Friday, August 10, 2012

Invitation to a School That No Longer Is

There is such a wistful feeling about looking at some bit of ephemera from a bygone era and knowing there is nothing tangible remaining of the references on the page.

Yesterday, I posted a ticket inviting the bearer to attend the closing exercises of Saint Anne’s school. The address given was Wentworth Avenue and 55th Street in Chicago. Of course, at the time that invitation was printed in 1895, the school, its parent church and rectory were all located—and thriving—at that site.

Googling the intersection today shows quite a different scenario. Gone is the church and associated buildings. There is no school remaining. Alongside Wentworth Avenue runs the Dan Ryan Expressway (Interstate 90). I have been told by researchers on various genealogy forums who know such things about old Chicago that the parish, after undergoing various changes, finally was shuttered—and may have actually been located directly under what is now the Expressway.

My husband’s grandmother, Agnes Tully Stevens, undoubtedly lived to see these modern encroachments, since she was still living in the Chicago vicinity until 1985. And yet, despite so many changes, she tenaciously clung to those paper mementos of bygone days.

What of the “Programme” to this special graduation event from 1895—the one pictured below as I received it, over one hundred years since its issue? It would not have been for festivities meant to honor Agnes, for at that time, she was only seven years of age. Saint Anne’s School must have been a grade school graduating eighth graders on to high school, and Agnes’ older sister Lily—by then fifteen years old—would be the more likely student honoree from the Tully family.

Visiting family in Chicago last week, we spent some time with my husband’s second cousin. He was old enough to have remembered Lily in her later years.

“She was smart,” he recalled, mentioning that he actually had a copy of her valedictorian speech. He noted his amazement at realizing those were the words of a high school student. (Now, that’s a piece of paper I would love to have a copy of!)

For all her brilliance and accomplishment, Lily worked as a stenographer in the office of a factory, probably until either her mother’s death and her joint inheritance of the family residence or until the economic turmoil of the late 1920s. By the time of the 1930 census, she is listed as having no occupation. And of course, by the time of the 1940 census, she would have been sixty years of age, so it is no surprise that she remained unemployed and ensconced at her family home by that point.

Lily Tully remained a single woman until her death in 1949. For what it is worth, her younger sister—Agnes—felt the importance of treasuring this slip of paper for nearly forty more years until her own passing in 1985.

You are cordially invited to attend the……
Closing Exercises..
….of the….
Class of ’95.
St. Anne’s School,
June 28th, 1895.


  1. A local PBS station created a documentary called "Things that are no longer there" and visited a number of places in my hometown creating a "then and now" film - it was turned into a (substantial) book and I find it fascinating. So much of our "historical" centers are now "under the pavement".

    1. What a great idea for a documentary, Iggy! I often wonder what became of those old buildings I see in historic photographs and art work.


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