The Carrie Post King’s Daughters Home for Women opened on Oct. 7, 1895 with five women already in residence, room for four more, and a cow.
It also had the support of hundreds of local church women, a unique force that would allow the King’s Daughters Home to shelter hundreds more women – many of them with few resources of their own – over the next 110 years.
The home closed in 2006, as costs mounted and society in general offered more living options for the elderly. But as of its 125th anniversary in 2018, the King’s Daughters Organization continued with the mission it had set itself more than a century earlier: “to charitably aid the elderly in our community.”
The idea for a charitable organization of church women traveled to Springfield from New York City with the Rev. Frederick W. Clampett, the founding rector of Christ Church, 611 E. Jackson St.
Clampett had become familiar with King’s Daughters in New York, according to “The Early History of the King’s Daughters Home for Women, Springfield, Illinois,” by Harriet J. Walker (1846-1929), an article published in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society in July 1930.
“It was due to his enthusiasm that the first circle was formed in Springfield,” Walker wrote.
On Sunday evening, June 24, 1888, ten Christian women, on bended knee received … the little silver cross tied with the royal purple ribbon, while the choir sang “Thine Forever.” The Whatsoever Circle of Christ Church, the first Circle, was pledged to work in accordance with the name chosen, and while the (early) record of accomplished work may not be large, yet the sick in our homes and in the hospitals, those in trouble or affliction received substantial aid and tender sympathy.
The first circles – then and now the building blocks of the Daughters organization – were limited to 10 women each, but that rule was rapidly outgrown, Walker wrote.
As the name suggests, membership in the King’s Daughters was limited to women; some men also were interested in the idea, according to Walker, but Springfield’s three circles of King’s Sons were short-lived. However, the King’s Daughters were helped by a five-man advisory board, members of which often were spouses of Daughters’ leaders.
Springfield had 26 circles and a total of 379 members by 1892, but officers were concerned that their efforts were scattershot. For instance, the Opportunity Circle promoted temperance, the Inasmuch Circle “worked among the newsboys and bootblacks,” and the Industrial Circle trained poor girls in needlework. And the Tongue Guard Circle, 26 students from the Episcopal St. Agatha School, emphasized “guard(ing) that unruly member, the tongue.”
“After much discussion,” Walker wrote, “the consensus of opinion was that there was a need of a home for women, especially aged women.” Seed money came from a “pantomime spectacular” of “Ben Hur,” an all-local series of tableaus presented at the Chatterton Opera House on April 26-27, 1893.
The event raised $911, and their newfound wealth obliged the King’s Daughters, who previously had operated as an informal “union” of circles, to incorporate. The incorporation date, June 6, 1893, is considered the local organization’s anniversary. Walker was elected the first president. (See below for a complete list of board presidents.)
More fundraising events and substantial individual donations allowed the King’s Daughters to buy the former C.R. Post home at Sixth Street and Black Avenue for $4,300 in March 1895. Renovations to make the building suitable as a home for elderly women brought the final cost to $6,000.
The first resident was Eleanor Bashaw, 78, who the Illinois State Journal said had lived in Sangamon County since 1830. “She says she is happy as can be in her new home,” the newspaper reported.
The Journal’s description of the new facility:
(T)he home is equipped with every convenience and with every feature that conduces to health and comfort. It is fitted throughout with radiators and is well heated with steam. Fixtures for electricity have been put in and that is to be the illuminant. There is also a bath room with water closet, and particular effort was made to have the sanitary conditions good.
The cow, whose milk was consumed by the home’s residents, was contributed by one of the group’s most generous founding members (and later president), Adelaide Ide (1842-1932). Cows remained in residence on the property until 1922, when the management finally deemed it “cheaper and less trouble to buy the milk needed,” according to an updated history written by Mary Hansell (1850-1941) in 1928.
The home didn’t give up its flock of chickens for several years more, however, and much of the produce on the residents’ tables came from the home’s garden. “Potatoes, however, have never been a success,” Hansell wrote.
Those kinds of economies helped keep costs low for many years. In 1903, when an expanded King’s Daughters Home could house 20 residents, Hansell reported, its operating expenses were less than $1,600. The organization’s income, by contrast, amounted to $4,400.
E. Cook Matheny (1826-1905), a son of Springfield pioneer Charles Matheny, bought the vacant land that later became the Carrie Post King’s Daughters Home in 1866. He took out a loan in 1868, presumably to build a house for his family on the site. However, Matheny defaulted on the loan, and investor Samuel Davis acquired the property for $4,700 (probably the mortgage balance) at a bankruptcy auction on Jan. 23, 1872.
Davis, in turn, sold the home that October to the Post family – officially, the purchaser was Caroline Lathrop Post (1824-1914), the “Carrie Post” for whom the King’s Daughters Home was later named.
Interestingly, there’s another connection between the Matheny and Post families. Both E.C. Matheny and Charles Rollins Post (1826-1919), Caroline Post’s husband, left Sangamon County in 1849 to prospect for gold in California. Post came back with enough capital to go into business; he dealt in grain and later in farm equipment.
The Gold Rush apparently wasn’t enough adventure for Matheny, described in his Illinois State Journal obituary as having a “strong, aggressive personality.” He returned east by sea, but stopped on the way in Nicaragua, where he lived for several years. He didn’t return to Springfield until 1854.
Matheny later held a number of political posts, notably nine years as deputy U.S. marshal.
The Post family, meanwhile, occupied the home until 1887. Charles Rollin and Caroline Post’s eldest son, Charles William Post (1854-1914) and his first wife, Ella Merriwether Post (1852-1912), moved in with his parents following their marriage, and their daughter – Caroline’s granddaughter – Marjorie Merriwether Post (1887-1973), was born there. The entire family moved to Texas following the failure of C.W. Post’s Illinois Agricultural Works business.
C.W. Post went on to found the Post cereal company of Battle Creek, Mich. Marjorie Merriwether Post, though known later mainly as a much-married socialite, also was a shrewd businesswoman who helped create the General Foods conglomerate. See SangamonLink’s entry on the Illinois Agricultural Works for more information on the Posts.
The King’s Daughters Home still accommodated only 10 women on Jan. 28, 1902, when a defective chimney flue caused a fire that destroyed the roof and damaged much of the second floor.
The residents moved temporarily to a house on East Edwards Street while contractors repaired and expanded the Black Avenue building. Their “elegant new abode,” as the Journal called it, reopened on Nov. 11, 1902. Hansell described the refurbished home in her 1928 history.
In the new Home there were twenty bedrooms, a room to be used as a sick ward, bathrooms on first and second floor, which, with spacious halls, beautiful reception room, dining room, etc. and all the modern conveniences, made the Home one of the handsomest in the country.
Among those who chipped in to pay the $16,000 bill was Charles W. Post, who donated $5,000 to the building fund and another $5,000 to the home’s endowment. In return, Hansell wrote, Post stipulated that the King’s Daughters were “to name the Home for his mother, and once a year on her birthday to place a few simple flowers in the main living room in memory of a good woman.”
The group raised $50,000 to add a wing on the house in 1921. The addition doubled capacity again. Hansell reported that the new wing included “twenty bedrooms for the inmates, two hospital rooms with nurses’ room adjoining, a diet kitchen, the office, the matron’s room, with private bath, two rooms for help, with bath and rest room, room for Board meetings, new kitchen and dining room and four bathrooms.”
The board president under which the new wing was designed, built and paid for was Ida Henkle Prather (1856-1934), then in the middle of 21 consecutive years in office, by far the longest of any King’s Daughters president.
A $1 million update in the 1980s modernized the home, but cut capacity to 25 residents.
King’s Daughters circles
“What’s unique is the care concept,” Julie Cellini wrote in a 1993 State Journal-Register article describing the relationship between King’s Daughters circles and residents of the King’s Daughters Home that dated from the institution’s very beginning.
Companionship and support come from literally a new “family” – a circle of women who adopt a resident and accept responsibility for her well-being.
Circle members do everything from furnishing and decorating residents’ rooms to driving them to doctors’ appointments. They run exercise classes, bring videos and popcorn on movie nights and host teas to introduce new residents and organize junkets for lunch or shopping. …
“We researched everything we could find on group living – from how facilities are administered to what they do with leftovers in the kitchen,” (said Pat Cross, then a Daughters board member). “What we found is that there isn’t anything like King’s Daughters – it’s one of a kind.”
Most of the early incorporators of the King’s Daughters were socially prominent and reasonably well-off, if not outright wealthy. For some circles, social status and family traditions remained recruiting tools for decades.
“King’s Daughters’ membership was a first-rate white-gloves introduction to people, and it gave great satisfaction to be helping others,” Pauline Telford, the SJ-R’s longtime women’s columnist, told Cellini in 1993.
Cellini wrote that Sally Schanbacher (born a Bunn), joined Progress Circle in 1955 because “her mother was a member and ‘it was just something I was supposed to do.’”
“I hated style shows, but that’s what Progress Circle has always done to raise money for the home. I told them I’d do anything if they wouldn’t make me model. So they made me chairman. …
“I began my membership sort of agreeing with my father who always called it ‘Retrogression Circle’ because the women spent so much time discussing where to buy a chair or what to give the janitor for Christmas.
“Maralee Lindley’s mother got her to join too, and Maralee … and I spent most of our early meetings giggling.
“It took me awhile to recognize how valuable the home is to Springfield.”
Telford overstated the “white-glove” aspect of King’s Daughters. Working and middle-class women were part of the organization from the very beginning, and they increasingly took on larger roles in leadership. For instance, Etta Mae Johnston (1896-1984), president of the board in 1971-72, worked for an insurance company, and her husband was a mail carrier.
And at their peak in the mid-20th century, with about 50 circles and 1,500 members, the circles inevitably took in a spectrum of charitably inclined Springfield women – especially, probably, those who appreciated a movement run exclusively by and for women.
Life at the home
Early residents of the home were mostly white and Protestant, and Protestant Sunday services, Bible study sessions and Sabbath Schools were major features of residents’ life well into the 20th century. Starting in the 1920s, students from Concordia Lutheran Seminary held regular Wednesday prayer meetings, “it being good practice for them and also accustoms (them) to addressing audiences,” Mary Hansell wrote.
However, “quite a few” Catholics lived at the home in later years, according to Maryann Walker, administrator of the home from 1989 to 2003. Priests and Eucharistic ministers from nearby St. Joseph Church visited the home regularly to say Mass or bring communion to Catholic residents, she said.
Catholic women also have participated in King’s Daughters circles for decades – among them Springfield’s 2006 First Citizen, Barbara Drake Dickerman (1927-2017), a Catholic and a member of Progress Circle.
(Catholics did have their own counterpart to the King’s Daughters Home – St. Joseph’s Home, which even had its own “circle” organization, the St. Joseph’s Home Coterie.)
At least one African-American woman is known to have lived at the King’s Daughters Home, and King’s Daughters circles today are racially integrated and non-denominational.
Age and financial requirements for home residents varied over the years. Hansell outlined some of the changes in 1928.
In order to become a resident of the King’s Daughters’ Home, the applicant must have reached the age of 65 years, the age limit having been raised from 60 years, as at first. (In the last few years of the home’s existence, the age restriction was lowered to 55. – ed.)
She must be a resident of Sangamon county, or of one of the counties that bound Sangamon County.
If she is a resident of Sangamon County, her entrance fee will be $300, the same having been increased from $100 to $250, and then to $300.
The entrance fee for counties bounding Sangamon is at present (1928) $600.
The applicant … must have no contagious disease and must not be addicted to the use of narcotics or stimulants.
All property over and above the price of her admission must be turned over to the Board of Directors, to become the property of the Home, the resident to draw interest on same, at the rate of 4% per annum.
As with the circles, many of the home’s residents had been working women – a list published in connection with the annual open house in 1972 listed former teachers, nurses, state employees, housekeepers and store clerks among those whose rooms would be open to visitors.
Rooms at the home were “bright and sunny, well ventilated and thoroughly comfortable,” according to a 1911 Illinois State Register article. “Many of the inmates spend the days on the great porch that runs across the entire front of the building, others visit their neighbors across the hall.”
Healthy residents often helped out after moving into the home, Hansell said. “Some ladies wash and iron for others less able than themselves, at a nominal price, which makes for them a tidy bit of spending money,” she wrote. Others volunteered in the kitchen or helped distribute mail.
C.W. Post apparently thought the home could even be a kind of workhouse, Hansell wrote. The King’s Daughters board disposed of that idea in 1903.
At this meeting, Dr. A.L. Converse (Albert L. Converse [1842-1922] was an early member of the male advisory board – ed.) spoke on behalf of the rug factory, which …, Dr. Converse thought, would aid the Home and make it at least partly self-supporting.
It being Mr. Post’s idea to have a rug factory in connection with the Home, in which all able bodied inmates should work several hours per day. But the idea was very unpopular, and the rug factory did not materialize.
At the beginning, bed-ridden residents were cared for by the home’s staff members. Later, residents had to be able-bodied, but the Daughters promised lifetime care for any woman who became incapacitated.
According to Cellini’s 1993 article, the buy-in then for those who chose lifetime care was $25,000 in advance, plus monthly rent of $800. Other residents simply paid month-to-month rent. The home eventually phased out lifetime contracts.
For their payments, residents received “the basics of shelter, meals, housekeeping and laundry,” Cellini wrote. But life at the home went well beyond the basics, thanks to the King’s Daughters circles.
Each Christmas Day, Hansell wrote in 1928, the circles arranged “a grand banquet …, consisting of turkey and all the ‘trimmings,’ goose, plum pudding and all vegetables available.”
The Post family added to the holiday spirit.
At the breakfast table each lady is delighted to find at her plate, an envelope with a crisp, new one-dollar bill in it, a gift from the Board of Directors, and a gay little box containing a five-dollar gold piece, a gift from Mrs. Marjorie Hutton (Marjorie Merriwether Post – ed.), who has made an annual gift to the ladies of the Home for a number of years.
A late-1970s annual report described some of the extras the King’s Daughters provided:
The Circles have held a variety of events for the ladies including: sing-a-longs, craft sessions, potluck meals, ice cream socials, a Valentine tea, bingo parties, an auction, coffees, dessert parties, a Christmas Card signing party, piano entertainment, choral groups, and slide presentations. At Christmas time several school groups (including nursery school children) came to sing for the ladies.
“Lifetime” care extended even longer for some residents. The King’s Daughters owned a private burial area at Oak Ridge Cemetery and arranged funerals, grave markers, etc., for women who requested them.
Finances/closing the home
In addition to the residents’ rent payments, home operations and maintenance were financed by assessments on the circles, sustained fundraising (Progress Circle’s silent auction, luncheon and style show was “a must on the fall social calendar of hundreds of women in Springfield,” Dickerman wrote in the Illinois State Journal in 1971), and an endowment fund that amounted to an estimated $4 million in 1993.
The endowment was built by donations, the residents’ advance fees, and many bequests over the years – in 1973 alone, the endowment was bolstered by a $100,000 bequest from Marjorie Merriwether Post, another $99,000 from a trust created by Willis and Mary Spaulding, and $400,000 remaining from a trust originally established by A.L. Converse.
Mary Hardtner Blackstock (1868-1954), King’s Daughters president for eight years, left the organization the mineral rights to property she and her husband had owned in Barber County, Kansas. An oil company began drilling on the land in 2012, and the group received its first royalty check in 2014, 60 years after Blackstock’s death.
The home, however, ultimately became too expensive to keep open. Home maintenance and, especially, nursing home costs for ailing former residents were rapidly depleting the endowment. A 2017 history of the organization explained the decision to close the home.
In 2006, … King’s Daughters membership made the difficult decision to close the home while there were sufficient funds to provide for a smooth transition and ensure a future for King’s Daughters. Members assisted the remaining nineteen Ladies in finding new homes and making their moves as smooth as possible. Circles continue to care for some original King’s Daughters’ Home Ladies.
The King’s Daughters sold the home to Benedictine University at Springfield, and it reopened as a women’s dormitory in 2007. However, the school rolled back its operations in Springfield in 2014. The home has been vacant since.
Benedictine announced in 2018 it was shutting down its entire north-end campus. The former King’s Daughters Home, like the rest of the college complex, was for sale as of spring 2018.
The endowment became the King’s Daughters Organization Fund, a donor-advised fund administered by the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln and dedicated to supporting Sangamon County’s elderly community.
Through May 2017, King’s Daughters had made 128 grants totaling $1.25 million through the Community Foundation, plus another $80,000 in direct donations to programs like Senior Services of Central Illinois. As of 2018, membership in the nine remaining circles was holding steady at about 340 women.
Presidents of the King’s Daughters board of directors
1893-96: Harriet Walker
1896-97: Vesta Rogers
1897-98: Adelaide Ide
1898-1903: Hannah Palmer
1903-04: Katie Hazlett
1904-10: Hannah Palmer
1910-31: Ida Prather
1931-40: Mary Blackstock
1940-42: Georgiana Gardner
1942-43 Jennie Gray
1943-47: Gertrude McKelvey
1947-52: Kathy Eberle
1952-58: Margaret Garfield
1958-59: Alice Gottschalk
1959-61: Bette Franke
1961-63: Pauline Paine
1963-65: Evelyn McCree
1965-67: Marian Dickinson
1967-71: Claribel Deruy
1971-72: Etta Mae Johnston
1972-74: Berniece Paris
1974-76: Caroline Heath
1976-78: Marjorie Lyons
1978-81: Florence Gibson
1982-83: Darlene Nordlund
1983-85: Marjorie Strano
1985-86: Claribel Deruy
1987-88: Nancy Cochran
1989-90: Mina Bentsen
1990-91: Pat Cross
1991-93: Chris Parr
1993-95: Shirley Stoldt
1995-97: Norabel Russel
1997-99: Karen Barber
1999-2001: Cindy Lash
2001-03: Barbara Archer
2003-05: Jean McLain
2005-08: Donna Jean Gibney
2008-10: Cathy Schwartz
2010-12: Sue Shevlin
2012-14: Teresa McElwee
2014-16: Suzie Sables Duff
2016-18: Cindy Denby
2018-20: Brenda Staab
Note: This entry has been updated to include the Vaudeth Evans watercolor and better portraits of Carrie Post and Marjorie Meriwether Post.
Hat tip: To Cathy Schwartz and other King’s Daughters members, who inspired and provided much of the background for this entry. Thanks also to Curtis Mann of Lincoln Library’s Sangamon Valley Collection for his help determining the origins of the King’s Daughters Home building.
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