On the Road with Chautauqua: A Friendship Begins

The first 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.

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Ruth Bowers
Classical Violinist
(1888-1982)

Grace Desmond Classical Pianist (1891-1972)

Grace Desmond
Classical Pianist
(1891-1972)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 26, 2013

12:03 am

Hello,

I saw your post [on GeneaJourneys] regarding your aunt, Grace Desmond Holland.  Grace was on a Chautauqua tour of the Midwest…in the summer of 1911 with my grandmother, Ruth Bowers.  Ruth and Edward Clarke formed the Clarke-Bowers Company and Grace was their pianist…

Such was the message that greeted me one sleepy morning three years ago when I logged onto this very GeneaJourneys blog to compose a new post.

The email continued:

The following is from a postcard Clarke sent [to my grandmother, Ruth]:

May 4, 1911 –

Dear Miss Bowers, I saw Vawter [head of the Vawter Chautauqua] a few days ago.  We will begin about June 27th or 28th.  Our pianist is Miss Grace Desmond, 4430 Vincennes Ave., Chicago, Ill – a good one.  If you come thru to Chicago a day or two ahead you can rehearse with her here.  Hope to see you in May.  

Sincerely, E. Clarke

Well, that certainly captured my attention!

This postcard may have been a marketing piece Clarke used to promote his business. Note that information beneath his photo includes his business address at the Fine Arts Building in Chicago—a building which still stands today. This is also where Grace Desmond, member of the Clarke Bowers Company, took piano instruction in the early 1900s from Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler, a world renowned classical pianist of the day. Perhaps Clarke met Grace, a Chicago native, through her instructor Zeisler, or simply by virtue of sharing the halls of this famous Chicago arts center.

FRONT: This postcard was probably a marketing piece Clarke used to promote his music business. Note that information beneath his photo includes his business address at the Fine Arts Building in Chicago—a building which still stands today. It’s also where Grace Desmond, member of the Clarke-Bowers Company, took piano instruction in the early 1900s from Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler, a world renowned classical pianist of the day. Perhaps Clarke met Grace, a Chicago native, through her instructor, Bloomfield-Zeisler, or simply by virtue of sharing the halls of this famous Chicago fine arts center.

I definitely had an aunt named “Grace Desmond” who’d passed away more than 40 years earlier, and that address—4430 Vincennes, Chicago—was precisely where Aunt Grace, my father, their siblings, and my grandparents–Owen and Nellie Desmond—all lived, at the very time that postcard was penned.

PC_Clarke B copy

BACK: Note how Clarke used the top of this postcard to reprint accolades he received about his vocal abilities from his Parisian voice teacher, who assures Clarke that he will have a “splendid career.” It seems that Professor Jean de Rieske was correct.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I continued reading Jay’s email:

I have a copy of their program that I’ve scanned and a few pictures of Grace, my grandmother and Clarke…. I see that Grace was with Katharine Ridgeway on a couple of other Chautauqua circuits.  My grandmother was on several tours from 1909 to 1912…

A flyer (c. 1911) promoting the Clarke-Bowers Recital Company featuring Clarke; Jay’s grandmother, violinist Ruth Bowers; and my aunt, pianist Grace Desmond. This is probably a program for the group’s afternoon performance, which would have included some encores that aren’t listed here. Note that Clarke mentions his training in Paris and that he, in turn, has begun offering voice lessons to others at the Fine Arts Building in Chicago—where he probably met my aunt, Grace Desmond, who took lessons there at the time from Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler.

A flyer (c. 1911) promoting the Clarke-Bowers Recital Company featuring C. Edward Clarke, “The Canadian Baritone;” Jay’s grandmother, violinist Ruth Bowers; and my aunt, pianist Grace Desmond. Note that Clarke mentions his classical voice training received in Paris and that he, in turn, is offering voice lessons to other young hopefuls at the Fine Arts Building in Chicago.

The email went on :

I also have a postcard sent to Ruth in July 1911 from Mrs. O. E. Desmond [Grace’s mother and your grandmother.] It reads:

Dear Friend,

Your pretty birthday card received & I appreciate your remembrance of me.  Hope you are well & enjoying your work.  This is a rainy Sunday & very disagreeable.  Remember us to Grace & Mr. Clarke.  

 Very truly,

 Mrs. O.E. Desmond

A thank you note from Graces' mother for a birthday card, to Ruth, Grace's friend, who had recently visited the Desmond's in Chicago.

A thank you note from my grandmother (Grace’s mother) to Ruth, Grace’s friend and fellow Chautauqua performer, who had recently visited the Desmonds in Chicago. It’s addressed to Ruth in care of “Gen. Del.” (General Delivery), Audobon, Iowa.  That was likely Ruth’s next stop on her Chautauqua travels throughout the Midwest.

Jay continued:

It appears that my grandmother [Ruth] spent a few days with Grace and [the Desmond] family in Chicago at the end of the 1911 season…

I don’t know whether you have any Chautauqua material from Grace.  I see that her only child died last year.  That would have been nice to meet him.

Regards,

Jay Sherwood

What?!

Who is this “Jay Sherwood” and what’s he saying about Aunt Grace? Our family never knew about that.  And what in the world is “Chautauqua?”

colorized postcard tent

A colorized postcard of a Chautauqua tent where lecturers, entertainers and musicians like Ruth Bowers and Grace Desmond entertained people in rural America at the turn of the last century before the advent of radio and TV.

Those questions and many more would be answered over the course of the next three years in an email exchange between Jay and me that numbers nearly 100 at last count. (And yes, I have most of them, at least I hope I do….)

Already a professionally published author and historian, this retired teacher-librarian, an American who’s lived in Canada for the past 40 years, was working on his next book. He was researching the name of a woman—a classical pianist named Grace Desmond—who, in 1911, traveled and performed with his grandmother—Ruth Bowers, a violinist of considerable renown—on a traveling circuit known as “Chautauqua.”

Could this be true?  Was this my Aunt Grace?  I needed to learn more.

Up Next

I did learn more–much more–about Chautauqua and the lives of Ruth and Grace on the Chautauqua circuit in 1911. That’s because Ruth, Jay’s grandmother, saved photos, postcards, letters and other memorabilia from her time on the road, and he generously shared much of it with me. 

My next post will cover how that Canadian author found this genealogy blogger; the role of Chautauqua in America in the early part of the last century; and the friendship that developed between Ruth and Grace–two gifted, independent, adventurous women well ahead of their time.

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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.)

 

 

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This entry was posted in American History, Biographies, Family Legends, Family Stories, Photo Stories. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to On the Road with Chautauqua: A Friendship Begins

  1. Jana Last says:

    Wow! This is fantastic! How exciting for you to have connected with Jay Sherwood, and that he shared so much about your Aunt Grace with you. Just another example of why it’s important to blog about our family history.

  2. Jana Last says:

    Patricia,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2016/03/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-march-25.html

    Have a wonderful weekend!

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