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Growing Up with a City

51NX1TX317L._SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_It’s fitting that I publish my review of Louise de Koven Bowen’s Growing up with a City on International Women’s Day. Bowen was a natural leader and shaped civic life in the late 19th and early 20th century in Chicago. In fact she after women got the vote in the 20’s Republicans wanted Bowen to run for mayor, but she declined. (Remember that our parties’ philosophies have shifted through the decades.) I was blown away that back then having a woman run for a major office was even considered.

Bowen’s memoir begins with her family history. Her grandparents were some of Chicago’s first white settlers. Her courageous, wise grandmother frequently acted as a negotiator or peacekeeper with the native Americans near Fort Dearborn.

As a girl Bowen frequently had delusions of grandeur or desires for high social status. She competed with a visiting cousin from New York, whose lifestyle seemed more aristocratic.and fashionable. To make her family, which was plenty stylish and “couth” look better off, she used her own money to buy a smart uniform for her coachman and insisted on calling him Bernard rather than Barney, which he went by. Barney complied with most of the girl’s requests for finery but drew the line when 12 year old Louise suggested he call her Louise rather than her nick name Lulu.

Bowen was educated at a seminary in town, but upon completion felt her education incomplete. Thus the girl made a decision to read the encyclopedia to round out her knowledge base. She was wise enough to know that while that gave her a broad understanding, it didn’t offer much depth.

As an adult, Bowen was tapped to preside over hospital boards and civic organizations. Her book describes her successes and challenges in hospital management and affecting policy in the juvenile justice system and other causes. Bowen worked at Hull House with Jane Addams and offers insight into Addams’ leadership and beliefs.

Louise Dekoven Bown_courtesy Wkgn Park Dist P4353

With children attending her camp

Bowen saw the need for poor children to have an experience in the country and opened a summer camp for them. She pioneered social work and public policy. She spoke to massive crowds and compelled powerful men to do the right thing. She’s one of many civic leaders who’s gone unsung.

Reading Growing Up with a City, I learned a lot about philanthropy and life in the Gilded Age. I was impressed by how much more connected a philanthropist would be back then compared to now. Bowen would regularly walk through the impoverished neighborhoods to get a real feel for the hardships. When a woman , who’s husband had deserted her, came to a relief organization for help, immediate aid was given for the most pressing needs and then a search for the husband would take place. If at all possible the man was brought back to the family to make him take responsibility. I realize that’s not a cure-all, but we don’t even try such action. (We do try to find “deadbeat dads” and make them pay up, but that’s it.)

As is usually the case, reading a memoir written during an era rid me of silly notions our society projects on to the past. For example, I thought that surely after decades of fighting for the vote at least 50% if not a big majority of women would vote. That wasn’t the case at all. 

Growing Up with a City was a fascinating read that deepened my understanding not just of Chicago history but of the Gilded Age as a whole. I was amazed at all one woman could accomplish.

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Posted by on March 8, 2018 in 19th Century, book review, history, memoir

 

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From 1001 Afternoons in Chicago

I’m intrigued by a book I just discovered, Ben Hecht’s 1001 Afternoons in Chicago. It’s available on Project Gutenberg. It’ll have to go on my TBR (to be read) list for a time, but sample this:

FANNY

Why did Fanny do this? The judge would like to know. The judge would like to help her. The judge says: “Now, Fanny, tell me all about it.”

All about it, all about it! Fanny’s stoical face stares at the floor. If Fanny had words. But Fanny has no words. Something heavy in her heart, something vague and heavy in her thought—these are all that Fanny has.

Let the policewoman’s records show. Three years ago Fanny came to Chicago from a place called Plano. Red-cheeked and black-haired, vivid-eyed and like an ear of ripe corn dropped in the middle of State and Madison streets, Fanny came to the city.

Ah, the lonely city, with its crowds and its lonely lights. The lonely buildings busy with a thousand lonelinesses. People laughing and hurrying along, people eager-eyed for something; summer parks and streets white with snow, the city moon like a distant window, pretty gewgaws in the stores—these are a part of Fanny’s story.

The judge wants to know. Fanny’s eyes look up. A dog takes a kick like this, with eyes like this, large, dumb and brimming with pathos. The dog’s master is a mysterious and inexplicable dispenser of joys and sorrows. His caresses and his beatings are alike mysterious; their reasons seldom to be discerned, never fully understood.

Sometimes in this court where the sinners are haled, where “poised and prim and particular, society stately sits,” his honor has a moment of confusion. Eyes lift themselves to him, eyes dumb and brimming with pathos. Eyes stare out of sordid faces, evil faces, wasted faces and say something not admissible as evidence. Eyes say: “I don’t know, I don’t know. What is it all about?”

These are not to be confused with the eyes that plead shrewdly for mercy, with eyes that feign dramatic naïvetés and offer themselves like primping little penitents to his honor. His honor knows them fairly well. And understands them. They are eyes still bargaining with life.

But Fanny’s eyes. Yes, the judge would like to know. A vagueness comes into his precise mind. He half-hears the familiar accusation that the policeman drones, a terribly matter-of-fact drone.

Another raid on a suspected flat. Routine, routine. Evil has its eternal root in the cities. A tireless Satan, bored with the monotony of his rôle; a tireless Justice, bored with the routine of tears and pleadings, lies and guilt.

There is no story in all this. Once his honor, walking home from a banquet, looked up and noticed the stars. Meaningless, immutable stars. There was nothing to be seen by looking at them. They were mysteries to be dismissed. Like the mystery of Fanny’s eyes. Meaningless, immutable eyes. They do not bargain. Yet the world stares out of them. The face looks dumbly up at a judge.

No defense. The policeman’s drone has ended and Fanny says nothing. This is difficult. Because his honor knows suddenly there is a defense. A monstrous defense. Since there are always two sides to everything. Yes, what is the other side? His honor would like to know. Tell it, Fanny. About the crowds, streets, buildings, lights, about the whirligig of loneliness, about the humpty-dumpty clutter of longings. And then explain about the summer parks and the white snow and the moon window in the sky. Throw in a poignantly ironical dissertation on life, on its uncharted aimlessness, and speak like Sherwood Anderson about the desires that stir in the heart. Speak like Remy de Gourmont and Dostoevsky and Stevie Crane, like Schopenhauer and Dreiser and Isaiah; speak like all the great questioners whose tongues have wagged and whose hearts have burned with questions. His honor will listen bewilderedly and, perhaps, only perhaps, understand for a moment the dumb pathos of your eyes.

As it is, you were found, as the copper who reads the newspapers puts it, in a suspected flat. A violation of section 2012 of the City Code. Thirty days in the Bastile, Fanny. Unless his honor is feeling good.

These eyes lifted to him will ask him questions on his way home from a banquet some night.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty.”

“Make it twenty-two,” his honor smiles. “And you have nothing to say? About how you happened to get into this sort of thing? You look like a good girl. Although looks are often deceiving.”

“I went there with him,” says Fanny. And she points to a beetle-browed citizen with an unshaven face. A quaint Don Juan, indeed.

“Ever see him before?”

A shake of the head. Plain case. And yet his honor hesitates. His honor feels something expand in his breast. Perhaps he would like to rise and holding forth his hand utter a famous plagiarism—”Go and sin no more.” He chews a pen and sighs, instead.

“I’ll give you another chance,” he says. “The next time it’ll be jail. Keep this in mind. If you’re brought in again, no excuses will go. Call the next case.”

Now one can follow Fanny. She walks out of the courtroom. The street swallows her. Nobody in the crowds knows what has happened. Fanny is anybody now. Still, one may follow. Perhaps something will reveal itself, something will add an illuminating touch to the incident of the courtroom.

There is only this. Fanny pauses in front of a drug-store window. The crowds clutter by. Fanny stands looking, without interest, into the window. There is a little mirror inside. The city tumbles by. The city is interested in something vastly complicated.

Staring into the little mirror, Fanny sighs and—powders her nose.

 

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2018 in American Lit, fiction, postaweek

 

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American Writers Museum

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Timeline

This year the American Writers Museum in Chicago on Michigan Avenue. It was high time I visited so despite the rain and cold, I took a friend from Milwaukee to explore it.

After showing our tickets, which I bought online and got a 20% discount on, we were directed to start our visit on the right where there is a timeline of American writers.

If you look up on the left and you’ll see a timeline of American history. Under that is the main exhibit showing a chronological series of portraits of significant American writers. When you turn the panel, which has three sides, you’ll find more information and background about each writer. Below is information on a well designed panel about various literary movements or authors. It’s a lot of reading, but its well presented. Also, the curators seem to have made an effort to present authors from all backgrounds. Across from the time line is a wall of squares with author’s quotations. The squares move to reveal an panel with more information or a video.

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Parallel to the gallery with the timeline was a photo exhibit on biographies, written by or on authors or celebrities along with their photos. The black and white photos of 50+ years ago were my favorite. There’s something about the crisp gradations and the styles of bygone eras that we just don’t see much anymore.

The next room I saw was the Readers Room which focuses on reading. It highlights different kinds of reading, such as educational, newspapers, magazines and more. There are two interactive screens where you can submit your favorite authors and see the most popular authors or books other visitors have chosen.

Another gallery had a small exhibit on Laura Ingles Wilder with biographical information, maps of where each of her books was set, depiction of her work in other formats and critical responses to her works.

The museum has a table with different typewriters, from the earliest kind to Selectric to a laptop. People were pounding away at the old typewriters while the laptop wasn’t used while I was there.

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Quotation, Octavia Butler

Then there was an exhibit on the skills of writing with interactive exhibits on specificity, making prose active and such.

Finally, there was an area dedicated to Chicago writers like Saul Bellow, Ida B. Wells, Mike Royko, Ring Larder, Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg, Theodore Dreiser, Peter Finley Dunne and many more. Here you could listen to short recordings of their work and see these turnable banners with their portraits and information on their work.

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Each month the museum offers several programs including public readings. The staff was very helpful as we went through the galleries. They’d point out little things like the mural in the children’s room which had squirrels in a tree reading Caldecott award winning books and each squirrel had some element that related to the story it was reading. For example, the squirrel reading Charlotte’s Web, had a wisp of a web hanging over it.

All in all, I give the museum a thumbs up and will be back. I’d say allow an hour to get through the museum. If there’s a program, add more time.

Tickets: Adults $12, Students $8, discounts for children and seniors.

 

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2017 in book lovers, fiction, postaweek

 

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Annotated Bibliography: World’s Columbian Exposition

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I’m working on a project for a rare books class I took two weeks ago. It’s an annotated bibliography of books on Chicago. I discovered, and promptly bought on Amazon,

Dybwad, G.L., and Bliss, Joy V. Annotated Bibliography: World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago 1893. Albuquerque, NM, 1992.

Organized by type of item, this bibliography includes a brief history of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (WCE), a fold out map of the WCE and its organization chart. This source includes chapters on fiction, poetry and children’s books, exposition publications, federal publications, guides, periodicals, music, salesmen’s samples, recent books and unpublished unique works. The introduction is written by Dybwad and explains why he started this project.

The entries in this source date from before the fair to 1991.

The bibliographers designed the format and organized the source with a view to ease of use. Abbreviations and citations are clearly explained and the indexes cross-reference items so if users don’t know the author’s name or the title of an item, they can still find it relatively easily. Each entry is concise and provides a brief description of each item. When available, the bibliographers list price information, however, following the Introduction, there’s a note on price stating principles in pricing and reasons for variance. (No doubt since 1992 these prices have changed.)

For books, there is minimal collation* information. This book is a comprehensive source, which would aid researchers and collectors.

(*Collation information describes the paper, binding, etc.)

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2015 in Library Science, rare books

 

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Now Reading

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I’m now reading and very wrapped up in Emile Zola’s A Ladies’ Paradise, which the Masterpiece The Paradise is based on. Wow!

The story’s quite different as it’s set in Paris and Denise’s parents died leaving her with two brothers to look after and very little money. Thus she heads to her uncle in Paris, who’s a draper as in the television series. This uncle has more i.e. some customers and yet is more furious at Mouret (Moray on TV). Zola’s Mouret starts out as such a philanderer, with lots of contempt for women. I can see why the TV show lessened that aspect of his character. It’s just amazing to read about how huge the store is and how it’s run.

sin second cityI’m also reading another Horatio Alger book. Again, I’ve just started the story, Joe’s Luck. Joe’s an orphan and a servant in small town New Jersey. He’s had it with the ill treatment of a miserly employer and heads to New York hoping to get on a ship to California while the Gold Rush is in full swing. Just now poor Joe was swindled out of the money for the ship’s ticket.

I’m also in the midst of a book on the Everleigh sisters who ran a high class, super high class brothel in turn of the 20th century Chicago. The Everleigh Club’s opulence is unmatched and the tales! Whoo. The girls. The men. The antics! Often beyond imagination.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2014 in American Lit, classic, fiction, French Lit, history, Masterpiece Theater

 

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Images of America: Chicago’s Gold Coast

When I picked this up at the library I didn’t catch the smaller type: Images of America. So I thought there would be more text about Chicago’s Gold Coast. Once I figured out the subject of this book I appreciated the wide selection of old photos of grand houses in this Chicago district. Images of America: Chicago’s Gold Coast upped my understanding of how the city looked in the late 19th century and beyond.

Here’s a few of the homes featured.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2014 in history, non-fiction

 

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Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge

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Lindy Woodhead’s Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge provides the context and biography of H. Gordon Selfridge, Harry or Chief to his loved ones or employees. Woodhead chronicles Selfridge’s life from his youth when both his brothers died and his father deserted the family to his death. “Mile a Minute Harry” was a dynamo who started working at age 15 and made his way to Marshall Field’s in Chicago where his innovations in display and showmanship revolutionized shopping. It’s thrilling to read of this era when there was so much change and when drive and imagination could, for some, propel them to great wealth. (That still happens but so many fields have matured and aren’t new frontiers. Certainly retail isn’t half as exciting as it was when Selfridge started.)

Selfridge became a partner at Field’s due to his own chutzpah by just directly asking the much more reserved Marshall Field, who was going to offer it down the road. But when Field’s was choosing a successor, Selfridge knew it wouldn’t be him so he left Marshall Field’s and tried to start a store in Chicago. While it failed because the city just did not have enough sales staff of the ilk that Field’s had, Selfridge did make money on selling his store to Carson, Pirie, Scott. Too young to retire, he opened a store in London, a city that was stuck in time with fuddy duddy floorwalkers who’d expel any browsers. As the itv/PBS program shows Selfridge’s was part department store, part theater (an a hell of a lot like Marshall Field’s down to the evergreen bags). I enjoyed the book’s detail and rooted for Harry as he devised creative means to make shopping fun and his store bigger and amazingly service-oriented (like Field’s was).

After 1918, when his wife Rose dies, Harry’s life starts to slide for me. The store was still successful, but Harry’s proclivity for women got him mixed up with such apparently shallow women. He lavishes them with jewels and money to gamble/lose that you feel the impending financial ruin coming. It’s sad because had Rose lived longer, Harry probably would not have wound up in a two bedroom flat after selling all his property and losing most of what he built up. (I so hope the TV show takes its time running through history. The man’s life is just so sad at the end.)

Woodhead offers a lot of context including what was going on in entertainment, politics and city history for both Chicago and London. She shares what his friends and relatives thought about Harry, what allies and adversaries he had. Yet I felt there was a distance between Selfridge and me, the reader. So many questions may not be possible to answer. Harry did burn a lot of his letters when he got older. It’s rather cloudy how Harry and his wife met and what their courtship entailed. I didn’t feel I knew Harry the way I knew Proust after reading his biography. That might not be fair since Proust was a writer and probably more self-absorbed than most. Woodhead’s very thorough in her research so I grant if there was information to be had she would have found it. But perhaps Harry was the sort of life of the party that no one really knows well.

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2014 in non-fiction

 

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