Sometimes you find astonishing information on the back of old snapshots. This one turned out to be a treasure. It reads: “1907–Miss Helen Culver and Miss French at their home Rookwoods, Lake Forest, Ill. Back entrance.” Imagine my delight when I searched for Rookwoods and discovered that Miss Helen Culver was a major Chicago educator, activist, and philanthropist. She inherited a fortune from her cousin, Charles J. Hull, and gave it away to important causes. Hull House, the famous Chicago settlement house, was based in the Hull family mansion. Culver also gave money to the University of Chicago.
In the photo above, she is pictured with her life-long companion, Martha Ellen French, who helped manage her estate and worked at Hull House. Helen Culver, born in 1832, is in her seventies here. She’s dressed appropriately for a wealthy older woman. Her dark colored (but not black) dress is decorated with lace down the front, with lace at the collar and cuffs. White lace was frequently recommended for older women at the time to soften the lines in the face. French, born in 1846, is dressed much more simply without a single flounce or bauble.
Here they are again at the kitchen entrance with a friend. Culver on the left is wearing a black skirt and white shirtwaist, a standard outfit for American women of all ages and classes at the time. Mrs. Nielson, in the middle, has on black from head to toe, with only a hint of white at her high collar. Although it is September, I’m guessing it must have been hot, since French is dressed all in white.
These photos are too precious for my home collection. Where do you think I should send them?