More Stately Mansions

Topeka resident Jane Dunford-Shore recently had a few questions concerning the house that Joseph Taplin Lovewell built in the College Hill neighborhood, and the woman’s club which Mrs. Lovewell founded in order to enrich the minds of local housewives.  Although I couldn’t shed much light on either matter, questions from readers often send me back to check on old blog entries, and in this case, to reevaluate what I wrote a few years back.

In 2014 I called the Nautilus Club a “literary society,” based entirely on an item in a Topeka newspaper in which the club announced that it would concentrate on fiction for the remainder of 1907.  If I had collected a few more blurbs, I quickly would have realized that the ladies’ interests were much more wide-ranging, in keeping with the club’s motto: “Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul.”

For instance, in 1896 a member presented a report on “The Early Plantagenets, the use of the English, the Story of Wallace, cause of the Scottish War and conquest of Scotland.”  Just think of it - the outline for Braveheart being sketched out in a Topeka drawing room on a Tuesday in June, ninety-nine years before the premiere of Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning film!  Well, sort of.

Despite their appetite for culture, the club did not neglect homemaking duties.  The topic of the program for March 1899 was “My Favorite Dish and How to Prepare It.”  There were also meetings devoted to coming up with interesting recipes for the Lovewell Fireless Cooker.

In 1900 the ladies may have indulged in a toga party when the Nautilus Club held its “Roman evening.”  If so, it would not be the last time togas were the uniform of the day at the College Hill residence.

In 1903 the group performed relief work, spending one get-together cutting out pieces from material furnished by a local minister.  The pieces were distributed among club members to be taken home and sewn together to make clothing for needy families.

In 1904 the ladies were at the center of a heated controversy over the Woman’s Day floral parade competition.  The Nautilus Club insisted that the blue ribbon which had been unthinkingly handed to the Ceramic Art Club, rightfully belonged to them, and that they had the arithmetic to prove it.

Thanks to Jane Dunford-Shore’s research on the subject, we have some idea of what the Lovewell residence looked like when it hosted meetings of the Nautilus Club.  When the picture on the right was taken in the 1960’s, it was a frat house belonging to Sigma Phi Epsilon.

I had to confess that I think of the professor’s stately dwelling every time I climb a ladder to clear my gutters or venture outside for a stroll on a cold winter’s day.  A ladder propped against the side of his house at 1601 College Avenue was the source of a major disruption in Professor Lovewell’s life, and a misstep on an icy sidewalk many yeas later ended it.

The Obituary Record of Graduates of Yale University increases the length of the professor’s suffering after his accident from eight months to twenty, placing his fateful fall on January 5, 1917, and his death on September 11, 1918.  While the truth was unpleasant enough, he actually fell on January 5, 1918, drifting in and out of consciousness for a few months in Stormont Hospital before being returned home were he was confined to his bed until the end.

Retirement 1916

After giving up his chair at Washburn College, Lovewell had become Secretary of the Kansas Academy of Science, retiring from that post only two years before his death.  With his retirement soon to become official, his long career was celebrated in the local press in January 1916, coincidentally, the very same month his cousin Thomas Lovewell’s thrilling life story was summarized in Republic County newspapers.

The two men had both been Kansas pioneers in very different fields of endeavor, and though they did have at least that one in-person meeting in 1902 where they compared notes on family history, it seems unlikely that either saw the other’s press clippings.  But you never know.

When writing those earlier entries about J. T. Lovewell’s family, I gathered as much information as I could concerning the early history of Caroline Forbes (Barnes) Lovewell, but failed to note the obvious lack of an ending.  I did scour any number of sources for a photograph, but couldn’t find one of those, either.  

I still have no idea when Mrs. Lovewell died or where she is buried, only that she was living with her daughter Marguerite in Mt. Vernon in 1920.

She may have started the music department at Washburn College, tutored her daughters and set them on the path to careers in music, and founded the Nautilus Club, but she is remembered today chiefly as co-author of a cookbook which is still available for purchase.

© Dale Switzer 2023