women's suffrage

Mrs. Ashton Dilke Visits the Glessner House

On April 8, 1888, Frances Glessner received a letter from a friend which she carefully pasted into her journal.  The letter is fascinating because of who wrote it, as well as the person introduced in the letter.

The letter was written by Sarah Hackett Stevenson, a long-time friend of Frances Glessner.   Stevenson, born in 1841 in Buffalo Grove, Illinois was an early female physician in Illinois.  After serving as the principal at the Mount Carroll Seminary (which later became Shimer College) she moved to Chicago to study medicine at the Women’s Hospital Medical College.   She obtained her MD in 1874, and two years later, while attending the convention of the American Medical Association as a delegate of the Illinois State Medical Society, was accepted as the first female member of the AMA.  In 1880, she co-founded the Illinois Training School for Nurses with Lucy Flowers.  She retired in 1903 and died in 1909. 

Dr. Stevenson was a frequent guest at the Glessner home, and often spent holidays with the family.  Both Dr. Stevenson and Frances Glessner were early members of the Chicago Woman’s Club and The Fortnightly, and it was probably through these organizations that they first became acquainted. 

In the letter, Dr. Stevenson indicated that she had just returned from Washington D.C. where she had treated Mrs. Ashton Dilke.  Having persuaded Mrs. Dilke to come to Chicago, Dr. Stevenson now sought a home where she could stay, and asked Frances Glessner to open her “lovely home” to Mrs. Dilke.  Dr. Stevenson goes on to say that in thinking of where her visitor could stay, she could “find no one who is really situated so beautifully as yourself to entertain such a guest.”

Mrs. Ashton Dilke (1857-1914) was a prominent English suffragette and came to Chicago to speak on the subject.  Both she and her husband (who had died in 1883) were active in the suffrage movement, her husband being a member of the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage, and Mrs. Dilke, a member of the Executive Committee of the National Society.  In 1885, she had published a book entitled Women’s Suffrage.  In 1888, she traveled to the United States with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to attend the International Council of Women in Washington, which is where she met Dr. Stevenson.

Frances Glessner graciously agreed to host Mrs. Dilke during her three-night stay in Chicago, and recorded her arrival in her journal:

“Today (Monday April 16) the house was besieged by reporters to see Mrs. Dilke.  She came at 9:30.  Dr. Stevenson and John went to the 22nd St. station and took the train there and went on down town with her and then came home.  I gave her a hot supper.  Tuesday the reporters came before Mrs. Dilke was down stairs.  Callers came too by the half dozen.  I took her off for a drive, and then home to luncheon.  After luncheon I made her take a rest.  Then came my afternoon Tea – about seventy five ladies and gentlemen were here – and it was all very pretty.”

Three newspaper clippings pasted into the journal provide more details on the afternoon tea:

“Mrs. J. J. Glessner gave an afternoon tea Tuesday in honor of Mrs. Dilke and Mrs. Chant.  The beautiful new house was thronged with guests, and its artistic interior was brightened everywhere with aesthetic clusters of flowers, arranged in rare bowls and vases.  Mrs. Glessner received in her drawing-room, which is, perhaps, the handsomest salon in the city.  Among the guests were many gentlemen.  Tea was served in the breakfast-room, a small apartment exquisitely finished in the Romanesque style.”

“At Mrs. Glessner’s afternoon tea Tuesday, Miss Fanny Doane, Miss Fanny Locke, and Miss Harriet Monroe did the honors of the table.  The cloth was strewn with rose-buds, and the very dainty arrangement of bonbons, lozenges and glaces gave one the idea of bouquets.”

“Tuesday Mrs. J. J. Glessner gave a delightful 5 o’clock tea to about seventy-five guests in honor of Mrs. Ashton Dilke.  Mrs. Glessner received assisted by Mrs. Dilke, both ladies being attired in exquisite tea gowns.  The handsome house was decorated in the loveliest manner with roses and tulips.  The “tea” was served in the dining room and consisted mainly of English breakfast tea, English wafers and bread and butter and assorted cakes served on china of delicate Royal Worcester.  The ladies were all in lovely toilets of brocades, satins, laces and silks, and all wore dainty evening bonnets, while the gentlemen were in all the glory of evening dress and boutonnieres.”  (The guest list which followed was a virtual Who’s Who of Chicago, and included Mr. and Mrs. Potter Palmer, Mr. and Mrs. Robert T. Lincoln, Mr. and Mrs. Bryan Lathrop, Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Field, Mr. and Mrs. John B. Drake, as well as many of the Glessners’ Prairie Avenue neighbors).

Mrs. Dilke’s speech was scheduled for Wednesday.  Frances Glessner continued:

“Wednesday Mrs. Field invited us to luncheon and to the French Opera.  She gave Mrs. Dilke a profusion of flowers, one a large bunch of orchids which Mrs. D. wore when she made her address.  The Opera was very poor – but gave me a chance to rest.  We went to the meeting in Methodist Church Block and heard first, Mrs. Dilke on ‘Women in Politics,’ then Mrs. Ormiston Chant on ‘Working Women in England.’  After the speeches we brought Mr. Shortall home and left Mrs. Dilke and Mrs. Stevenson at his house while John and I came home, got the tray of supper for Mrs. D., took it up to Shortall’s and had a hot supper.”

The events of the week concluded the next day.

“Thursday Mrs. Sprague took pity on me and took Mrs. Dilke up to Mr. Hutchinson’s to see his pictures.  Then we went to a luncheon at Mrs. Fernando Jones, where we sat thirteen at table.  We had a very nice luncheon hurried by Mrs. Dilke having to take the 3:10 train for New York.  She had beautiful flowers sent to and given to her.  We went to bed early – tired out.”

And thus ended a busy week entertaining one of the first overnight guests in the Glessner’s new house on Prairie Avenue.