Thursday, August 22, 2013

Patron Saint of Poets Dies in Peru

Harriet Monroe was born in Chicago in 1860. She was the daughter of a prominent lawyer of Scottish heritage named Harry Stanton Monroe who was a close friend and ally of Sen. Stephen A. Douglas. Her mother’s maiden name was Martha Mitchell. They came to Chicago in the early 1850s. Mr. Monroe died in 1903.

In her autobiography Miss Monroe recalls her earlier years. “I was born one Sunday morning two days before Christmas in 1860, in the little rapidly growing city of Chicago, even then conscious of its destiny.” She then goes on to describe her long–held romantic admiration of her Scottish ancestors:

 “Part of me was raging the Scottish hills with a daredevil Highland clan which would later rebel against usurping Hanoverian kings, and, in desperate fealty to the Stuarts, would send three Monro brothers to new colonies across the sea.”

“But half of me was being fashioned by my mother’s tribe, and family tradition tells little about them. Mitchell is a lowland Scotch name, so some adventurous Mitchell must have braved the Atlantic, and I hope there were vagabonds and artists in his progeny.”

After graduating from the Visitation Academy in Georgetown in 1879, she returned to Chicago. Here she began writing for Chicago newspapers about “music, art and the drama.” She was invited to write a poem for the Columbian Exposition dedication. It was called the “Colombian Ode” and was delivered before 100,000 persons on October 21, 1892, a year before the actual opening.  Prof. George W. Chadic of Boston was invited to set the lyric passages to music. It was sung by a chorus of 5,000 voices and accompanied by a great orchestra and military bands. (You can find the entire poem on the Internet.)

In 1911 she was the art editor of the Chicago Tribune and she interested a group of patrons in publishing a magazine of verse. The magazine “Poetry” began in September 1912. The magazine is still being published and has a circulation of 30,000, or more. In 2003, the magazine’s foundation received a gift of $200 million from the estate of Ruth Lilly.

In the beginning Poetry magazine did not pay very much - $20 for Lindsay’s "General William Booth Enters Heaven" or $6 for Joyce Kilmer’s "Trees." But even these small amounts were important. Edna St. Vincent Millay requested payment in advance saying “Spring is here - and I could be very happy, except that I am broke....P. S. I am awfully broke.” One of her early backers was Chatfield-Taylor.

In 1931, Harriet Monroe gave her collection of materials to the University of Chicago. It included manuscripts, a large volume of correspondence with poets in America and Europe, and almost 1,500 volumes of recent Poetry, her magazine of verse. Her estate was valued at $30,000.00 when she died in 1936.

Her last journey was to Buenos Aires as a guest of the Pen Club, an organization dedicated to poetry around the world. She returned along the western route and apparently wanted to climb Machu Picchu. The high altitude in the Andes caused her to have either a heart attack or a cerebral hemorrhage. She was buried in a crypt in Arequipa, Peru which bears the inscription, “Harriet Monroe - Poet - Friend of Poets.” She was 76 years old.

There is an article in the Chicago Tribune, dated February 24, 1959 by Eleanor Page and she is reporting that Mrs. E. Stanton Fetcher is stitching a lace veil, seven feet long, for her daughter Miss Harriet Monroe Fetcher. She is to marry Nelson Beck Johnson in the fall of 1960. They were both seniors at the University of Wyoming. Her great-uncle is the late William T. Calhoun who was a United States ambassador to China. There may be relatives living in the Chicago area because I was unable to trace the brother, William S. Monroe. Nor could I find obituaries of the parents so I don’t know where they are buried. Perhaps someone will call me.

In Chicago, Harriett Monroe lived at 1911 East Pearson St. She was survived by a brother, William S Monroe and a sister, Mrs. Lucy Calhoun of Peiping, China, widow of William T Calhoun, one time United States minister to China. Her sister, Dora, married John W. Root, the architect. In 1881, Harriet Monroe wrote a memoir of his career.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society
Home office - 630-629-4516

The next meeting of the History Club will be September 7 in Heritage Hall at the Scottish Home, 2800 Des Plaines ave., North Riverside, Illinois. The speaker will be Rick Rann who has been collecting items about the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair for over 25 years. He now has over 5,000 items. Rick is an amateur historian and a World’s Fair aficionado. His daughter recently graduated from St. Andrew’s University in Scotland. It should be an interesting day. Program begins at 10 a.m. - reservations are not necessary, but helpful. Call 708-447-5092 to reserve your place.

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