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.
February 26, 2013
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!
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.
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…
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:
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.
Mrs. O.E. Desmond
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.)