up, the furnishings and belongings distributed amongst family members, and the fifty years of occupancy by the Glessner family drew to a close.   The cherished memories of the Monday Morning Reading Class lived on with all those who had participated through the years, and the story of the class continues to enchant visitors to this day.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Monday Morning Reading Class, Part III

During the year 1905, the Monday Morning Reading Class, which had been meeting for more than a decade, planned a very special gift to be presented to Frances Glessner on her 58th birthday, January 1, 1906.  A large leather-bound calendar, contained pages prepared by class members, friends, and family members, to be read daily throughout the year.  The book itself measured 12-1/2” x 17” and was four inches thick.  With its case, it was designed to fit exactly, when opened, on the library table in the second-floor hall.  The individual pages, one for each day of the year, were mounted two to a page, and measured 5” by 8”.  The calendar remains one of the most extraordinary items in the house collection.

Frances Glessner recalled the receipt of the calendar in her journal:

“January 1st I had several pretty gifts from embers of the family, flowers from friends, when a box came in beautifully done up, everything in the choicest and most attractive manner – box of green leather with gold letters monogram etc. a standard of the same, in all a very remarkable calendar prepared for me by members of the Reading class.  It is in four sections – each one has an original title page, one done by Mr. Gookin, one by Fred Bartlett, one by Herman von Holst, one by Mr. Scott – all exceedingly beautiful.”

Frances Glessner was deeply involved in the civic and social life of the city, so it is not surprising that many of the pages were contributed by names still recognized today – Daniel Burnham, Hermann V. von Holst, Frederic Clay Bartlett, Frederick Stock, Charles Hutchinson, Bryan and Helen Lathrop, Harold and Edith McCormick, Frank Lowden, and William Rainey Harper.  Friends from outside Chicago contributed as well, including Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., Isabella Stewart Gardner, and Julia Shepley (the daughter of H. H. Richardson).  The result is an assemblage of beautifully designed and executed pages that convey the profound respect in which Frances Glessner was held by all who knew her.

When the Reading Class met the following week, Frances Glessner asked her daughter-in-law, Alice, to read a thank you letter to the class which read in part:

“How could you think of it?  How could you accomplish it?  How did you know there were so many choice people in the world with big hearts, willing wits and loving thoughts?  How could anything so exquisite in every detail, so perfect in workmanship, so dainty so refined be put together?

“Fairies and elves could conceive nothing which would give me greater pleasure, more lasting delight than that tribute of your affection . . . The first thought each morning is what does the calendar bring today?  What old friend speaks, what dear face looks out, what poem, what song, what picture, what sacred association?

“Not all of the lovely women in the world are in this class, but there is not one here who is not lovely . . . my heart swells with pride to see a splendid room filled with charming matrons in becoming garb, no introductions needed, all friends, all clever, all intellectual, with high ideals.  This circle is something to be proud of, and I am proud of it and of every individual in it.

“I have one small confession to make.  I have peeped ahead a little in the calendar – only a little – members of my family interfered in the most officious manner and told me I was dishonorable.  Now I have come to a conclusion of my own.  What if I should die before I see it all?  So after today I fling honor to the breeze and establish a code of my own, I am going to peep.”

Reproductions of 104 pages were put on exhibit at Glessner House in early 2007.  Rick Kogan featured the calendar in an article entitled “Ghostly Writers: City Giants of Long Ago Send Messages Through Time at Glessner House” in his weekly Sidewalks column in the Chicago Tribune Magazine on February 18, 2007.  Below we present a few select pages from the calendar, it was most hard to choose, indeed!

January 12, 1906: William Rainey Harper
The first president of the University of Chicago, whose suggestion led to the formation of the Reading Class in 1894, was fluent in several ancient languages, and wrote his message in both English and cuneiform.

January 18: Helen Macbeth
The sister of Frances Glessner, Helen was a talented painter and created an artwork showing the Macbeth family home in Springfield, Ohio, where John and Frances Glessner were married on December 7, 1870.

February 23: Frederick Stock
Second conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Among the Glessners closest friends, a few years later he would dedicate his first symphony to them, much of it having been composed at their New Hampshire summer estate, The Rocks.

March 7: Charles L. Hutchinson
Hutchinson was the long-time president of the Art Institute of Chicago, and he and his wife Frances were frequent guests to the Glessner House.  For his page, he selected a print by the well-known English etcher and printmaker, Sir Francis Seymour Haden.

March 31: William G. Hibbard
Part of the large Hibbard clan which occupied several house on Prairie and Calumet Avenues, he provided a detailed landscape plan for his summer home in Winnetka, then under development.

April 25: Susan Follansbee Hibbard
Hibbard’s wife, a member of the Reading Class, had the architect of their summer home, A. Lincoln Fechheimer, based in Cincinnati, draw out the floor plan for Frances Glessner to study and enjoy.

July-September title page: Frederic Clay Bartlett
Bartlett designed the title page for the third section of the calendar.  Using his typical pre-Raphaelite style at the time, he depicted the Reading Class, its monthly lunches, and Frances Glessner’s interest in music and beekeeping.

October 11: Theodore Thomas memorial
The first conductor of the Chicago Symphony was among the Glessners closest friends and had died in January 1905.  The beautifully illustrated page was one of two commissioned by the orchestra for inclusion in the calendar.

November 4: Daniel H. Burnham
Architect Daniel Burnham and his wife Margaret both contributed pages.  Daniel Burnham’s page features a quote about the satisfaction of doing good work, a reflection of his interest in the Swedenborgian faith.

December 14: Inauguration of Orchestra Hall
The second of two pages contributed by the orchestra, this page commemorated the second anniversary of the opening of Orchestra Hall in December 1904.  The Glessners personally raised much of the funding to construct the hall.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Monday Morning Reading Class, Part II

The Monday Morning Reading Class, May 5, 1902
(Photo by George Glessner)

In our previous article, we looked at the formation of the Monday Morning Reading Class in November 1894, how it operated, and its activities during its first season.  In this second article, we will explore the class over its next several years, showing how its activities also sometimes extended beyond the basic structure of reading.

The second season of the class commenced on November 4, 1895.  Thirty-seven ladies gathered and commenced to read Renaissance in Italy, a seven-volume history written by John Addington Symonds between 1875 and 1886.  Portions of the extensive history were read throughout the season, with Michelangelo being a focus by February.  Other works read that season included a lecture by the artist John LaFarge, an appropriate topic given that Frances Glessner owned an original LaFarge watercolor, which she displayed in her parlor. 

The Glessners’ daughter Fanny was invited to join the class in season three, having turned eighteen earlier that year.  Although she was one of the very few single ladies ever invited to join the class, she missed the entire season as she was on her Grand Tour of Europe, accompanied by her aunt, Helen Macbeth.  The invitation sent to her provides information on the focus that year – a series of essays on art by Van Dyck, Moore, Brownell, and others occupied the first hour.  For the second hour of “lighter reading,” the class continued its study of Fyffe’s Modern Europe, followed by the three volume American Commonwealth by James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce. 

On December 14, 1896, a new occasional feature was introduced to the class, namely having an author come and read from their own work.  The Glessners were long-time friends of F. Hopkinson Smith, a well-known author and artist.  He frequently sketched in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, that is possibly where they were introduced.  He was also an engineer of note and designed the foundation for the Statue of Liberty.  Smith would always spend time with the Glessners while visiting Chicago on his never-ending circuits of readings across the U.S.  Frances Glessner noted in her journal:

“Monday Mr. Smith came into the reading class and read more than an hour to the ladies.  He read some stories that have not been published in book form.  The ladies were perfectly delighted.  He made them laugh and cry both.  He read until the carriage came to take him to the station.  There was quite a full meeting.  I introduced him while he stood outside the door.”

As the third season grew to a close, the Glessners headed off to their summer estate, The Rocks, and soon after a Friday Night Reading Class was started for the farm workers and their family members.

With the Monday Morning Reading Class well established, John Glessner and the husbands of several of the class members came up with the idea of hosting a tea for the ladies to show their support for the undertaking.  Frances Glessner recalled the event on Wednesday November 10, 1897 in her journal:

“Wednesday afternoon John had his tea given to the reading class ladies and their husbands.  Dr. Hyde, Prof. Judson and Mr. Hutchinson presided at the tea table.  Mr. Herrick, Mr. Moore, Mr. Ryerson and Chauncey Blair assisted – coming ‘without their hats.’  The ladies all sent John boutonnieres.  One of my chrysanthemums was sent to him.”

(Note:  A new variety of chrysanthemum had recently been developed and named the “Mrs. J. J. Glessner” in her honor.)

John Glessner conveyed his thanks to the ladies to be read at the class the following Monday, which read, in part:

“Only that hard taskmaster, business, prevents me from being with you this morning, by your leave or without it, to tell you how my doubts about the existence of the Class have all been dissipated, how much I enjoyed meeting you last Wednesday, and how greatly I appreciated your flowers and the sentiments they conveyed. . . And so, though in body 500 miles away, I speak to you through the telephone of my wife’s lips to give you greeting and thanks.  Words are but empty thanks anyhow.  Inadequate as they are, they are the only vehicle I have.  May your numbers never grow less, and your charms ever increase.”

Selected excerpts from Frances Glessner’s journal provide additional insight to the happenings of the class.

December 4, 1899:
“Monday, we had a large meeting of the reading class.  After an hours reading of the book on Russia, Mrs. Winterbotham read us her Fortnightly paper on ‘Character through Effort.’  Then Miss Ensinger, a very talented young violinist, played a half hour.  She is a young German girl of eighteen years, a pupil of Mr. Lewis.  She plays remarkably well.”

November 19, 1900:
“We had the usual pleasant Monday reading class.  Miss Trimingham read Emerson’s Essay on Behavior.  It was very fine, and showed that he had set a new standard to which many of us have been trying to live up to.”

December 3, 1900:
“(Today) was our reading class luncheon day.  At the request of the class I gave an explanation of the bees.  I had a complete hive sent up from New York to show – and had the observatory hive placed in the middle of the library table.  This was surrounded by old brocade and embroidery and plants and flowers.  The ladies were most enthusiastic over the talk.  There were forty-eight ladies here.”

December 26, 1900:
“Mrs. Frank Johnson gave her gift party to the reading class.  Each member sent a gift with a rhyme to some other member designated by Mrs. Johnson.  Miss Trimingham read them all and passed the gifts out.  The gifts were hung on the tree.  The tree was lighted by little electric lights.  After the presents were distributed, Miss T. came up to me and presented me from the class a lovely lamp – a Grueby vase with a Tiffany shade.  I had to respond and was scared into insensibility.”  (The Grueby Faience Company, founded in 1894, was a ceramics company that produced distinctive and important vases and tiles throughout during the American Arts & Crafts Movement.)

The eighth season of the class ended on May 5, 1902.  It was an important meeting of the class for two reasons, as noted in the journal:

“Monday was the last meeting of the Reading Class.  I had engaged Dr. Slonaker of the University to come and give a lecture on birds and their nests.  He came bringing a stereopticon and Dr. Week of the Field Museum who operated the lantern.  The lecture was most delightful.  The pictures were nearly all from life and had been colored by Mrs. Slonaker.  The ladies sent and brought great quantities of beautiful flowers.  I had two men come from Samuelson’s to help arrange them.  We had the sideboard massed with them, all the windows filled and a great mass on the table.  The rest were in the parlor . . . Mrs. Goldsmith read a little history of the class.  Miss Trimingham says she will not be able to read to us anymore.  After luncheon, George came up and took our photographs in a group in the yard.”

The iconic photo of the Class assembled on the curved porch in the courtyard (shown at the top of the article) was taken that day, to commemorate the final class at which Miss Ann Trimingham would serve as reader.  It is the only time the class was photographed in its 36-year history.

Mrs. Nathalie Sieboth Kennedy

When the class resumed that fall, the new reader was Mrs. Nathalie Kennedy, who would continue in that role until the class disbanded in 1930, and came with excellent credentials.  Mrs. Kennedy was the daughter of Joseph Sieboth, who had been a pupil of Felix Mendelssohn.  She was also the niece of Frederick William Gookin, a good friend of the Glessners and the long-time curator of Japanese prints at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Mrs. Kennedy would later serve as president of The Fortnightly from 1910 to 1912.  Her first reading went well as noted in the journal:

“Monday morning, we had the first meeting of the year of the Reading Class with Mrs. Kennedy as reader.  There were fifty-four ladies here – four of them were guests.  The ladies lunched with me.  I asked Mrs. Kennedy to stand by the fireplace facing the audience.  She read an essay on the Victorian novelists by Paul, and a short story.  The reading was most delightful, and everyone seemed more than pleased.”

There was always a close connection between the Reading Class and The Fortnightly, as there were quite a few women who were members of both.  When the class decided to honor Frances Glessner with a special reception, the rooms of The Fortnightly in the Fine Arts Building were the obvious choice.  Frances Glessner recorded the event, held on April 25, 1904:

“Monday, April 25th was a red-letter day for me.  The Reading Class gave me a most beautiful reception in The Fortnightly rooms at quarter of three in the afternoon.  The invitation was very beautiful and I have had it framed. . . There were sixty 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. . . 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 but never enjoyed a more beautiful afternoon in my life.  The flowers were all sent here to me.  I sent part of them to Alice and part to Frances.

“I felt that I must make some little remembrance to the musicians who were asked to play professionally but said no they were only too glad to play for Mrs. Glessner and came in that spirit for the afternoon.  I had made for them each a scarf pin – a good Baroque pearl mounted on a gold stick at Spauldings, and got a silver key ring for McNichol and sent them all in on Friday afternoon before the concert with a note.”

Invitation to reception held April 25, 1904

In the next article, we will examine an even more extraordinary expression of affection given to Frances Glessner by the Reading Class – her 1906 calendar.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Monday Morning Reading Class, Part I

Monday Morning Reading Class, May 5, 1902
(Photo by George Glessner)

Today marks the 125th anniversary of the first meeting of Frances Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class on November 21, 1894.  As her husband John noted in a tribute written shortly after her death in 1932, “Perhaps the Monday Morning Reading Class was her choicest activity and the one in which she took most pride and pleasure.”  In this first of several articles about the class, we will explore the origins of the class and how it was structured.

In his tribute, John Glessner noted that the idea for the class originated in an activity begun several years earlier, while the family was residing in their home at the northeast corner of Washington and Morgan:

Library of Washington Street house

“While living on Washington Street, Mrs. Glessner arranged a series of meetings of ladies in our library and parlors to listen to talks and readings about the latest books by scholars and experts, which were well attended and interesting and became the nucleus and forerunner of the Monday Morning Reading Class, so that that afterwards vigorous society had its origination and beginning then and there.”

Addie Hibbard Gregory, a member of the class for its entire 36 years of existence, recalled in her book, A Great-Grandmother Remembers, that Frances Glessner renewed the idea of her earlier meetings at the request of William Rainey Harper, first president of the newly formed University of Chicago:

“Early in the nineties, President Harper of the University of Chicago had asked Mrs. Glessner how the newly arrived wives and families of the university faculty could become acquainted with Chicago women, and we with them.  This class was Mrs. Glessner’s answer.  We were all grateful for the opportunity of meeting as soon as we did those delightful and clever women.”

John Glessner painted the picture of the University families arriving and his wife’s response in more colorful terms:

“When the University of Chicago was started and the staff drawn from all over the world with their families, all cultivated people but strangers to each other, found living conditions almost unbearable in crudely finished houses, with seas of mud in street and sidewalks, she made life more bearable by social attentions.”

In her journal entry for November 18, 1894, Frances Glessner wrote, “I have invited some of the young matrons on the south side to come here once a week for a reading class this winter.  The first reading is on Wednesday next – when they will lunch with me.”  The following week’s journal entry noted, “Wednesday my twenty-five ladies came for the reading aloud.  Miss Gaylord read to us.  We had Meneval’s Memoirs of Napoleon the first hour and The Memories of Dean Hole for the second hour.  Then we had our luncheon.”

Memoirs of the Baron de Meneval

Membership in the class was by invitation only - with two rules set in place.  One was that only married ladies would be invited, although a few exceptions were made through the years.  Secondly, and equally important, was the requirement that the ladies reside on the south side of the city.  In an informal history of the class written by John Glessner in 1925, he humorously noted:

“Membership was confined to the South Side – the mudsills of the North were frowned upon and taboo – only the South Side aristocracy of letters and beauty and gracious manners were drawn upon.  (Alas how the mighty haven fallen!  Our best people have been driven over the divide and we, the saving remnant, are merely permitted in tolerance to enter the sacred regions of north latitude beyond the river.)”

Members would have been residents of the south side at the time they were invited to join the class but were permitted to remain in the class if they later moved elsewhere, as many had by the 1920s.

Library at 1800 Prairie Avenue

The structure of the first class was set – the first hour would consist of more serious reading, usually of a historical nature, the second hour would feature lighter reading.  A paid professional reader would read selections from the books.  John Glessner, in his history of the class, noted “the labor the reader must give to find what to omit, what to explain, what to emphasize.  Every book has some dull pages and pages of indifferent interest that must be cut out to make for speed and to avoid tediosity.”   The selection of The Memories of Dean Hole also shows how current the book selections often were.  The book had just been published in 1894 by the Rev. Dr. Samuel Reynolds Hole, an English Anglican priest, horticulturalist, and leading expert on roses.  As Louise Goldsmith, another life-long member of the class noted, “he had visited Chicago the previous winter and we were all anxious to hear what he said about it.”

A few adjustments were made as well.  The first class was held on a Wednesday, but the class shifted to Monday the following week, and soon after the name “Monday Morning Reading Class” was adopted.  Invitations were extended to additional women, and the class quickly grew to fifty.  Additionally, it was soon determined that Miss Gaylord was not the ideal reader to lead the class.  Louise Goldsmith recounted:

“Miss Gaylord’s reading was very good; but she was young and could not have the broad knowledge and experience necessary for a full understanding of the erudite books she was proposed to read, so Mrs. Glessner looked about for someone who had the lighted torch of knowledge with which to illuminate the printed page revealing the thought of the writer in all of its clearness and strength.”

Miss Ann Trimingham

The new reader for the class, starting on December 17, was Miss Ann Trimingham, a former teacher at the West Side High School, and a sister of Louise Goldsmith.  She remained the reader until May 1902, “missing only one of the two hundred or more meetings.” 

Regarding the selection of the books, it was a democratic process from the start.  Louise Goldsmith recalled:

“Mrs. Glessner has always consulted the class with regard to the books, the one thing insisted upon by her and our reader was that they should be good literature worth spending time on.  Usually at the beginning of each year, a list of books has been presented to the class from which to select.  These books have been recommended by some outsider of known literary ability, by our own members, or by our reader.  A vote has then been taken and the choice of the majority has decided the question.”

The Glessner library (Photo by Chris Tyre)

Regarding the selection of the books, Addie Hibbard Gregory noted, “I, for one, am most grateful for glimpses into books which I should not have dared even to begin, in my busy life.”  She also recorded a delightful barb from New York, “We surely did not deserve the comment (or inuendo) of the eastern society journal which stated that it was ‘glad that Chicago women were learning to read, for Mrs. J. J. Glessner has organized a class for that purpose.’”

On the first Monday of each month, the class was followed by a luncheon, which frequently included musical entertainment.  A typical menu, recorded in 1895, featured sandwiches, baking powder biscuits buttered, sweetbread patties, coffee, hot chocolate, ice cream, and cake.”  The ladies would sit at tables of six, set up in the parlor and dining room.  Frances Glessner purchased a special set of luncheon china in a delicate blue and white pattern, which was reserved for the use of the monthly class luncheons.  (The maker of the hard paste porcelain with transferware decoration is unknown, as the pieces are unmarked).

Reading Class china

The first season of the class concluded on May 13, 1895, shortly before Frances Glessner left Chicago for her summer estate, The Rocks, in New Hampshire.  She recorded in her journal:

“Monday, the Reading Class came to luncheon.  Each lady came walking in carrying a bunch of large long-stemmed American Beauty roses for me.  There were thirty ladies – and it was a lovely sight to see them coming in processions of six or eight carrying these roses.  Frederick and John (butler and footman) arranged them in large vases in the dining room – all on the table, sideboard and side table.  It was very beautiful to look at and certainly a lovely attention to me.  We read our Fyffe for an hour and then Miss Trimingham read her last Fortnightly paper to us – on Sydney Smith and his friends.  After that we had luncheon, then a little music, then goodbye for the summer.”

(Fyffe is a reference to Volume I of The History of Modern Europe by Charles Alan Fyffe, which by the third class had replaced Meneval’s Memoirs of Napoleon, as class members had found it to be “rather dry.”  Sydney Smith (1771-1845) was an English humorist, writer, and Anglican cleric).

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