Century Old Chautauqua Friendship Comes Full Circle

The fourth, and last, in a series of posts on how the friendship between a pair of musically gifted, independent young women in the early 1900s, led to the friendship over a century later of two of their descendants.

Grace Desmond, classical pianist (left), and Ruth Bowers classical violinist (right), on a baggage cart at a train station in 1911. Grace and Ruth became fast friends that summer as they hit the road and traveled the Chautauqua circuit together bringing classical music to rural towns in Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri.

Grace Desmond, classical pianist (left), and Ruth Bowers classical violinist (right), on a baggage cart at a train station in 1911. Grace and Ruth became fast friends that summer as they hit the road and traveled the Chautauqua circuit together bringing classical music to rural towns in Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri.

_____

Previous posts introduced GeneaJourneys readers to Grace Desmond  and Ruth Bowers , musical prodigies at the turn of the last century. Ruth and Grace became friends in 1911 when they were 20 and 23 years old, as they traveled the Chautauqua circuit together bringing classical music to small towns across America.

Grace Desmond. classical pianist, at age 12, c. 1903. (Chicago InterOcean newspaper, April 27, 1903.)

Grace Desmond. classical pianist, at age 12, c. 1903. (Chicago InterOcean newspaper, April 27, 1903.)

Readers also learned how Jay Sherwood, Ruth’s grandson introduced this writer, Grace’s niece, to the concept of Chautauqua, and to Grace’s role in this unique part of American culture–something the Desmond family knew nothing about.

In the last post, Grace, pianist for the Clarke-Bowers Company, had suddenly fallen ill with typhoid fever, a serious–often fatal disease–at the turn of the last century,

So while the Clarke-Bowers Company found a last minute replacement for their pianist and finished the tour that summer of 1911, the ailing Grace returned home to Chicago to recover and recuperate.

Ruth Bowers, classical violinist, at age __, c. 19____. (Photo courtesy of the Ruth Bowers family photo collection.)

Ruth Bowers, classical violinist, at age 7, c. 1895.

Despite Grace missing out on the last few weeks of the tour though, the friendship between Ruth and Grace continued–at least for a while.

Jay Sherwood, who wrote about his grandmother’s adventures in Chautauqua Serenade, discovered a rare letter from Grace to Ruth among Ruth’s mementos of her Chautauqua days. Through that letter, we learn firsthand just how Grace survived her illness back home in Chicago while Ruth concluded the tour as scheduled. The story of their friendship picks up there:

4430 Vincennes Ave.

Chicago, Ill

Aug, 23, 1911

My Dear “Rufus” [an affectionate nickname for Ruth used by her friends],

… I got your note that was put in Ted’s letter. You old darling. You certainly are good to me! Have received all my mail and two postals from Dammels. Those photos are good aren’t they? Also got a letter from Belle Kearney, telling me I was very brave and hoping I escaped the fever! Also heard from the Riners and keep it dark – Tommy Weatherwax! [The people Grace mentions throughout this letter were all fellow Chautauqua performers who were friends of Grace and Ruth.]

You know I gave him my address and he is evidently going to make use of it when he comes here in September! Delighted, I’m sure. But Rufus, ne’er a word, as you know how things travel along that system. Everybody has certainly been most solicitous of my condition, and I certainly appreciate such thoughtfulness…

Well, honey, I certainly did not expect to leave you for good! This turn of events was just as much of a surprise to me as it was to you…

… I heard that you just cried your heart out… and as for expecting to see you all in a few days – I certainly was sure of it, as I felt so much better that morning and felt sure that I was not going to have the fever.

I guess we both would have broken right down if we had known how things were to turn out! But it was all for the best!

…I nearly had another one of those famous fainting fits when I arrived at the Dr.’s that day, and Ruth, they gave me nothing but liquids for two days, and I nearly starved!… I was wishing you were around to have a good laugh! … I did not intend to write home about my sickness, but the nurse advised it in case it did get worse…

So I wrote a long, cheerful letter on Monday, telling the folks not to worry, it wasn’t serious, and not to think of coming out!

Well, much to my surprise, a telegram came from Dad on Tuesday, saying he was leaving at 6 PM to bring me home!…

Saw my Dad on Wed. A.M. and maybe I wasn’t the tickled girl! I meant to ask him about my going on, [continuing on the tour] but just merely mentioned it, as the Dr. advised not to, and Dad said there was no sense in it, and so I saw where it was the only thing to do. I don’t think I could have let Dad go home without me anyway.

I intended to join you the next day, but I realized… that it would have been a very dangerous thing for me to continue, and I never could have – would have fallen in my tracks very quickly!

I stood the trip home fairly well – but slept rather poorly and was sick in the night. Left Seymour at 11:40 and arrived here at 8:50 the next morning.

Mother met me at the car and I just fell into her arms! I tell you it seems good to be at home again. We are going to the lake [Clear Lake in Buchanan, Michigan, where the Desmond family had a summer cottage] on Friday for a few days and Mary Mitchell [Grace’s friend] is to go with us. Very few know I’m home, and those that do, were quite surprised!

The Desmond cottage at Clear Lake in Buchanan, Michigan, where Grace recovered from her bout of typhoid fever in 1911. Grace was the eldest of five Desmond children born between 1891 and 1909. In this photo, Grace's mother, Nellie Desmond, rocks Grace's baby brother, Gerry, (and this author's father), on the porch of that cottage.

The Desmond cottage at Clear Lake in Buchanan, Michigan. Grace stayed there with her family while recuperating from typhoid fever which forced Grace to end her 1911 Chautauqua tour early. Buchanan was about 85 miles southeast of the Desmond family’s home on the far south side of Chicago. Grace was the eldest of five Desmond children born between 1891 and 1909. In this photo, Grace’s mother, Nellie Desmond, tends Grace’s baby brother, Gerry, (this writer’s father), on the porch of that beach cottage. Grace was 20 years old at the time and her brother was about 2. (Desmond family photo collection.)

Grace’s letter to Ruth continues:

Dr. B and his wife were good to me and even insisted on Dad staying there. We will never forget what they did for me and they will always be two of our dearest friends. We liked them very much personally, also! Mary came to see me while I was in Seymour. O’Dair, Mrs. Bristol, and a White Rose girl – and so many inquiries for me!

…Thank all for their kind inquiries and say good-by to everybody. Don’t forget Buck & Langston, Jerry – tell Ruth McK to write! I am feeling better but am as yellow-looking! Am weak and nervous – my trouble was intestinal disturbances and a nervous breakdown. My first offense in that direction!

Now, honey, we all expect you to visit with me on Sept 4 or 5 for as long as you can. I surely expect you & will prepare for you…

Don’t get lonesome – love and kisses & regards to the crowd…Assuring you of how I hated to leave & thanking you for your good care of me…

Always yours,

Grace

In a letter home (pictured below), Ruth explains to her mother about the dramatic turn of events for Grace and the Clarke-Bowers Company in the waning days of the tour:  how Grace had to leave the company after contracting typhoid fever; how the company had to find a pianist to replace Grace for the remainder of its engagements; and how Ruth had been invited by Grace to visit her in Chicago when the tour was over.  

In this letter, Ruth informs her mother of why Grace had to end the tour early.

“She is counting on me staying in Chgo with her and says her parents are planning an entertainment already….,” Ruth wrote to her mother

Shortly thereafter, Grace sent this postcard to her loyal friend, Ruth:

A postcard from Grace to Ruth from Buchanan, Michigan, in September of 1911. Grace was staying there at her family's cottage on Clear Lake, recuperating from typhoid fever—a serious disease at the time, which forced Grace to end her Chautauqua tour early. Buchanan was about 85 miles southeast of the Desmond family's home on the far south side of Chicago. (Courtesy of the Ruth Bowers family photo collection.)And in another postcard just a few days later, Grace wrote to Ruth again, providing an additional incentive for her friend to visit:

Will expect you to call me on phone on Monday and want you to come to 4430 on Tuesday A.M. and stay until Wed. eve. anyway, if not longer  Don’t fail me!  Miss Mitchell has something planned for you on Tuesday.  Say goodbye to all for me.  Love, Grace”

A Festive Reunion

Ruth accepted Grace’s invitation to visit her in Chicago a few days later when the tour was over and Grace was well once again. And what a time those young ladies had!

Here’s how Ruth described their visit in a letter to her mother:

” Arrived at Chicago Monday morning and spent a real quiet Labor Day for I was dead tired… [Grace] has recovered from her illness and although she doesn’t look as well as she did earlier in the season, she is rapidly recovering….She looks far better than I expected and surely treated me great….

sfsfsfsfsfsf

In this letter to her mother in September of 1911, Ruth describes how she was entertained in Chicago by her friend Grace: a luncheon, a musical matinee, and additional socializing afterwards at the Desmond home.

…Tuesday noon we went downtown to the “Tip Top”, a very swell restaurant where we had a dollar-and-a-half luncheon, were joined by Miss Mitchell [Grace’s friend], and went to the matinee [at The La Salle]… to see the musical comedy Louisiana Lou,

hidden_tiptop_187w

A brochure promoting the historic “Tip Top Tap” lounge which once rested atop the Allerton Hotel on Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile”. Though the nightclub no longer exists, the iconic sign for that historic lounge is still lit and can be seen today from those driving down Lake Shore Drive.

A postcard from the 1940s--three decades after Ruth and Grace lunched there--depicting the ambience of the swanky venue known as the "Tip Top Tap" restaurant and lounge, Chicago, Illinois.

A postcard depicting the ambience of  the “Tip Top Tap” restaurant and lounge in the 1940s–three decades after Ruth, Grace and friends lunched there in the fall of 1911.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The same room, over a century later. (Photo by pdbiallas, c. 2014)

The same room atop the Allerton Hotel in Chicago where, a century earlier,  Ruth and Grace went to celebrate their friendship and the end of the Chautauqua season. (Photo by Patricia Biallas, 2014).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruth’s letter to her mother continued:

In the eve. Grace gave a real party for me and she surely knows how to entertain. Their home is a regular mansion and was fixed up beautifully for the “event.”  After a short musicale in which we all did stunts, we proceeded to the ballroom and tripped the light fantastic (how’s that for style!)… As the guests didn’t leave till about three a.m., I didn’t wake up till noon!

The Desmond home in Chicago, c. 1910. (Desmond family photo collection.)

The Desmond home c. 1910: 4430 Vincennes Avenue on Chicago’s south side. In one letter home to her mother, Ruth described Grace’s home as “a glorious, big stone mansion–one of the most glorious homes I was ever in!”  (Desmond family photo collection.)

By today’s standards, the Desmond home in 1911 certainly wouldn’t appear to be a “mansion” as Ruth described it to her mother in that letter, but Jay Sherwood explained his grandmother’s words in an email to Grace’s niece like this:

Hi Pat,

The [Desmond] house certainly looks “mansion-like”, with all the windows, veranda, wrought iron fence, stained glass window on the front door, etc. 

Quite possibly it had marble fireplaces and other luxurious features.  You could make a nice ballroom on the third floor, and I notice the big windows that would have made that area very light…

In reading my grandmother’s letters and postcards, I sense that she really enjoyed the visits to big cities like Chicago, New York and St. Louis. I guess it’s part of being an artist and performer that you want to go to and enjoy performances,…  get a sense of …[what other artists are doing], meet others in the art scene, and participate in events like the one that your aunt put on for my grandmother, Ruth. 

Even from the distance of 100 years I still sense her excitement, and imagine what it must have been like for young women like my grandmother and your aunt to have had such opportunities at that time.

Finale

It’s doubtful that Ruth and Grace ever performed publicly together again.  It’s also not known how long they remained friends after their Chautauqua tour in 1911 was over and their reunion in Chicago was behind them.

Ruth Bowers Classical Violinist (18__-19__)

Ruth Bowers
Classical Violinist
(1896-1982)

What is known though, is that both Ruth and Grace, each enjoyed many more years of sharing their musical gifts with others, including on other Chautauqua tours with other performers.

Ruth Bowers, who was from Erie, Pennsylvania, went on to form her own Chautauqua company in 1912, bringing her skills on the violin to rural areas of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska. When her Chautauqua days were behind her and she was married with four children, Ruth continued to perform, mainly in Pittsburgh.

In  1920 she played on KDKA, soon after it became the first radio broadcast station in the United States. Two years later she  formed her own small musical company which played in the area for many years. Ruth also taught violin, both at schools and in private lessons, and continued to play until late in life.

Ruth died in 1982 at the age of 94.

Grace Desmond, who was from Chicago, also performed on the Chautauqua circuit again when she joined renowned reader and performer Katherine Ridgeway in the fall of 1912. That tour took her through several states including Colorado, Utah, Washington and Montana.

Like Ruth, Grace also continued to enjoy and share her skills as a classically trained pianist when her Chautauqua days came to a close. Newspaper research in Chicago papers from the 1910s through the 1950s has unearthed numerous mentions of performances by Grace at women’s clubs, society functions, recitals, and other events featured on the Society pages of those newspapers.

Grace Desmond Classical Pianist (1891-1972)

Grace Desmond
Classical Pianist
(1891-1972)

Grace married  in 1916 but was widowed after her only child left home for the seminary to become a Jesuit priest. She too, gave lessons and mentored others as she shared her musical gifts with future musicians.

In her later years, Grace served as a sorority house mother on the campus of Indiana University–undoubtedly teaching her girls a thing or two on those black and white piano keys.

Grace died in 1972 at the age of 81.

As for Ruth’s grandson, Jay Sherwood, and Grace’s niece, Patricia (Desmond) Biallas…

We’ve exchanged over a hundred emails back-and-forth with each other since we met online just three years ago.

As Jay recently wrote in one of his emails to me:

“I’ve been thinking that my grandmother, Ruth, and your aunt, Grace, would probably be very pleased to know that their descendants have made contact a century later…”

I couldn’t agree with him more.

Jay  and I remain friends to this day sharing stories and news we continue to discover about our mutual ancestors who were–themselves–good friends more than a century ago.

Pat_Jay 2014 - Version 4

GeneaJourneys publisher, Patricia (Desmond) Biallas, who resides in the western suburbs of Chicago, and book author, Jay Sherwood, who currently resides near Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo taken in the fall of 2014 when Jay visited Pat on one of his U.S. research trips for Chautauqua Serenade.

______

Chautauqua Serenade, book about the life of Ruth Bowers on on the Chautauqua circuit in the early 1900s was written by her grandson after much research online and in repositiories.Jay Sherwood is an award-winning historian, retired teacher-librarian, and author of six history books on British Columbia, one of which was a finalist for the 2015 BC Book Prize and the Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing.

His latest work, Chautauqua Serenade: Violinist Ruth Bowers on Tour 1010-1912, was released in September by Caitlin Press, Inc.  and is available at Amazon.com (US) or Amazon.ca (Canada) or Barnes & Noble.com.  More information about the book can  be found at the following link: www.ruthbowersmusic.ca

Copyright © 2016 Patricia Desmond Biallas

Posted in American History, Biographies, Family Legends, Family Stories, Social History | 4 Comments

Letters Offer Front Row Seat to Behind-the-Scenes Adventures in Life on the Road with Chautauqua, c. 1911

   Ruth Bowers and Grace Desmond, traveling classical musicians in the early 1900s, were part of the short-lived Chautauqua movement which brought live entertainment to small towns across rural America before the invention of radio and TV.

Previous posts on this blog focused on how Ruth’s grandson, Jay Sherwood, introduced this writer, Grace’s niece, to the concept of Chautauqua and to Grace’s role in this unique part of  American culture–something our Desmond family knew nothing about. 

In today’s post, I share some of the adventures Grace and Ruth had  off stage that summer of 1911, as they dealt with lost luggage, “machine rides”, oppressive heat, an auto breakdown, and meeting celebrities of the day.

IMG_9519

Original letters penned by Ruth Bowers in 1911 describing her life on the Chautauqua circuit. (Photo provided by Jay Sherwood.)

Much of what Jay Sherwood learned about the travels of his grandmother, Ruth Bowers, in the last century came directly from letters and postcards discovered in a family attic: Letters from Ruth to her mother, to her friends and to her sweetheart, Gibby, who eventually became Ruth’s husband.

In these letters, Ruth recounts her adventures–both good and not-so-good–of life on the road as a Chautauqua performer. Today’s post, includes snippets of some of these letters giving readers a front row seat to the behind-the-scenes lives of these gifted, adventurous young women who shared their musical gifts on the Chautauqua circuit more than a century ago.

In this letter to her mother, Ruth mentions her colleague, Grace Desmond, for the first time:

June 23, 1911, Fri. morn, Chicago, The Coates House

My dear Mother,

Well, here I am…Arrived at 8 o’clock yesterday morning after an uneventful ride. I phoned Miss Desmond and arranged for a rehearsal Sat. morn. She said she & Mr. Clarke were going for a boat trip today, to be gone all day and talked as tho’ she and Sir Charles were the best of friends…

And the following day Ruth writes:

June 24, 1911, Saturday eve, Suite 1210 Stewart Building, 92 State St, Chicago

Mother dear

I know you will be anxious to hear how I like our Co. so will drop you a line while Amy is doing stunts on the piano and is singing.

The Desmond home in Chicago, c. 1910. (Desmond family photo collection.)

The Desmond home in Chicago, c. 1910. (Desmond family photo collection.)

This morning I went to see Miss Desmond thru the pouring rain (it surely has been a terrible day) and was never more surprised than when I stopped at a glorious big stone mansion, one of the most glorious homes I was ever in – and Grace has light hair!!

She is a very stylish attractive girl about my age and is a pupil of  William Hall Sherwood and Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler. Mr. Clarke looks like his picture, I think, very courteous and nice. He complimented me highly and altogether our first meeting was successful.

Miss D was out with Clarke 8 weeks last winter and that is all the traveling she has ever done.

The Clarke-Bowers Company, comprised of Ruth, the violinist; Grace, the pianist;  and C. Edward Clarke, a baritone; kicked off its season in West Liberty, Iowa, on June 27, 1911–just days after Ruth and Grace met and practiced together at Grace’s home in Chicago.

The Clarke-Bowers Company: Grace Desmond, C. Edward Clarke, and Ruth Bowers, horsing around for the camera between  performances in 1911. (Photo courtesy of the Ruth Bowers family photo collection.)

It didn’t take long for the two young ladies to strike up a friendship.  In one of her first letters home Ruth writes to her mother about her fellow troupe members:

June 30, 1911, Belle Plain, Iowa, the Herring Cottage

My dear Mother,

We left Chgo on Tues aft and got to West Liberty at 9:30 pm. It was a real pleasant place and we showed on Wed very successfully.

Mr. Clarke gives a nice collection of songs and sings beautifully. I like him very much. He is courteous and pleasant and full of fun…

Grace is a dear–she has her 20th birthday next month. She is an excellent pianist and accompanies dandy.

And in a letter home a few days later Ruth writes:

July 5, 1911, Waverly, Iowa, the Fortner

My dear Mother,

…In the eve after our show Mr. Clarke took Grace and I for a boat ride–it was a beautiful eve and we enjoyed it immensely….Our program is taking well in spite of its serious nature (classical, ahem). Grace is an ideal pianist and I like her personally very much, so once again I am thrown in with fine people.

The Clarke-Bowers Company traveled by train to 63 different cities in just 66 days in Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota that summer, giving afternoon and evening performances in each town they visited.

Clarke, in the summer of 1911, waiting to board a train for the next stop along the Chautauqua circuit.

Chautauqua performers boarding a train en route to their next program. (Ruth Bowers family photo collection.)

Jay, Ruth’s grandson, estimates that the Clarke-Bowers Company played in front of at least 75,000 people that summer. Most nights, Ruth, Grace and Clarke stayed in local hotels, but sometimes they stayed in the homes of their hosts in the towns where they performed. It was a grueling schedule, but one that the trio for the most part, enjoyed, from the tales Ruth relayed in those old family letters.

This letter from Ruth to her mother typifies what life on the road was like for a Chautauqua performer:

July 16, 1911, Luverne, Minnesota, the Manitou

Dearest Mother,

Have just returned from our afternoon service. I wish you could have dropped in and heard us. The tent was crowded and the program went fine…Mr. Clarke sang gorgeously–his voice is great and he puts so much soul into his singing–so with Grace playing so beautifully at the piano we have “some music from our Company…”

Hundreds gathered under Chautauqua tents like this one in small towns across America anxiously awaiting the start of the next performance.

Hundreds gathered under Chautauqua tents like this one in small towns across America anxiously awaiting the start of the next performance. (Photo courtesy of the University of Iowa, Chautauqua-Redpath collection.)

…Thurs at Le Mars…we had to get up at 3:30 am to make a train.  Arrived at a little dump at eight o’clock and driven over two miles to LeMars.  But it was a dandy place when we got there. The park was gorgeous and over 100 people camping on the grounds.  In the aft we were entertained by the Eastern Star Ladies and taken for a machine ride….

Left at 8 am this morning for Rock Rapids and came 16 miles in a big touring car to Luverne.  This is a very swell town. I wish you could see the style of this hotel, a big three-story affair, with the most beautiful gowns on the girls–some class, and machines lined up around the Chaut. grounds. I never saw so many autos in my life–the people surely must be rich…

Ruth had a beau from Pittsburgh named  Gibby–the  man she eventually married. Here’s a passage from a letter Ruth wrote to him that summer:

Gibby and Ruth, c. 2014, after Ruth finished her Chautauqua tours. The couple married in 19__.

Gibby and Ruth after Ruth finished her Chautauqua tours. They were married in 1913. (Ruth Bowers family photo collection.)

July 9, 1911, Cresco, Iowa, Strother House

My dear Gibby,

Nothing to do but think of you, so will scribble to you until dinner is ready. How did I get to this unknown burg?

This is how it happened! Last eve. Bishop Quayle [a lecturer] invited us to accompany him here so we could get a good rest today and be near our tomorrow destination [Austin, Minnesota], so Grace and I had a most glorious automobile ride in his big car for forty-two miles.

Oh you moonlight night! But what’s the use of moonlight when there is nobody around to spoon!

It certainly was one of the most delightful drives I ever took. We left Waukon at eight fifteen, stopped at Decora [twenty miles away] for ice cream, etc., passed a stand with hot greasy popcorn–each had to have a bag, so after we hand our hands full…and a box of chocolates we proceeded on our way and arrived here at eleven thirty…

Not all Chautauqua performers were musicians like Ruth and Grace. Preachers, orators and even magicians entertained on the circuit over the years.  In this letter, Ruth  writes her mother about being on the same program with the renowned American orator, William Jennings Bryan:

William Jennings Bryan, Secretary of State, three-time presidential candidate and renowned orator, was one of the most popular lecturers on the Chautauqua circuit. He supported Prohibition and attacked Darwinism in the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial” which took place 14 years after he toured with the Clarke-Bowers Company in 1911.

William Jennings Bryan, Secretary of State, three-time presidential candidate and renowned orator, was one of the most popular lecturers on the Chautauqua circuit. He supported Prohibition and attacked Darwinism in the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial” which took place 14 years after he toured with the Clarke-Bowers Company in 1911.

July 19, 1911, Forest City, Iowa, Summit & Anderson Hotels

My dear Mother,

It’s all over! But I must tell you the joke.

Our train was an hour and twenty minutes late getting to Forest City and the exalted Clarke-Bowers Company was thrown into one auto, Hon. W. J. [William Jennings Bryan, three-time presidential candidate and Chautauqua lecturer] in another, and I was on the platform playing Zigeunerweisen before sixteen hundred people in less time than it takes to tell about it in my green dress and red trimming, that exquisite stage gown designed by Modiste Bowers [Ruth’s mother].

Oh! I feel like quite a celebrity…

….Bryan was so pleasant and before he left this eve he came and shook hands and wanted to know when ‘next would we be together…’

Four days later, Ruth describes an excursion with her fellow Chautauquans during some time off:

July 23, 1911, Eldora, Iowa, The Winchester

Dearest Mother,

This is a real pretty town on the Iowa River…Two of the crew boys took Grace and I out on the river for a long boat ride. Had a dandy time and landed at a real pretty grove down the river about two miles. Got back here in time for dinner and gave our concert as usual at 2:30…

Happy times on the road in 1911 with the Clarke-Bowers Company. Clarke is at far left with hat and coat; Ruth is seated in the middle between two "crew boys" and Grace is standing at far right.

Happy times on the road in 1911 with the Clarke-Bowers Company. Clarke is at far left with hat and coat, Ruth is seated in the middle between two “crew boys,” and Grace is standing at far right. (Ruth Bowers family collection.)

…Everything going smooth and pleasantly and the time is passing quickly. If you haven’t sent my laundry, hold it for a few days, for our trunks are lost and we don’t expect to get them until next Friday. My bag is so chucked with stuff I can hardly close it now, so can get along without it a few days.”

But things did not always go so smoothly for the Clarke-Bowers troupe, as Ruth relates in this letter home:

July 25, 1911, Denison, Iowa, The Hotel Denison

My dear Mother,

This is a dandy town, real swell and quite a change from the awful dump we had to stay at over Sunday. Absolutely, we spent the most lonesome, boresome day I ever spent in a hope-to-die for town, Lake City, in the worst dump of a hotel–it was awful…

…We took a machine ride part way in the worst trap of an auto, and when about halfway up a hill the old thing broke down and we started sliding slowly downhill. Talk about frightening! Picture us in such a place on a country road at 4 o’clock am with the rain coming down in torrents and only a half hour to train time. Great spot! 

But the driver managed to fix the old “chug-chug” and we puffed into Sterling five minutes before train time…”

Frank W. Gunsaulus

Frank W. Gunsaulus, renowned preacher, humanitarian, and Chautauqua lecturer, inspired meat-packer Philip D. Armour to donate $1 million to start the Armour Institute, known today as the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Frank W. Gunsaulus, a noted preacher, educator and humanitarian of the day also joined the Clarke-Bowers circuit in 1911.

His “Million Dollar Sermon” inspired Philip Danforth Armour, a business tycoon and the richest man in Chicago at that time, to establish the Armour Institute, an engineering school in Chicago that still stands, and is known today as the Illinois Institute of Technology.

In this letter home, Ruth writes of being  joined on the circuit by Gunsaulus:

August 4, 1911, Corning, Iowa, Hotel Bacon

My Dear Mother,

Frank W. Gunsaulus of Chicago joined us Monday at Hedrick. Everybody in this part of the country knows him and he is second only to [William Jennings] Bryan in popularity. He is head of the Armour Institute of Chicago and pastor of the largest congregation in Chicago, also preacher in the Auditorium (the Grand Opera Theatre) Sun afternoons.

For being such a world-renowned speaker and a man of such vast reputation, he is so democratic and pleasant. Full of funny stories and experiences. He will only be here with us this week as he leaves on Monday for Chautauqua Lake, N.Y., to take charge of the lectures there. He has been fine to me and given me public praise from the platform. It is surely a great education to meet such distinguished men.

Ruth shared numerous other details about Chautauqua life the summer of 1911 in other letters home as well.:

….The Chaut yesterday was very large and the grounds are in a big grove. About 25 tents for the campers are on the grounds.

..Last eve Mr. Kramm, a football player of Cornell [Cornell College, Mount Vernon, Iowa], took me to supper at a private house…

…Our expenses have been running high–an average of over seventeen dollars a week.  Mr. C and I get the same salary and Grace gets $30. I wish you could hear our concert. It certainly is good–their part of it!…

…Yesterday was Grace’s birthday. Twenty years old. She seems older. I got her a nice pair of silk stockings. She was real pleased with them.

… Am standing the trip very well, but I get pretty tired of the monotony some days, especially when it is hot and Grace gets the blues.  I like her so much, she is such a sweet girl…Hope all are well.  Don’t work too hard, Mama.

In an email I received a few years ago from Jay Sherwood, Ruth’s grandson and author of  the book “Chautauqua Serenade”, he had this to say about the relationship between Ruth and Grace:

“Ruth had only one sibling–a brother. As I’ve been going through [Chautauqua items I’ve collected] I’ve been learning about your aunt through pictures, postcards, programs and brochures. I was thinking today that your Aunt Grace must have been like a sister to Ruth that summer. These letters seem to reinforce that idea…”

Ruth Bowers and Grace Desmond became fast friends when they traveled the Chautauqua circuit together the summer of 1911.

Ruth Bowers and Grace Desmond became fast friends when they traveled the Chautauqua circuit together the summer of 1911. (Photo courtesy of the Ruth Bowers family photo collection.)

As the summer of 1911 wore on, temperatures rose, and the heat began to take its toll on the performers. And why wouldn’t it have?  Air conditioning had yet to be invented. On August 11, from Conception, Missouri, Ruth wrote:

My dear Mother,

I spent the afternoon after our concert in my room in my nightgown with ice on my head. The day before had been bad enough, 100 degrees in the shade, but we had been staying at a private house with a nice big lawn at Albany, so we managed to exist…but yesterday the hotel was fierce…I never put in such a wretched day…

Things go from bad to worse for Grace though, as Ruth recounts to her mother a few days later:

August 16, 1911, Milan, Missouri,  Hotel Stanley

My dear Mother,

Received your letter this morning. We are still existing with the weather…oh, it’s beyond description what we went through on Friday, Sat and Thurs of last week. The hotels were poor, the meals were terrible and I tho’t I would surely give out…

It was too much for poor Grace and we fairly dragged her to Seymour on Sunday. Got her to bed in a dandy hotel. Called the Dr and found she had a raging fever of 103 degrees, with all the symptoms of typhoid.

Monday morning she was carried to the physician’s home, had a trained nurse, and if able, was to leave last night for Chicago. We are waiting for news in regard to her condition now.  Poor girl, how I hated to leave her among strangers. I nursed her Sat night and Sun night–gave her ice baths and medicine every three hours and slept on the floor between times….

…Don’t worry about my health. I’m drinking lots of lime and lemonade as the Dr directed me in order to avoid the fever, and I’ll let you know at once if I don’t feel well, but I know I’ll be alright.

Love from,

Ruth

As Jay speculated in an email to me about the letter above: “My guess would be that your aunt got typhoid fever–fortunately a mild case–and one that they took care of to the best of their medical ability at the time. It seems Grace got ill around August 13, so she missed the last three weeks of the tour and another pianist had to finish the tour in her place.”

Up Next

Despite Grace missing out on the last few weeks of the Clarke-Bower Company’s 1911 Chautauqua tour, the friendship between Ruth and Grace continued–at least for a little while–as you’ll see in the next post. In a letter to Ruth, Grace reveals details about exactly what happened to her once she left the tour, and Ruth fills her mother in on a visit to the “immense, three-story” Desmond home in Chicago, where Ruth reunites with her friend Grace, and a very good time is had by all in the big city of Chicago.

______

Chautauqua Serenade, book about the life of Ruth Bowers on on the Chautauqua circuit in the early 1900s was written by her grandson after much research online and in repositiories.Jay Sherwood is an award-winning historian, retired teacher-librarian, and author of six history books on British Columbia, one of which was a finalist for the 2015 BC Book Prize and the Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing.

His latest work, Chautauqua Serenade: Violinist Ruth Bowers on Tour 1910-1912, was released in September by Caitlin Press, Inc.  and is available at Amazon.com (US) or Amazon.ca (Canada) or Barnes & Noble.com.  More information about the book can  be found at the following link: www.ruthbowersmusic.ca

______

Copyright © 2016 Patricia Desmond Biallas

 

 

Posted in American History, Biographies, Family Legends, Family Stories | 3 Comments

Two Young Women Ahead of their Time (c. 1911)

The second in a series on how the friendship between a pair of musically gifted, independent young women in the early 1900s, led to the friendship over a century later of two of their descendants.

_____

My previous post introduced readers to Ruth Bowers and Grace Desmond, musical prodigies at the turn of the last century. It covered how Ruth’s grandson, Jay Sherwood, contacted me, Grace’s niece, when he was writing a book about his grandmother’s musical career.

Today’s post introduces readers to the movement known as “Chautauqua”, and how Ruth and Grace–who soon became friends–were  young women ahead of their time: traveling, becoming financially independent, and achieving a status few women of that era achieved.

crowd outside tent2 copy 2 - Version 3

A community gathers for a Chautauqua performance. (Photo courtesy of the Redpath Chautauqua Collection, University of Iowa.)

When author Jay Sherwood first contacted me three years ago about my aunt Grace Desmond’s involvement with the Chautauqua movement of the early 1900s,  I not only knew nothing about her experience with it, I didn’t even know what “Chautauqua” was.  I was in for quite an education.

A Bit about Chautauqua

As Jay explained in some of his initial emails to me:

In the early twentieth century–well  before the advent of radio and TV–Chautauqua and Lyceum programs brought live music, education and entertainment to rural America through lecturers, entertainers and classical musicians–like Jay’s grandmother, violinist Ruth Bowers, and my aunt, pianist Grace Desmond.  Chautauquas were held in the summer months and Lyceum programs spanned the fall and winter seasons. Together, Chautauquas and Lyceums were the main form of live entertainment for much of rural America.

Eugene Laurant--an illusionist and magician

Eugene Laurant–an illusionist and magician who entertained with Ruth Bowers on Chautauqua and Lyceum circuits. In this postcard which he gave to Ruth, Laurant is wearing a medal he received in 1912 from the Society of American Magicians.

Many of the lecturers and entertainers, like three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, and magician and illusionist, Eugene Laurant–were household names at the time, and many of the musicians were well-known professional performers.

Although the Chautauqua circuits only lasted about twenty-five years, they had an important impact on American culture during the early twentieth century, and it seems that Ruth and Grace were a part of that unique era of American history.

During the summer of 1911 they  traveled a Chautauqua circuit throughout the west and Midwest performing in such small towns as Forest City, Iowa; Austin, Minnesota; and Montgomery, Missouri.

ruth_grace_wagon_cropped copy 2

Grace Desmond, classical pianist (left), and Ruth Bowers classical violinist (right), on a baggage cart at a train station in 1911. Grace and Ruth became fast friends that summer as they hit the road and traveled the Chautauqua circuit together bringing classical music to rural towns in Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri.

Following their summer tour in 1911, Grace and Ruth parted musical ways to go on separate Chautauqua tours with other performers.

Ruth formed her own company in 1912 and performed on the  Horner Chautauqua circuit traveling throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Texas, while Grace teamed up with Katherine Ridgeway, a renowned reader, elocutionist, and storyteller of the day. Grace  headed out west on that tour to Utah, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

So, how exactly did Jay, Ruth’s grandson who resides on the west coast of Canada, find me, Grace Desmond’s niece, who resides in the American Midwest?

Connecting with a Descendant–a Century Later

Well, it seems that a post I’d written for this GeneaJourneys blog two years earlier, which included Grace’s name and profession—pianist—had popped up in Jay’s Google feed as he was doing research for an upcoming book on his grandmother’s musical career.

A caption beneath an image in that post was all it took for Jay to track me down and identify me as a descendant of Grace Desmond—the same Grace Desmond who served as pianist for his grandmother’s troupe, the Clarke-Bowers Company–and the same Grace Desmond who eventually became Ruth’s very good friend in the summer of 1911.

And why was he googling Grace Desmond’s name?

Beyond learning more about his grandmother’s musical colleague and  traveling companion–Jay explained it to me later like this:

“For all of my books, I try to make contact with descendants of some of the people involved. Sometimes I get new material to add to my book. Sometimes, the family stories I hear give me a better understanding of the person in the narrative.

“Your aunt, Grace Desmond, was one of the key people with my grandmother on the 1911 Chautauqua circuit. She’s in some of my grandmother’s pictures and is mentioned in  several of her letters, so I wanted to know more about her. When searching the internet for “Grace Desmond” I found your post about her, and …. Voila!”

Young Women ahead of their Time

Since that initial contact three years ago, Jay and I have been regular email pals, exchanging information back and forth about the fascinating connection we share: his grandmother—classical violinist, Ruth Bowers, and my aunt—classical pianist, Grace Desmond—a pair of women well ahead of their time.

As Jay points out, at a time when women didn’t even have the right to vote, female musicians like Ruth and Grace were traveling, becoming financially independent and expanding ideas of what women could do.

Chautauqua Serenade, book about the life of Ruth Bowers on on the Chautauqua circuit in the early 1900s was written by her grandson after much research online and in repositiories.

Chautauqua Serenade, book about the life of Ruth Bowers on on the Chautauqua circuit in the early 1900s was written by her grandson after much research online and in repositories.

As he writes in Chautauqua Serenade, the book he penned about his grandmother’s life on tour from 1910-1912:

“In the early twentieth century, there were three main occupations for women who wanted to work outside the home: teacher, nurse or secretary.  For women who were talented and determined, there was also the possibility of a career as a musician, whether in Chautauqua, vaudeville, symphony, or other types of shows….

…Traveling musicians had adventurous lives available to  few women at that time. On tour, these women had an opportunity to continue developing their talent by playing to large, enthusiastic audiences and interacting with other musicians. They were independent both financially and in their ability to travel and were recognized for their ability. They stayed in hotels,  wore fashionable clothes, met a variety of people and were occasionally entertained at residents’ homes in some of the communities where they performed…

These women musicians were accorded a status that few women achieved at that time. Through the example of their lives they were part of the first wave of the women’s liberation movement in the early part of the twentieth century.”

As Jay further explained to me:  “When we think of the women’s liberation movement in the early 20th century the suffragette movement often comes to mind first.  Through the lives  they led, my grandmother, your aunt Grace, and other women on the Chautauqua and Lyceum circuits were also, through their accomplishments and activities, at the forefront of what would later evolve into the women’s  movement of the 1960s and 70s.”

Well, who knew?  Certainly not me!

So thank you, Jay for searching for Grace Desmond on the internet, contacting me, and  passing on all you’ve discovered about my aunt’s early musical career.

 Prelude to Pianissimo

From prelude to pianissimo, Jay’s book–Chautauqua Serenade–is a labor of love.

The first draft of  his book was produced two years ago as a gift to his mother (Ruth’s daughter) on his mother’s 90th birthday. When Jay realized though, just how much original material and primary sources he had gathered on his grandmother’s career—letters, postcards, programs and photographs; newspaper articles, reviews, mementos and memorabilia—he knew he had to take his labor of love one step further.

That’s when he decided to produce a much more expanded version of his original manuscript and professionally publish the story of  Ruth Bowers.

And now he has….

fortunes_02 copy 3

“Don’t you think our faces are our fortune?” That’s what Ruth Bowers (left), wrote across the bottom of this photo as she hammed it up with C. Edward Clarke (center) and Grace Desmond (right) during some down time between performances. In the summer of 1911, this trio of classical musicians performed as the Clarke-Bowers Company on a 68-day Chautauqua tour of 66 small towns across rural Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri.

Published in September by Caitlin Press, this tribute to Ruth brings to light both the professional and personal life of a 23 year old violin virtuoso in the early part of the last century.

From postcards in the attic to posters in the archives, Jay traces Ruth’s routes for three years as she criss-crossed America bringing classical music to the ears of thousands who’d never heard it before.

It’s a book  laden with photographs, newspaper reviews, postcards, and letters home that reveal just what life was like on the road for his gifted, adventurous, trailblazing grandmother over the course of  six different Chautauqua and Lyceum tours from 1910 to 1912.

Up Next

In my next  post, I’ll share some of the adventures of Ruth and Grace–both on the circuit and off–as they dealt with lost luggage, “machine rides”, socializing in Chicago in 1911, and even typhoid fever, which forced one of them to end her tour a little early. 

 ______

Chautauqua Serenade, book about the life of Ruth Bowers on on the Chautauqua circuit in the early 1900s was written by her grandson after much research online and in repositiories.

Chautauqua Serenade by Jay Sherwood

Jay Sherwood is an award-winning historian, retired teacher-librarian, and author of six history books on British Columbia, one of which was a finalist for the 2015 BC Book Prize and the Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing.

His latest work, Chautauqua Serenade: Violinist Ruth Bowers on Tour 1010-1912, was released in September by Caitlin Press, Inc.  and is available at Amazon.com (US) or Amazon.ca (Canada) or Barnes & Noble.com.  More information about the book can  be found at the following link: www.ruthbowersmusic.ca

 

Copyright © 2016 Patricia Desmond Biallas

(All photos courtesy of the Ruth Bowers family collection, unless otherwise noted.)

Posted in American History, Biographies, Family Legends, Family Stories, Photo Stories | 2 Comments