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Shaw, Frances Wells (1872-1937) | Lake Forest College Library Archives and Special Collections

Name: Shaw, Frances Wells (1872-1937)


Historical Note:

Frances Wells Shaw, 1872-1937, grew up in Chicago and attended Miss Porter's School, Farmington, CT.  She married architect Howard Shaw in 1893, and the couple were members of the Little Room, a Friday afternoon Fine Arts Building group that met after Chicago Symphony matinees.  The couple lived in Chicago, beginning in a duplex designed by her spouse, and by 1898 were summering in a multi-generational country place, Ragdale, with her in-laws, too, the Theodore Shaws, near the 1895-founded Onwentsia club, on Green Bay Road, Lake Forest.  Daughter Evelyn, later Mrs. John T. McCutcheon, was born in 1893 and Sylvia, later Mrs. Clay Judson and Mrs. Sidney Haskins, was born in 1897.  A third daughter, Theodora, was born in 1912.

By the 1910s Frances was writing poetry, and her Ragdale Book of Verse was printed (fifty copies) in 1911 by the Gothic Press, Lake Forest (Edward Larrabee Baker, also a Howard Shaw client, 1907).  Part of the Chicago Literary Renaissance group, the Shaws supported Poetry, A Magazine of Verse, and Frances published several poems there in the March 1914 issue, v. 3, no. 6.  Her "Who Loves the Rain" and "Little Pagan Rain Song" appeared in the same issue as her friend Carl Sandburg's "Chicago."  Her work also appeared in Poetry editor Harriet Monroe's anthologies of poetry from the magazine. Her poem "The Last Guest" appeared in The Century (NewYork) for April 1916.  Her themes were domestic, largely.  A bit of a different perspective is reflected in her "The City Lights From a Skyscraper," published in The Soul of a City: an Urban Anthology, ed. Garland Greever and Joseph M. Bachelor (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1923), p. 240.  In 1917 (and in 1928) she published Songs of a Baby's Day, poems illustrated by daughter Sylvia, very likely inspired by the early childhood of her third daughter who arrived in 1912.  After her death her family published a collection of her poetry, Who Loves the Rain and Other Poems (1940).  In addition to her writing, she was a firend, patron, and travel companion of Monroe's, and arranged for her oldest daughter Evelyn to help at the Poetry office.

As the 1910s began Lady Gregory and the Abbey Players frfom Dublin visited Chicago and urged local amateurs to "take back" or reform the theater, against the canned road shows and new nickelodeons (cinema).  One act plays were best mastered by amateurs, and soon in addition to the LIttle Theatre in the Fine Arts Building Mary Reynold (Mrs. Arthur) Aldis had converted a cottage on her estate into a small theater, with a stage and less than one hundred seats.  Here were acted her own written and translated form the French plays, along with the work of others.  Mrs. Shaw acted in some of these, as did many of her set, and she is pictured in Aldis's collection, Plays for Small Stages (Duffield,1915).

As early as 1909 Frances wrote and produced her play "The Heir of Manville Grange, a Peripeteitic Play in Four Acts."  This was put on again in 1922, and Frances created a scrapbook of her script, photographs, and clippings about the productions.  It was suggested that the peripetetic feature, being staged sequentially around Ragdlae for guests, preceded a similar effort by the Belgian poet, Maurice Maeterlinck.  By ca. 1912 Howard Shaw was designing and building an outdoor theater based on Italian dprecedents on the north section of the Ragdale property, the Ragdale Ring, with the audience in a low-stone-walled circular space for audience seating (ca. 200) with the stage to the east, layers of evergreens (arbor vitae) for the wings.  A Garden Drama, a Play for Children and Grown-Ups, was published in 1913 and again in 1926 by Samuel French (for rental to community groups).  Three other plays appear in a mimeographed posthumous collection, Essays, Plays and Stories for Children, in a section entitled  "Three Plays": "The Person in the Chair," The Desk of Simeon Dark," and "The Drawn Curtain."  These are intended for a library corner as a stage setting, with an audience of twenty five.

This posthumous volume, unpaginated, also contains a number of essays, one on open-air theaters, others on travel, etc.  It also has many short stories for children.  Written in the 1930s for grandchildren and neighbors' children was Wake Up, Old House.  This is represented in a copy of the original typescript, (95 pp., double-spaced) with testiments to it by the children at the front. 

The writing, especially the poetry, of Frances Shaw was of good quality but the output was limited, not unlike that of her granddaughter Alice Judson (Ryerson, Hayes), founder of the Ragdale Foundation in 1976 and its guiding spirit over the next three decades while also writing poetry.  Ragdale executive director Michael Wilkerson was once asked, ca. 1994, by this writer how good Alice's writing was.  Wilkerson opined that it was very good, sometimes, an occasionally extremely good, but not in a sufficient quantity to constitute a serious body of work, due to all of the writer's other activities (raising a family, getting a Ph.D., in education, running an artists' community, etc.).  For Frances the circumnstances were not dissimilar.  Some of her poems are very good, enough to wish that there were more.  But for her many efforts in support of and as part of the Chicago Literary Renaissance of 1911-17, she deserves to be remembered.

Sources:

Hayes, Alice, and Susan Moon.  Ragdale: a History and Guide.  Lake Forest: Open Books and the Ragdale Foundation, 1990. 

Shaw, Frances Wells. Essays, Plays, and Stories for Children.  ca. 1940. 

______. A Garden Drama: A Play for Children and Grown-Ups.  1913, 1926.

______.  The Heir of Manville Grange.  89 pp. (scrapbook format, with photos, music, articles, and a typescript of the play), ca. 1922.

______. Ragdale Book of Verse.  Lake Forest: Gothic Press, 1911.  50 copies.

______. Songs of a Baby's Day.  Illus. Sylvia Shaw.  1917, 1928.

______. Wake Up, Old House. Typescript,  ca. 1930s. 

______. Who Loves the Rain and Other Poems.  1940.

Sources:

Sources:

Hayes, Alice, and Susan Moon.  <em style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; ">Ragdale: a History and Guide</em>.  Lake Forest: Open Books and the Ragdale Foundation, 1990. 

Shaw, Frances Wells. Essays, Plays, and Stories for Children.  ca. 1940. 

______. A Garden Drama: A Play for Children and Grown-Ups.  1913, 1926.

______.  The Heir of Manville Grange.  89 pp. (scrapbook format, with photos, music, articles, and a typescript of the play), ca. 1922.

______. Ragdale Book of Verse.  Lake Forest: Gothic Press, 1911.  50 copies.

______. Songs of a Baby's Day.  Illus. Sylvia Shaw.  1917, 1928.

______. Wake Up, Old House. ‚ÄčTypescript,  ca. 1930s.

______. Who Loves the Rain and Other Poems.  1940.

Note Author: Arthur H. Miller, Archivist, Lake Forest College, amiller@lakeforest.edu





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