Women of Glensheen

Glensheen mansion is a landmark in the city of Duluth, MN. It was built in 1908 by Chester and Clara Congdon. History has done a fine job of remembering Chester and his accomplishments as a lawyer, investor, and politician. This blog post is to highlight some of the amazing and memorable accomplishments of the women who were connected to Glensheen in some way. Let’s start with the matriarch of the Congdon family, Clara Bannister Congdon.

Clara Bannister Congdon

Clara Congdon is known for her various achievements, and attitudes. Today we want to focus on something a little more personal; her family and her activism.

A middle-aged Clara looks directly into the camera with poise.

Elderly Clara is outside in spring with some snow left on the ground in the background. Her face is filled with joy as she laughs at whomever is behind the camera.

Clara grew up in a well-established family and attended Syracuse University as a freshman in the first four-year graduating class. Clara was among the first seven women to graduate from the college. She graduated with a degree in art and went on to teach at Alexandria College in Ontario. During this time she kept in touch with Chester through letters.

She then moved to teach art and modern language at Wyoming seminary in Pennsylvania. About three years later Clara married Chester and shortly after had her first of seven children. Now Clara took on an entirely new leadership role as a mother, and also as head of the estate.

Clara Bannister with newborn Ned.

Her journal is filled with various notes and reminders along with parental worries such as childhood diseases. She dealt with Edward bringing home measles to all the children, Walter passing on chicken pox, and Helen making sure whooping cough made its way through the house.

Clara with newborn Marjorie.

In 1893 the entire Congdon family packed up and moved to Duluth. After Chester passed in 1916, Clara took her time to mourn and then we see her humanitarian efforts begin to increase.

Clara and one of her daughters wear beautiful dresses and look out to the horizon.

Clara was active with the First Methodist Church. She donated generously to various causes helping churches, the poor, the Red Cross, and perhaps most well known are the donations to the city of Duluth.

In 1950 Clara was awarded the Syracuse University awarded her the coveted George Arents Pioneer medal. 75 years after she graduated she received this award through a phone call as she was not well enough to travel down to the University. The medal was for “excellence in humane and cultural pursuits.”

Young Marjorie rests her head on her hand as she looks into the camera.

Marjorie Congdon

The oldest daughter of the Congdon family, Marjorie was known to be more soft spoken than many of her siblings, and she carried with her a calm presence. She began to break out of her shell when she attended Dana Hall School in Wellesley, MA in 1906. As a senior, she was the Class Treasurer, a member of the Senior Society of 1906, and Treasurer of the College Settlement Association of 1906. Her class voted her as the “Best All-Around Girl.”

Marjorie looks at her bouquet on her wedding day.

She then returned to Duluth and took no time to become a civic leader in the city. Like her mother, she was active in humanitarian work, active in the church, and gave generously of her funds.

Harry and Marjorie wave to the camera as they stand in front of the Dudley mansion.

Marjorie was a member of the Duluth Women’s Club, Duluth Art Institute, Women’s Republican Club, and the Ladies Auxiliary of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, as well as serving on the board of the Duluth YWCA and a member of the YWCA World Service Council. She married Harry Dudley and had two sons who grew up just down the road from Glensheen at the Dudley mansion.

Marjorie in 1965 looking stunning in a blue print top.

Marjorie serves as a great example of a well educated woman who used her experience and funds for good.

Marjorie in 1910 striking a stoic pose for the camera.

Elisabeth Congdon

Elisabeth excelled in school, but while she was away her father Chester passed. Elisabeth dropped out of school to come home and be with her mother. While she lived there she adopted her two daughters and raised them in the Congdon mansion. While raising two girls she was an active member on many charitable and civic organization boards.

Elisabeth in a hat and coat looking at the camera.

Elisabeth smiles from her wheelchair on a sunny day.

She was the first president of the Women’s Junior League, organizer of Duluth’s American Red Cross Nurse’s Aid Committee during WWII. Elisabeth also volunteered at St.Luke’s Hospital rolling bandages.

One of Elisabeth’s crowning achievements was when she started a women’s health clinic with her dear friend, Dr. Elizabeth Bagley.

Elisabeth left her mark on Duluth through not only her charitable giving but through her continued support of civic organizations, through her leadership on various boards, and through her unwavering commitment to women’s healthcare in Duluth.

A newspaper clipping of Elisabeth Congdon being honored by the University of Pacific.

Helen Congdon

Made a name for herself in many ways. Here are some we’d like to highlight: A member of the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame, Helen Congdon is best known for how deeply she cared for her community. She was very generous, giving away much of her wealth and doing this all anonymously. Her generosity is said to be one of Tucson’s best kept secrets. She was known to be so unassuming and unpretentious that no one will ever know how much she truly gave.

Young adult Helen Congdon stands on a rivebank and takes aim with a rifle. She is wearing a dress, boots, and a nice hat.Helen Congdon looks out a window as her wedding dress train flirts across the floor.

She was a pioneer for underserved communities, founding Arizona’s first interracial housing development. She didn’t stop there; she then used her own funds to cover the closing costs of homes for families.

Helen kneels to talk to Clara as they enjoy a nice sunny day outdoors.Infant Helen Congdon is bundled up to go outside.

Helen also fought for women’s rights as the founder and first president of the Tucson Chapter of League of Women Voters. Helen served on the Mayor’s Committee on Human Relations, the boards for the Association for Papago Affairs, the NAACP, and the YWCA. A permanent scholarship for students in need has been set up at the University of Arizona in her name.

Helen and her husband Hubert stand next to each other for a picture on a winter day.

Maria Longworth Storer

 Maria Storer was an amazing woman who founded the Rookwood pottery company. Rookwood was renowned for its stunning designs painted onto pottery. Rookwood is responsible for one of the most awe-inducing rooms in the mansion, the breakfast room.

Maria Longworth Storer poses for a portrait with her head resting on her hand.

Maria Storer began indulging in the arts at a very young age, practicing piano and learning to paint. In 1879 Maria alongside fellow artist Mary Louise McLaughlin founded the Rookwood pottery company. She was the first woman to own a shop like this in Cincinnati and employed a modest staff of both men and women. Maria encouraged her staff to break boundaries and experiment with new mediums of art. Before her, American pottery was considered unrefined and she set out to change that. In 1889 Maria won a gold medal at the Paris exposition for her work.

Fun Fact: Maria Longworth Storer was also the first woman ever to found a music festival in the United States. Talk about an all around rockstar!

An intricate vase that is an example of the crafstmanship Marie Longworth Storer pioneered.

Emma Roberts

Emma was an artist, author, and entrepreneur who started out in Philadelphia, made her way to New York, and eventually ended up in Minneapolis. There she started the Handicraft Guild of Minneapolis . This Guild provided space, instruction and advocacy for women artists in the city. This organization ended up being responsible for a few of the beautiful light fixtures all throughout Glensheen. Their work includes the lights in Chester’s Den with lily motifs, and the beautiful ceiling light in the Breakfast room.

Emma Roberts sits on a shoreline with a canvas in front of her as she paints the landscape.