Rising Star

When Thomas Lovewell visited Topeka in 1902 and hashed out the Lovewell family's lineage with Prof. J. T. Lovewell, he was surely introduced to his cousin's daughter Marguerite.  She was fifteen years old that summer, which she seems to have spent attending picnics with her friends while she prepared to enroll in her sophomore year at Topeka High.  After graduating in 1905 she replaced her father as the Lovewell who made newspaper headlines, although most of hers could be found in the society section.

If the pages of the society columns are to be believed, life among the upper crust of Topeka consisted of a succession of teas, parties, lunches, recitals and church functions, with the entertainment often provided by Marguerite Barnes Lovewell and her accompanist, a role sometimes filled by her friend Lois Townsley, a young piano prodigy from Great Bend.  Even after leaving home to live and study in Connecticut and New York, Marguerite often returned to Topeka, especially during the summer months when, exhausted by rounds of coaching, rehearsals and performances she came home to rest, but could not turn down requests to perform for the home-town crowd.

She gave two recitals for small groups of friends in Topeka in 1909, when word of her talent was only starting to get around.  A reporter for the Daily Capital caught up with her at her parents’ home that summer and was completely won over by her charm.

Miss Lovewell is very ambitious and, though she is modest, too, and hesitates to say anthing in self-praise, she confesses that she hopes some time to sing in opera.

Miss Lovewell’s voice is dramatic soprano and combines qualities of sweetness and strength.  She has a wide range, but her middle notes are especially rich and well developed.  She sings with much intelligence … She fortunately has the personality which is necessary to her ambition and is a very beautiful girl.  She is rather quaint in her style, has large, expressive eyes, and one discovers, when she engages in conversation, that she also has a good supply of wit at her command and that she is a generally interesting person.

When she returned home for a visit the following year after serving as a soloist in a Connecticut church and undergoing more rigorous vocal training, the difference was pronounced.  Four hundred citizens of Topeka turned out in 1910, paying forty cents apiece to sit on church benches in the sweltering July heat to hear a rising star sing.

It is not extravagant to say that Miss Marguerite Lovewell, who gave a song recital last night at the First Baptist church, has a voice of amazing sweetness and richness of quality, of good color and enough power, and now the people who heard her sing expect unusual things of her.  For if she will she can be a singer of note.  She has all the requisites, both in the way of quality of her voice, physique and stage presence:  and this, added to ability to work and enthusiasm for her profession, is all she needs.  

Three years later she would catch her break, winning the coveted role of the title character in “The Moon Maiden,” a new operetta based on a Burmese comic opera.  Marguerite's solo in act two was considered one of work’s high points.  Offers to tour with the company or sing other meatier roles were turned down on the advice of her vocal coach Professor Klamroth, who insisted that she needed uninterrupted study if she wanted to fulfill her dream of singing opera on the stages of Europe.  “After my concerts,” she wrote to a friend, “I want to find some perfectly poor tennis player to play with this summer.  I am going to forget all about singing for a month.”

One year later she did have to forget about singing for a time when she stepped off a streetcar in New York and was struck by an automobile.  Her mother came to New York to sit beside her hospital bed until she was convinced that her daughter would survive, although Marguerite remained sidelined for months while a severely injured ankle mended.  Two years after that, in 1917, her fiancé enrolled in an aviation school to do his part to help the war effort.  Allen Oakley Smith was killed just short of graduation when he lost control of a seaplane and crashed into the Delaware River.

Perhaps added to the death of her father in 1918 after his mishap on an icy sidewalk, her personal setbacks took some of the wind out of her sails.  In 1921, at the age of 34, she married a coffee merchant more than twenty years her senior in Pasadena, when she was continuing to make a living as a professional singer.  Thirty years later, when she announced the upcoming wedding of her daughter Barbara who worked at Time magazine, her family heritage stole a share of the spotlight.  Yes, she assured the society editor, her daughter was not only the granddaughter Prof. Joseph Taplin Lovewell from Topeka, but a direct descendant of Captain John Lovewell, the noted Indian fighter.

Photographs and quotes from the Topeka Daily Capital on Newspapers.com    

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com