Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Role of Victorian Women

When the Great Fire occurred in 1871, the Society was keeping their records in the court house of Chicago. When the court house fell, it took most of our early history. There was also an earlier fire in 1859 which I have not been able to document. Then 1871, and finally the Scottish Home fire in 1917. Because of these fires it has been difficult to know the role that women have played in our society.

We get a small glimpse from the annual report of 1870. It shows a list of nine women who were called “Lady Visitors, Assistance to Manager.” In those days, as it is today, the city was divided into three sections; North, South, and West. The Saint Andrew Society used the same division for their work of charity.

Assigned to the North division was Mrs. James Thomson, Mrs. Hugh Ritchie and Miss Dougall.

Assigned to the South division was Mrs. S. McKichan, Mrs. James Campbell and Miss Hamilton.

Assigned to the West division was Mrs. John Alston, Mrs A. M. Thomson and Miss H. Templeton.

Some of those names we recognize as being the wives of board members such as Ritchie, Campbell, Alston and Thomson. It’s interesting to note that each division had a single young lady as well. I recognize the name Dougal and Templeton.

We can assume that it would have been improper for the male managers to investigate certain situations and thus the need for “Lady visitors.” We can only speculate about the role these women played in the charitable work of the Society. The annual report for 1870 states “that all of the persons relieved have been seen personally visited at their places of residence, and their character and wants carefully investigated, so that no deserving applicant has been neglected.”

1870 was a busy year for they had a total of 282 applications for relief and all but 12 received attention. I am sure the Lady Visitors were extremely busy. It’s disappointing that we don’t have complete records.

The Columbian Exposition of 1893 was of importance to women and their search for equality. Bertha Palmer was without question the most important woman in Chicago and she became the president of the Board of Lady Managers which consisted of 115 members. The members were composed of ladies from all over the United States and they met on a regular basis in Chicago. At the urging of Mrs. Palmer the opening poem for the Exposition was written and read by Harriet Monroe. Her father was a prominent lawyer and active in Scottish events.

The Women’s Building was designed by 21 year old Miss Sophia Hayden of Spanish heritage. The building was 200 x 400' its framework covered by staff and painted a “rich old ivory color.” Above the second floor was a roof garden. Around the Gallery of Honor were the names of 75 of the most famous women known to history and art. (I have never seen this list but I’m sure it exists somewhere.) Wonder how many Scottish women were among the 75?

Mrs. Mary Fairchild MacMonnies, an American, was married to the Scottish man who designed the exquisite fountain in front of the Administration Building. She was also an artist and painted “The Primitive Woman,” a 14 x 58' mural that hung 40 feet off the floor. After the Fair it was displayed in France, St. Louis and the Art Institute. It was then stored in the basement of Mrs. Palmer’s mansion on Lake Shore drive. There is no information as to its whereabouts after 1910 and many are hoping that one day it will be found.

At least one organization for Scottish women existed before the Fair. It was the Flora McDonald Society of the Highland Association. The Highland Association was said to have been the largest Scottish organization in the United States at the time. At one of their meetings, Mrs. Robert Hill was voted the “most popular woman present” after “spirited” voting. Entertainment was the dancing of little Eddie Smith, “who danced before Queen Victoria last year.”

The Daughters of the Scotia Society of Chicago was formed on June 12, 1907 when 100 women met in the Atheneum building at 20 W. Van Buren St. The object of the organization was to be both social and benevolent. Mrs. Elizabeth Ballantine was elected president. The other officers were Mrs. Annie Crown, Mrs. Jeanette Russel, and Mrs. Catherine Fraser.

Following the social mores of their day, women held separate meetings for their organizations. It took the Burns Monument to bring both groups together. They were incorporated as the Burns Memorial and Monument Association of Illinois and at least six women were members. We have identified them as: Mrs. M. Strong, Mrs. R. MacWatt, Mrs. R Valentine, Mrs. W. A. Barclay and Miss Helen F. Lonnie.

In 1904, Mrs. Robert Valentine was elected one of the four directors of the Monument Association. The Ladies Auxiliary held their first official meeting in June, 1902 and had an official membership of 75. They held their meetings at the Patterson Shorthand Institute.

At the dedication of the Burns Monument, August 25, 1906, the statue was unveiled by Miss Barbara Evelyn Williamson. Her father may have been J. D. Williamson who was on the committee for the “entertainment of guests.” We have been unable to follow her life. The other women involved in the Burns dedication was Mrs. Kate Campbell Saunders, the famous elocutionist. Mrs. Saunders died November 25, 1936 leaving one daughter, Helen. I do not know her place of burial. Many women also participated in the Burns Memorial Choir which sang at the dedication.

We have a photograph featuring the 29 women who served on the Ladies Auxiliary Board. They are all married except a Miss Mathers. Just for the historical record, here are the names (no first names were given): Winlack, Littledale, Calder, Dick, Napier, Beattie, Kettles, Fraser, Adams, Cochran, Crowe, Bell, Wright, Nisbet, Fraser, Hutchison, Ballantine, Devar, Galbraith, Gould, Cooper, McFarlane, Donaldson, Rice, Ewing, Johnson, Purvis and Orr.

If someday, you are searching through old boxes and you find documents, pictures, books, etc, of Scottish interest - please don’t throw them away. Call me or bring them to the Scottish Home.

Thanks to all the Victorian Ladies who gave of their time and energy to advance the work of Scottish organizations in Chicago.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

Upcoming Events:

September 6, 2014 - Our speaker is Bruce Allardice who is a Professor of History at South Suburban College. He is past president of the Civil War Round Table of Chicago and the Northern Illinois Civil War Round Table. Professor Allardice has authored or coauthored six books and numerous articles on the Civil War. He is an avid sports historian and currently heads up the “Civil War Baseball” subcommittee for the Society of American Baseball Research. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois and a lifelong resident of the Chicago area. He and his wife attended the Highland Games this year and left just minutes before the great storm arrived.

Bruce will be talking about baseball in Chicago during the Civil War. Many of these amateur stars served in the 65th Illinois Infantry. Museum opens at 9 a.m. and program begins at 10 o’clock. Reservations are not necessary but helpful. Call 708-408-5591.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mark your calendar

Scottish American History Club

September 6, 2014 - Our speaker is Bruce Allardice who is a Professor of History at South Suburban College. He is past president of the Civil War Round Table of Chicago and the Northern Illinois Civil War Round Table. Professor Allardice has authored or coauthored six books and numerous articles on the Civil War. He is an avid sports historian and currently heads up the “Civil War Baseball” subcommittee for the Society of American Baseball Research. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois and a lifelong resident of the Chicago area. He and his wife attended the Highland Games this year and left just minutes before the great storm arrived.

Bruce will be talking about baseball in Chicago during the Civil War. Many of these amateur stars served in the 65th Illinois Infantry. Museum opens at 9 a.m. and program begins at 10 o’clock. Reservations are helpful 708-408-5591.

October 4, 2014 - You will enjoy the showing of "The Scots of lake Forest." This is a one hour video exploring the Scottish influence of Lake Forest, Illinois. It is the culmination of three years of work by David Forlow and Wayne Rethford. Narrated by Jack Crombie, it was filmed and edited to Steve Douglass.

November 1, 2014 - Every November we honor our veterans. Charles Gonzales, a member of our Board of Governors, took his father to France for D-Day celebrations this year. He will be sharing pictures from his trip showing invasion sites and the American cemeteries. Other surprises are planned as well!


January 10, 2015 - Our speaker will be Ana Koval, President and CEO of the Canal Corridor Association. Come hear how the I&M Canal changed Illinois.

Our meetings are held in Heritage Hall at the Scottish Home, 28th & Des Plaines, North Riverside, Illinois and are open to the public. The museum opens at 9:00 a.m. and the presentation begins at 10:00 a.m. There is no charge. Coffee, tea and scones are provided. Reservations are helpful. Please call 708.408.5591. If you have questions, please call Wayne Rethford at 630.629.4516.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Annual Dinner

The Annual Dinner of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society will be held this year on November 22, 2014, in the grand ballroom of the Palmer House in Chicago. You can get complete information on their website.

The St. Andrew’s dinner started 169 years ago by a group of immigrant Scots who wanted to honor their Patron Saint and keep memories alive of their Homeland. This dinner has changed over the years and now St. Andrew is seldom mentioned. For many years the great question centered around the speaker for the evening. We no longer have speakers. When I first came to work for the Saint Andrew Society, the big questions were which entertainer would be brought over from Scotland and who would be the master of ceremonies. We seldom bring entertainers from Scotland and no longer use an outside, prominent person as the master of ceremonies.

There are always reasons why things evolve, good speakers are hard to find and the cost of entertainment has continued to rise. The world changes and we change.  (The average attention span for Americans is now down to 8 seconds, according to a speaker I heard last week.) You will, however, notice that we still use much of the same outline for our event. Our past history is important!


I’ve been reading about the St. Andrew’s day dinner which was held in 1932. As most of you know St. Andrew’s day is November 30 but if that date fell on a Sunday the Anniversary Dinner was moved to December.  Thus, in 1932 it was held on December 3rd. The Society president that year was Gilbert Alexander. The attendance was over 800. The Great Depression was at its height. David R Forgan had just died. Dr. John Timothy Stone was asked to give a tribute. He read a poem by S. H. M. Byers. (Dr. Stone was pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian church for 20 years and later president of the McCormack Theological Seminary. He was once the interim pastor at Lake Forest. Dr. Stone died in 1954.) I have a copy of the poem if anyone is interested. A standing moment of silence was given in honor of David Forgan who had been a popular figure among the Scots of Chicago.

The toastmaster was Rabbi Garson Levi, born in Glasgow, Scotland. He had been attending the Annual Dinner for four years and was a member of the Saint Andrew Society. The pipe band was led by Robert H. Sim and the dancers were provided by Prof. John F. Dewar. There was a haggis, but not for everyone, just the head table. It was not the center of attention, and apparently the Robert Burns toast was not given. The invocation was offered by the Rev. Allison McCracken. The National Anthem was sung and a telegram read from President Herbert Hoover expressing his regrets at not being able to attend. (He had just lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt.) Dorothy Marwick and Cameron McLean sang several songs. The surprise of the evening was an appearance of comedian Willie Fyfe and his wife. He was preforming at the Palace theater and had often visited the Scottish Home. He was a personal friend of the John Williamson family.

The speaker for the evening was Professor Franklin Bliss Snyder of Northwestern University. (He later became the 18th President of Northwestern following Walter Dill Scott.) A summary of his speech was later printed in the British American newspaper. Here is a summary:

For a native–born New Englander with the German name I hardly feel entitled to the invitation of this gathering, still I think I can put my foot inside, thanks to a grandmother from Skye. I owe that grandmother many things. I owe to her three hand-hammered silver teaspoons and a table that stood along her bed on which stood the lamp and the family Bible. But, I owe her much more than these material things. First of all owe to her an abiding confidence in Scotland and Scottish people. I have said many times to my students that if they could choose their ancestries, and did not choose to sprinkle a few Scotsmen there, they would be stupid beyond words. For I know no nation that has made as large a contribution to human welfare as has Scotland. Hunter in medicine, Burns, Scott and Stephenson in literature, and countless other men of renown have been Scotsmen. They have done the sort of thing that the world needs to have done.

I know no nation since this modern world of ours began which has made so large a contribution as Scotland. Another thing I owe to my grandmother is an interest in and better understanding of the man who most of us would consider greatest of all Scotsmen, Robert Burns. I know no one else who is Burns equal when it comes to the difficult task of thinking the thoughts of the wise and speaking the language of the humble. I think it is the language that Burns developed that has made him known, not merely to you and me, but known and loved wherever the Scottish dialect can be understood. It was my interest in Burns which first made me visit his birthplace. I owe that to my grandmother. The hospitality that was shown to me as I was traveling through southern Scotland will never be forgotten.

While in Scotland I made a friend of a man called James MacPherson. When I was leaving I told him I was sorry to be going and as an afterthought added we have gotten along very well together. Yes, he said, we have gotten along pretty well together and when you get to the states remembered this that so long as your people and my people get along pretty well together we need not worry no matter how black things may look, but if ever your people and my people should have a serious misunderstanding, I do not think there will be much left to live for. Now if you will do the honor of remembering anything that I have said please let it be that remark of McPherson’s. After all we are two branches of the same English speaking people and so long as we get along we need not fear.

Dr. Snyder wrote a book about Robert Burns and I was recently able to purchase on the Internet. It is available to anyone interested and will ultimately find a place in the library at the Scottish Home.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society

Upcoming Events:

The September meeting of the Scottish American History Club is September 6, 2014. Our speaker is Bruce Allardice who will be talking about baseball in Chicago during the Civil War. Many of these amateur stars served in the 65th Illinois Infantry. Please mark your calendar and watch for more information. Museum opens at 9 a.m. and program begins at 10 o’clock.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Robert Black - Builder, Organizer & President

Our Saint Andrew Society has had two presidents with the identical name of Robert Black. One I knew quite well and one I never met. The subject of this blog is the Robert Black I never met.  He was born in the small village of Bladnoch, Scotland, April 9, 1881. He was a building contractor and lived at 112 North Kenilworth Avenue, Oak Park, IL with his wife Effie Barr and their two children, Robert and Agnes.

Robert Black attended public schools in Scotland and afterwards was apprenticed to the building trade rising to the level of a journeyman. When he emigrated to the United States in 1909 he brought with him a recommendation from Peter Gibson who was a “joiner, contractor and saw miller” in Kirkcowan, Scotland. “This is to certify that the above Robert Black has been in my employ for the last 4 ½ years having commenced as an apprentice and has been with me all the time. I have every confidence in recommending him and am satisfied he will give every satisfaction to his employer. He is a very steady, honest and upright young man.” (The actual letter is in our museum.)

His first Scottish connection in Chicago was with Clan MacDuff, #16, O.S.C. “which afterwards became one of the most successful and largest of the Scottish clans in the United States.” After serving two years as Chief, he directed his energy to the United Scottish Societies of Illinois and became president. At about this same time he became active in the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. He is first recorded as attending a meeting called by J. J. Badenoch in 1918. In 1925 he was elected vice president and the following year became president and was reelected to the office for three consecutive terms.

He was a general contractor with offices on Michigan ave. “His success as a contractor speaks eloquently for his genius as a builder, his knowledge of architecture and an unusual capacity for making friends. Many of the finest residences along the North Shore of Chicago from Evanston to Great Lakes were constructed by Mr. Black.” (I wish we had a list of the houses he built but at this time we have maybe two or three.)

Mr. Black was an avid golfer. He was a member of the Bartlett Hills Country club located in Bartlett Illinois. In fact, he once served as the president of the club. He also built the clubhouse at Edgewater Valley and buildings at Shoreacres. Golf was not his only interest, because as a young man he played soccer in England and South America. He was a charter member of the Midwest Athletic Club and held certificate #856. In 1930, he joined the Midwest Athletic Club.

There is no question but what Robert Black was a leader. He belonged to many organizations and always rose to the top position of leadership. He served on the Illinois Saint Andrew Society board for more than thirty years and was a member of the home committee of the Scottish Old Peoples Home for twenty-five. He was first elected president of the Society in 1926 and was reelected in 1927 and 1928. Seventeen years later in 1945, he was again elected president and led the society in celebrating its 100th anniversary. At the height of the great depression, he was chairman of the St. Andrew’s Day Diner which had a record attendance of fifteen hundred. He truly was a leader among men.

Robert black was the general chairman of Scotland Day at the 1933 world’s fair. It was estimated that 30,000 people joined in the tribute to Scotland and her people. A choir of 250 people, trained and led by Capt. George Calder sang Scottish songs. Several pipe bands were there including the Stock Yard’s Kiltie Band, led by pipe-major, Robert Sim. The Museum has a number of pictures of Scotland Day at the world’s fair.

Robert Black died on May 26, 1970. His wife, Agnes Barr died September 28, 1960. The daughter who was engaged to Lt. V.S. Courtney, died March 20, 1943. Three family members are buried in lot 38, section 28, Forest Home cemetery. The son, Robert B. Black died in 1985 but I do not know where he is buried. Early in my career at the Scottish Home, I met Helen Targe Black the wife of Robert B. Black. He may have just died but I don’t remember now. She gave me a box of documents that had belonged to her father-in-law Robert Black. As part of our museum, we have his passports, social security card, drivers license and many newspaper articles that have formed the basis of this blog. We also have a large collection of his various badges and ribbons. I will try and post some pictures on my Facebook site. I don’t know if there are family members still in the Chicago area. There was one sister, but I don’t have her married name. If there are family members, we would appreciate a contact.

Robert Black certainly left his mark on our Saint Andrew Society and the Scottish community of Chicago. We honor his legacy with this article.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus

The next meeting of the Scottish American History Club will occur on September 6, 2014. More information to follow.