Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Mile Square of Chicago by Marjorie Warvelle Bear

A Mile Square of Chicago by Marjorie Warvelle Bear is a book with a long story of its own. Bear wrote the manuscript in the 1960s and 1970s and died in 1982 without publishing. Though her daughter Marjorie Harbaugh Bennett's efforts to sell the book to a publisher were described in a Chicago Tribune column by Eric Zorn in 1994, it was late 2007 when the long-awaited book finally appeared in print.

The square mile of Chicago in question is directly west of downtown, a bit west of the Chicago River. It now includes the United Center, surrounded by its parking lots. Along its southern edge is the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center and the Eisenhower Expressway. It is no longer thought of as a family oriented neighborhood, as it was in the 1850 to 1920 period described by Bear in her book .

A Mile Square of Chicago, more of a reference book than narrative, is divided into three books. The first part is "Book One: Before My Day," which tells about the area up to 1897, when Bear was born. The first chapter tells about Brown School, an elementary school started in 1852, and its famous students. Tad Lincoln, Bertha Honore Palmer, Lillian Russell, Flo Ziegfield, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Eddie Foy, and five others each get between two and twenty-two pages telling about their lives, much of it beyond their years at Brown School. Most get pictures. The second chapter then tells about Old Central High School and another list of students, none of whom I recognize. The third chapter tells about the beginnings of all the area hospitals.

"Book Two: In My Day" starts with a detailed description of Bear's house at 654 West Monroe Street, which was later renumbered 1743 West Monroe Street. This may be the most important contribution of this book, as the author gives a deep look into everyday life at the beginning of the twentieth century. She tells about the rooms, the furniture, the bathroom fixtures, the kitchen, and the back yard. She includes interior and exterior photos, and describes ice and coal delivery. Then she tells what a walker would see in the immediate neighborhood and on a walk on Ashland Avenue.

Further along in Book Two, Bear uses school records to tell about textbooks and assigned reading and public library records to tell about children's books and popular periodicals. Her friends at Brown School, the clothes they wore, the music they played, and how they celebrated holidays. Then the author tells about more schools and more famous students. The names I recognize are the animator Walt Disney and the novelist Phyllis A. Whitney.

The third section mostly updates information about schools and hospitals in the area up to the 1970s. For a pleasure reader, this is the least interesting section as there are no personal details.

Bear ends with a short philosophical section, which is most quotes from poetry. It expresses the idea that a small neighborhood can give much to the world at large.

The 548-page book is a model of what would be a great personal project for any family history-minded person. A collection of family and neighborhood information could be invaluable to grandchildren and later generations, making their ancestors more than just names on charts.

A Mile Square of Chicago is an important acquisition to Chicago area libraries and research collections outside the area. The only way to obtain it appears to be through Google Base. If I read the source's entry correct, there may only be 32 copies left.

Bear, Marjorie Warvelle. A Mile Square of Chicago. TIPRAC, 2007. ISBN 9780963399540


Tonita said...

Off topic:
I am at a university library in Norway, - and we are discussing ear/headphones on the public workstations (about 80) in the library.

How to not have to manage them, - phones that do not break etc.

Any suggestions?

danzmark said...

An absorbing, hard to put down, book.
When I was asked to read this 549 page book by one of the author’s sons, I reluctantly said I would. However from the first page of the Introduction, I was hooked. It is beautifully written, well organized and illustrated. I would like to have a summary so that I could walk the Mile Square of Chicago that is described. While there, I could consider all of the famous people who the author described that lived in that area of Chicago, and view those structures that remain. I especially enjoyed the details about Tad Lincoln, one of Abraham Lincoln’s sons.
Since I have a science degree and worked in the medical field, I found the sections on the Chicago Medical center, both its early history and its later years in the author’s section entitled Book Three: Today and Tomorrow to be of personal interest. To think I almost did a postdoctoral fellowship at that institution!
In the Foreword the editor, Arthur T. Orawski, mentions that the author’s obituary stated: " Marjorie“…"will be remembered by many as a “Renaissance woman”…".
I know all of Marjorie Warvelle Bear’s children. I think each of them could also be thought of as a Renaissance Man or Woman which certainly testifies to the author’s life.
This book is not only a fascinating description of a certain area and peoples of Chicago, it is a detailed history of the city, including descriptions of the Great Fire of 1871 and the World’s Fair of 1893. The book is divided into three sections: Book One: Before My Day; Book Two: In My Day; Book Three: Today And Tomorrow, for a total of Fifteen Chapters. In each Chapter, the author has included appropriate quotes and poetry. This book should be included in the list of required reading for all students, especially for those attending the schools described. Further, I highly recommend the book for all who enjoy American History.
Janet Tisdale Nell Herbert
Dr. Herbert holds a BS from the College of Charleston, MS and PhD from Florida State University (FSU) and has numerous papers published in scientific journals.