–and Their Men
By Megan McKinney
Anna and Grace
In past issues of Classic Chicago, we have discussed the early Farwells of Lake Forest, focusing on the founding brothers, Charles and John V., owners of an immense chunk of the Texas Panhandle, and their spouses—particularly Charles’ scholarly wife, Mary.
We begin the New Year following the daughters of Charles and Mary and the amazing men to whom they were drawn. The three girls—Anna, Grace and Rose—were considered beauties as well as erudite, artistic women with wide interests, well deserving of the effort and financial investment spent in providing them with what was then an exceptional education. In addition, each was instrumental in the founding of a prominent local club and all married extraordinary men.
If Anna Farwell de Koven’s life sometimes reads like that of the heroine of a novel of the period, it was. She was the author of 10 books, two of them novels. The first, A Sawdust Doll, was a thinly disguised description of Anna and her milieu—the New York Four Hundred of 1895. A best-seller, it was “condemned, criticized and praised.”
Until then, Anna’s writing had been literary and dramatic criticism for New York newspapers. Her most important work was a major biography of John Paul Jones, which received national and congressional attention for its original research, overturning previous work on Jones. The book was so outstanding, it brought favorable comment from the eminent historian Henry Adams.
The major Chicago club founded by this daughter of Charles and Mary Farwell was the Friday Club. The location of its inception was the third floor ballroom of the couple’s Pearson Street house, and its date, March 4, 1887, was notable because it was also the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of Chicago as a city.
Anna, a leader in any area in which she found herself, soon became first president of the club, which continues to be one of Chicago’s most prestigious women’s groups.
Anna’s husband, Reginald de Koven, was an international figure, an Oxford graduate, whose parents were New England expatriates living in Florence. As composer of enduring songs, including “Indian Love Call” and “O Promise Me,” and a very successful light opera, Robin Hood, he was a celebrity of the day. He was also music editor of the Chicago Evening Post, and after lobbying for a Chicago orchestra, he founded the Washington Philharmonic.
Anna and Reginald de Koven.
Their marriage ceremony, at Anna’s parents’ Lake Forest estate, Fairlawn, in May 1884, drew four railroad carloads of guests from Chicago. And it wasn’t long before the couple had enviable houses of their own in both Chicago and New York. Their handsome John Wellborn Root design at 104 East Bellevue Place, below, unfortunately has since been demolished.
In New York, the de Kovens were known for the lively balls they gave in their 1025 Park Ave. mansion and for musical evenings at a house in Irving Place. They also lived for a time in the senior de Kovens’ adopted city, Florence.
1025 Park Ave.
The Park Avenue dining room.
The de Koven family was sufficiently celebrated to justify publication of a Harper & Brothers book about their lives written by Anna.
Charles and Mary’s second daughter, Grace, was a landscape painter and founding president of The Arts Club.
She married Dudley Winston, son of prominent Chicago lawyer Frederick H. Winston and his wife, the former Mary Dudley. Dudley’s father had founded the prestigious Winston & Strawn in 1853; the firm, more than a century and a half later, is one of the nation’s oldest and largest law firms. He was also President Grover Cleveland’s ambassador to Persia.
Following Dudley’s early death, Grace married Robert McGann, an engineering firm owner.
Grace lived to a great age, dying at 93 in 1953. However, long before reaching that great age, she was unduly horrified by what she considered to be nouveau riche climbers: Democrats, non-Presbyterians and, especially, Roman Catholics, who she perceived were engulfing Lake Forest. She told novelist Arthur Meeker, “They came to dig our ditches, and stayed to marry our daughters!” Years before, she had bemoaned the establishment of Onwentsia Club, saying it was changing Lake Forest into a “fashionable town of social climbers.” This was in 1895, and its founder was her brother-in-law!
The Farwells of Lake Forest, Megan McKinney’s series of articles on this remarkable dynasty, will continue in Classic Chicago over the next two weeks.
Next week: Twilight Generation “It “Couple–Rose and Hobart Chatfield-Taylor.
Robert F. Carl