When Ladies Wore Hats

                             And Sipped Tea in the Afternoon

 By Megan McKinney



Mrs. Alden B. Swift, left, and Mrs. Byron S. Reid in 1948. 


120 Years of The Woman’s Board of


Northwestern Memorial Hospital


To celebrate its 120th anniversary, The Woman’s Board of Northwestern Memorial Hospital is announcing a $7 million donation to the hospital. In commemoration of both the anniversary and the impressive gift, Classic Chicago offers the following tribute to a board with a membership that has consistently included some of the most dazzling women in the Chicago of their time.

Woman’s Board member Mrs. James Ward Thorne, above, continues to be internationally known for her enchanting Thorne Rooms, each an elaborately detailed residential space in miniature.

Although Mrs. Thorne worked with a spectrum of craftsmen in her Oak Street studio, creating the famous one-inch scale shadow boxes now residing in The Art Institute of Chicago, she was also making other miniatures, a few of which she donated annually to the Woman’s Board Christmas sale. These rare heirlooms continue to exist, scattered in private homes throughout the Chicago area.

Mrs. Ambrogio Cassinerio poured tea for Mrs. Leon Mandel, center, and Woman’s Board President Mrs. Bryan S. Reid in 1948.

Havana native Carola Mandel was then nearing her athletic pinnacle. During the late ’50s and ’60s, she was considered “one of the greatest skeet shooters ever . . . a legend in Chicago, especially at the Lincoln Park Traps on Lake Michigan.” She was the only woman to win a Men’s National Championship, 20 gauge division, and in 1979 was inducted into the National Skeet Shooting Association Hall of Fame.

With all of that, the internationally glamorous Carola was also frequently named among the 10 Best Dressed Women in the United States. 

Another stunner was Mrs. Philip Armour Jr., photographed before a meeting in the Passavant Pavilion Woman’s Board Room during 1948.

Joan Peterkin and Judy Hargrave were more than pretty hospital volunteers. Both were debutantes at the first Passavant Cotillion in 1949, where they were honored as the year’s two wing leaders.

Now Mrs. R. Jackson Coleman, Judy is the only twice chair of the Passavant Cotillion. She continues to serve on the Woman’s Board, as do her daughter, Kathleen Mitchell, and daughter-in-law, Jenner & Block partner Elizabeth Coleman.

The era’s ubiquitous teacups were brought out when Mrs. Edward Byron Smith and Mrs. Edison Dick attended a 1953 event for the hospital building fund campaign. 

Louise Dewey Smith, left, a descendant of Louis XIII and raised in an abbey in Normandy, was one of the city’s most distinguished midcentury civic leaders. Her personal style was so impressive that otherwise patronizing visitors to Chicago were said to re-evaluate the city’s sophistication and refinement after meeting Mrs. Smith.

A granddaughter of Louise Smith, Suzette Bross Bulley is a current member of the Woman’s Board.

Mr. Edison Dick and Woman’s Board President Mrs. Homer Hargrave, the former Colleen Moore, looked over construction plans during the 1953 building fund campaign.

Colleen Moore Hargrave, a central founder of the Passavant Cotillion, brought to Chicago the magic that made her one of Hollywood’s great silent screen superstars. In 1937, she married widower Homer Hargrave, an early Merrill Lynch organizer, and together they became pivotal figures in Chicago’s social and philanthropic world. The dollhouse she created with Hollywood craftsmen, ranks in international fame with Mrs. Thorne’s Art Institute miniature rooms. The Colleen Moore Fairy Castle is now a major attraction of the Museum of Science and Industry.

Construction for a new hospital wing was finally underway. Hat-and-glove-wearing Mrs. Charles A. Ziebarth succeeded Mrs. Hargrave as president in 1956, providing her with the role of wielding the ceremonial shovel for the groundbreaking that year.

In 1959, Mrs. Marshall Haywood, left, and Mrs. William Wood-Prince chatted before a meeting in the since demolished Passavant Pavilion.

When Eleanor Wood-Prince’s great granddaughter, Lucia Steinwold, joined the board earlier this year, she became the first of its fourth generation Wood-Prince members. Eleanor’s daughter-in-law, Barbara Wood-Prince, her granddaughter, Wendy Wood-Prince—a valued Classic Chicago columnist—and her granddaughter-in-law, Meredith Wood-Prince, are all Woman’s Board members.

The Eleanor Wood-Prince Grant Initiative, a major project of the Woman’s Board, helps fund vital medical, nursing and management staff projects at Northwestern Medicine. From its inception in 2001, more than $1.5 million has been awarded to 69 grant recipients as part of this competitive Woman’s Board grant process.

Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, center, was guest at a 1961 Woman’s Board tea. She is flanked by Board President Mrs. J. Rockefeller Prentice, left, and a properly uniformed nurse, Miss Bieganski.

Prentice Women’s Hospital is named for the Rockefeller Prentices and their daughter, Abra Prentice Wilkin, who continues to be an active Woman’s Board member and major hospital supporter.

Both are Margaret Mary. Mrs. John G. Conley made her debut at the first Passavant Cotillion in 1949; she has been a board member since 1965 and was president during the late 1970s. The younger Margaret Mary, now Mrs. John L. Stoetzel, was the first board daughter to join her mother as a Passavant debutante, as well as the first to become a board member herself in 1977.  

Wizard of Oz scarecrow Ray Bolger was joined by Woman’s Board members Mrs. Loyal Davis, mother of Nancy Reagan, left and Mrs. Errett Van Nice. Ruth Swift Van Nice was Woman’s Board president in the mid-1960s.

It was a warm day and iced tea was the beverage when Mrs. Laurance Armour Sr. poured. From left are Mrs. George S. Isham, Mrs. Clarence Mitchell, Mrs. Meredith Beals and Mrs. Myron Ratcliffe. 

The Ishams were pioneers, both as settlers of Chicago and as major supporters of the hospital. Dr. Ralph N. Isham, an internationally known surgeon, was instrumental in organizing Passavant Hospital’s first medical staff.  The stately James Gamble Rogers house on North State Parkway that became the original Playboy Mansion was built for his son, surgeon Dr. George Snow Isham, in 1899.

Mrs. Ralph N. Isham, Mrs George Snow Isham and Miss Anne Eliza Isham were founding members of the Woman’s Board, with Miss Anne Eliza its founding vice president and second president, 1899-1901. Miss Isham was lost in the sinking of the Titanic.    

Hollywood actress Barbara Rush was the visitor, and Woman’s Board member Abra Prentice Wilkin, the hostess, at a 1969 tea. Both were stars. Abra had been a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times and was co-writer of Jon & Abra, a popular gossip column for The Chicago Daily News, in collaboration with her then husband, Jon Anderson. In late 1972, the Andersons would found The Chicagoan, a new magazine with a historic name. 

Mr. and Mrs. Myron F. Ratcliffe were joined by Abra Wilkin’s mother, Abbie Cantrill Prentice, center, at a 1971 gathering.  

Mr. and Mrs. Wesley M. Dixon Jr. were photographed at a Passavant Cotillion in the late 1970s. A major 21st century gift to the hospital was Wesley and Suzanne Searle Dixon’s substantial $20 million commitment toward emerging clinical research in 2007.

This 1963 photograph is from a luncheon hosted by the Passavant Cotillion Auxiliary in the Passavant Pavilion Woman’s Board Room. Several current faces are recognizable more than a half century later.

A few of the first  Passavant debutantes and floor committee members as they appeared in Town & Country magazine during the summer before the 1949 Cotillion.

Author Photo:

Robert F. Carl