Friday, November 16, 2018

When Radium Came to Grinnell...

Many history textbooks describe the last years of the nineteenth and first years of the twentieth century in Europe and America as the "Age of Progress." A wave of inventions and a general rise in the standard of living in parts of the northern hemisphere encouraged an optimism that only dimmed when World War I and the "Spanish flu" worked their deadly spells. However, among the developments that gave rise to optimism was the 1898 discovery of radium. Applications did not immediately appear, but gradually the medical community came to realize that the powerful rays emitted by radium might be used effectively to treat disease. Enthusiasm over the newly-discovered element led to the founding in 1913 of a new journal, Radium, "devoted to the chemistry, physics and therapeutics of radium and other radio-active substances."
Cover of first issue of new journal, Radium (April 1913)
At about the same time, news reports began to appear about radium's medical uses. For example, an article in the May 4, 1915 issue of the Ottumwa Courier told of a Keota man who had been hospitalized in Chicago for cancer of the neck. After four months there had been no improvement. But then the patient became the lucky experiment of a German doctor, newly arrived in Chicago and eager to demonstrate the utility of radium therapy. Three applications later, the patient reported that "he feels like a new man," and he returned home to resume his earlier way of life.

As reports of the curative powers of radium multiplied, more and more physicians grew eager to make use of this new therapy. In September, 1917 the University of Iowa announced that it had purchased "two tiny tubes of radium, the weight of which was but 50 milligrams, combined." Although the acquisition had been pricey—$5000—Dr. Bundy Allen declared that "the state now has a valuable equipment for the cure of cancer and other malignant diseases" (Marshalltown Times-Republican, September 29, 1917). Saying so did not prevent the university from losing its precious medicine. As the Daily Iowan reported, the radium was lost in the course of treating a cancer patient who had a tube containing radium placed in her mouth.
When the time came for its removal it was found that the contents of the tube had entirely disappeared. The patient was ignorant of the way in which the radium was lost (Daily Iowan, November 28, 1920). 
Iowa was not alone in losing track of these minuscule, but costly, radium batches. The Des Moines News (November 12, 1920) reported that a Utica, New York hospital had also lost its radium while treating a patient. "The radium burned [a patient] and in irritation she took off the bandage containing the tiny radium tube and threw it down a drain pipe," obliging the hospital to tear up its sewer system in search of the precious commodity. Closer to home, a physician in 1928 Waterloo sought help from Coe College's electroscope to retrieve a tiny ("one-fortieth as large as a dime") bit of radium that was "thrown by accident into a furnace, along with some surgical refuse" (Coe College Cosmos, October 28, 1928).
Undated photograph of A. James Larkin (1888-1936 )
(History of Medicine and Surgery and Physicians and Surgeons of Chicago [Chicago: Biographical Publishing Corporation, 1922], p. 645)
Meantime physicians across the country embraced radium treatment for a surprisingly broad array of illnesses. In 1929 A. James Larkin, a Chicago doctor who specialized in radium therapy, published Radium in General Practice, a physician's guide. The table of contents, each line of which detailed some illness or part of the body for which radium therapy was recommended, occupied two entire pages. In addition to examining radium's use on numerous forms of cancer, Larkin detailed how radium could benefit sufferers of vernal conjunctivitis, deafness, ringworm, nevus, and much else. Presumably there were illnesses for which radium was not suitable, but physicians seemed to be finding more and more applications.

Given the potency of the chemical, radium treatment demanded only small quantities applied for brief periods. In practice this meant placement of a small tube or needle of radium directly on or within the affected area. The idea was that the radium would "burn away" tumors, which seemed more susceptible to the radioactive emissions than healthy tissue. The difficult part was to make certain that the radium damaged only cancerous cells; when this goal was achieved, radium treatment became an effective competitor to surgery.
Illustration of containers used in radium therapy
(A. James Larkin, Radium in General Practice [NY: Paul B. Hoeber, 1929], p. 6)
But the minute applicators necessary raised other problems, obliging physicians to apply secure tethers to make certain that the valuable containers of radium were not ingested or otherwise lost (a lesson learned too late by some of radium's early enthusiasts). Indeed, Larkin was at pains to warn physicians to make certain that the radium applicator was "firmly attached to some object or part of the patient's body during the application so that it is impossible to lose control of it at any time...." This problem was especially urgent when treating the mouth, nose, throat, uterus, rectum, bladder or esophagus (Larkin, Radium, p. 16), all body parts to which radium was frequently applied.
Title page of L. L. Myers's study
(University of Iowa Studies in Medicine v. 1, n. 5 [July 1919])
Although radium therapy gradually exhausted its welcome among physicians, it is easy to understand the enthusiasm with which it was originally received. In a 1919 paper devoted to using radium to treat uterine cancer, Dr. L. L. Myers pointed out that radical hysterectomy, until then the primary therapy for uterine cancer, was not only a complicated and taxing surgery; it was also often deadly. According to Myers, among "experienced operators" twenty-five percent of all hysterectomy patients died during or after the operation, but among less experienced or less-skilled surgeons patient mortality often reached fifty percent. Moreover, Myers continued, those who survived radical hysterectomies often experienced severe pain in the pelvis because of the retraction of pelvic tissues. By contrast, placing controlled quantities of radium directly upon the malignant tissue for brief periods occasioned little discomfort and none of the mortality dangers so common to surgical solutions.

A similar argument was made for many other surgical therapies, which helped encourage physicians to prefer radium treatment over the scalpel. For example, in an era when tonsillectomies were very common an increasing number of physicians applied radium cylinders directly to the tonsils. Doing so removed some of the dangers of infection and helped patients resume normal activities sooner. The same dynamic influenced the treatment of skin disorders and other medical specialties.
Grinnell received its first radium in the spring of 1920. Weighing only 12.46 milligrams (about one-quarter the size of the sample that the University of Iowa had acquired), Grinnell's radium arrived "cradled in a needle, fastened in a strong box with boxes and boxes and wrappings and wrappings on the outside." This "tiny but mighty" package cost the Grinnell Community Hospital $1507.20, a staggering outlay for a small-town hospital.
Grinnell Herald, March 12, 1920
Two local physicians, Drs. P. E. Somers and L. A. Hopkins, were named "radium experts" and directed to undertake the training necessary to use radium therapy safely. Hopkins may never have practiced with radium in Grinnell, as he left town for the west coast in 1923, never to return. But Somers clearly did, as several of his professional presentations indicate. At a 1921 meeting of the Iowa Clinical Medical Society in Grinnell, Somers gave a paper on "The Results of Radium Therapy in Epithelioma and Lupus Vulgaris" (Journal of Iowa State Medical Society, vol. 11 [May 1921]:184), indicating that his first treatments in Grinnell likely dealt with skin maladies. The next year at the annual meeting of the Iowa State Medical Society Somers presented a paper on "Chemistry and Medicine," almost certainly detailing more of his work with radium (Journal of the Iowa State Medical Society, vol. 12 [April 1922]:126).

How often and how long Somers pursued radium therapy in Grinnell presently-available records do not make clear. The October 1923 issue of the Grinnell Community Hospital Bulletin devoted a special article to cancer, firmly embracing radium therapy:
The best practice in the treatment of cancer is early removal. It is always preceded by the exposure of the part to Radium where this is feasible, and the area from which the growth is removed is again treated with Radium afterwards. Radium is the best single agent in the treatment of cancers and should be used in all inoperable cases and is the treatment of choice in cancers on the skin.
Each year the hospital published data on the number of patients treated and the therapies applied. The February 1923 bulletin, reporting on 1922 admissions, identified 58 "radium cases" that year, compared with 91 surgeries, figures that confirm the hospital's confidence in radium therapy.

The Drake Community Library Local History Archives does not hold a complete run of the Community Hospital Bulletin, so it is difficult to know exactly how long radium continued to be employed as a cancer treatment at the hospital. The February 1931 issue, however, indicates that at some point before 1930 radium had disappeared entirely from the hospital's cupboard of therapies, perhaps because that year the hospital purchased a new x-ray machine intended for therapeutic as well as for diagnostic use. Consequently, the February 1933 report on hospital admissions in 1932 reported 135 surgical patients and 56 treated by x-ray; no use of radium was reported. The following year showed a similar distribution, again with no reference whatever to radium. Figures for 1937 showed nearly as many patients treated with x-ray (120) as with surgery (124), and in 1938 and 1939 patients treated with x-ray therapy outnumbered surgery patients. Evidently the physicians at Community Hospital had decided sometime in the 1920s that radium therapy was no longer a preferred—or even complementary—therapy for cancer. Perhaps the scare occasioned by the 1925 discovery of disease among women who painted radium onto watches helped persuade Grinnell physicians to seek alternative therapies.
Admission Register of St. Francis Hospital, 1919-1935 (Grinnell Historical Museum)
The register of admissions to St. Francis hospital, however, offers a bit more evidence about radium therapy in Grinnell. To judge by the register, Grinnell's second hospital did not employ radium therapy at all until the 1930s. Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, St. Francis physicians regularly resorted to surgery to deal with cancer and other problems to which radium had been applied since 1920 at Community Hospital. But after Dr. C. W. Howell (1887-1941) joined the St. Francis staff in 1931, taking over the practice of Dr. Eugene Talbott (1873-1943), St. Francis hospital began to treat patients with radium. Where or when the hospital obtained its radium supply I do not know, but the register indicates that when Mrs. Cedric Barnes entered the hospital on August 3, 1933, she received "radium treatment," the first time that this phrase appears in the register. John Devereux entered hospital the day that Mrs. Barnes left (August 5), and he, too, received "radium treatment," although for what exact problem the register does not say.

After that, Dr. Howell applied radium treatment sporadically, sometimes more than once to the same patient. For example, Mrs. Mary E. Turner entered St. Francis November 14, 1933, was treated with radium, and then dismissed November 18. Two months later (January 13, 1934) she was back in hospital, once again receiving a dose of radium before being sent home the next day. That summer Turner was once again a patient at St. Francis, being admitted August 21 and dismissed Aug 22 after her third radium treatment. J. A. Breeden of Newburg went through two radium treatments at St. Francis, the first occurring in late January 1934 with a follow-up in mid-March. Mrs. J. G. Strovers (Kellogg) and Mrs. Charles Newcomer (Newburg) also both received two radium treatments in 1934. Four other persons underwent at least one treatment at St. Francis in 1933 or 1934, but between the time Mrs. Newcomer was dismissed in late November 1934 and the end of this volume of the St. Francis register (July 31, 1935), no other hospital patients had resort to radium. Without access to the next volume of hospital admissions we cannot know if Dr. Howell continued to use radium therapy, but if he did, his use of radium did not last long, as Howell himself died of a heart attack in 1941.

With so little information, it is difficult to know what to make of Howell's practice, but it appears that his patients may have benefitted from their encounter with radium. Mary Turner, for example, who had had three radium treatments in 1933-1934 lived until 1984 when she died at age 74 "following a lengthy illness." If Howell had treated her for cancer (as the three treatments imply), the radium treatments may well have prolonged her life, even if it was cancer to which she ultimately succumbed.  James Breeden did not live so long as Turner, but it was an automobile accident, not illness, that took his life in 1957 when he was 66 years old. Ross Coutts, who apparently had just one encounter with radium therapy, died in 1965 in the Grinnell hospital, but he was then 81. Therefore, it may be that Dr. Howell's St. Francis patients benefited from radium therapy.

Nevertheless, as practice at Grinnell's Community Hospital indicated, the therapeutic use of radium had clearly peaked by 1930, replaced by newer, safer therapies. In its heyday, however, the very word—even without its potent radioactive energy—exerted enormous power across American culture, and was especially prominent in the marketplace, tempting entrepreneurs to associate almost any product with radium.
Many of these products never came near actual radium, but bore the name in the hope that buyers would eagerly scoop up anything associated with the latest wonder. Dry goods stores, for example, advertised that seamstresses could purchase "radium silk," and clothing stores offered pajamas or petticoats made of "radium silk." As a 1922 advertisement for Grinnell's Brintnalls Dry Goods store put it, "What girl's heart wouldn't be joyous just to feel the soft, clinging Silk in these garments" (Scarlet and Black, December 6, 1922)? "Radium slips," which advertisements admitted were made from rayon satin, were on offer from Younkers in Des Moines, so almost certainly some women in Grinnell wore them. Men's stores in Marshalltown sold cotton socks bumped up by being called "Radium 100" or "Radium 400," so these too could likely be found in Grinnell dressers in the 1920s.
Radium butter probably did not make it onto grocery shelves in town, but it illustrates the lengths to which advertisers would go to hype their products. One of the most amusing products in this group was something called "Radium Spray," which borrowed the idea of radium's power to allege that the spray "cleans everything except a guilty conscience."
Advertisement from Des Moines Daily News, May 25, 1912
Most of these products were harmless, containing no radium whatsoever. But some entrepreneurs not only borrowed radium for the names of their products, but also actually used radium in their products. One of the most widely-known was something called Radithor, "certified radioactive water." Produced in New Jersey between 1918 and 1928, Radithor contained both radium and mesothorium in distilled water. Promoters claimed that, when consumed regularly, Radithor could remedy many ills, including sexual impotence.
Enthusiastic consumers, like Eben Byers (1880-1932), who was said to have drunk three bottles a day for several years, ended up absorbing enormous quantities of radium. Originally buoyed by his use of Radithor, Byers ultimately fell seriously ill, losing his jaw to cancer and developing holes in his skull. When he died in 1932—a victim of radiation poisoning—he was buried in a lead-lined coffin; when exhumed in 1965, his body was found to be still highly radioactive. Unfortunately, Byers was not alone; experts estimate that some 400,000 bottles of Radithor had been purchased, leaving many other consumers afflicted with radiation poisoning. So far as I could determine, no Iowa publication advertised Radithor, so perhaps Grinnellians remained safe from its radioactive nostrum.
Headline from the Ames Daily Tribune, April 1, 1932
But Radithor was not the only culprit in this wave of quackery. Radium Appliance Company of Los Angeles advertised a "Radio-Active Pad" to be worn on one's "back by day and over the stomach at night." The pad was said to cure "Neuritis, Rheumatism, High Blood Pressure, Constipation, Nervous Prostration, Asthma..., Heart, Liver, Kidney and Bladder trouble."
Advertisement from Mason City Globe-Gazette, October 21, 1930
Other uses seemed less threatening. For example, as early as 1918 Grinnellians learned that they could buy from Hoffmeister's jewelry store on Broad Street wrist watches with genuine radium dials that would glow in the dark. Only later did purchasers learn that the women who painted the radium on watch dials had themselves become victims of radiation poisoning. By the late 1920s, the sordid tale of the "Radium Girls" took much of the wind out of radium's sails.
Advertisement from the Scarlet and Black, October 6, 1918
Nevertheless, hucksters attached the promise of radium to rouge, chocolate bars, suppositories, and much else.
Advertisement from the Chicago Tribune, March 9, 1919
The lure of radium also attracted beauty salons that promised "radium treatments" alongside "vapor baths" and other cosmetic therapies.
Advertisement from Des Moines Register, December 13, 1925
Physicians eager to collect patients attuned to the latest craze advertised in newspapers their commitment to "radium treatment." Davenport's Dr. C. E. Glynn, for instance, advertised "Radium treatments" along with "X-ray diagnosis of the heart, lung, stomach and kidney" (Davenport Daily Times, December 6, 1921). In Estherville R. C. Coleman, M. D. advertised "Operations and Radium Treatments" (Estherville Daily News, July 24, 1930). Inevitably, therefore, swindlers showed up, taking advantage of people's fascination with something they poorly understood. In 1927 both Illinois and Michigan pursued Fred Ashner who was wanted in a dozen Michigan and Illinois communities for "faking 'radium' treatments of persons in rural communities" (Davenport Daily Times, December 20, 1927). Some places, like Davenport, established their own institutes, the better to coordinate delivery of radium therapy. Larger cities like Chicago saw the establishment of services that provided either on-site radium therapy or rented out radium to physicians who contemplated radium therapy for patients.
Journal of Iowa State Medical Society, vol. 11(1921)
But then radium's moment in the sun passed.  Even the journal Radium, which had been born on the eve of the element's explosion into medical practice, closed down, its last issue published in 1925, the same year that the public heard about "Radium Girls." Soon the country's newspapers reported the sad tale of Eben Byers's deadly embrace of Radithor, further dulling the gloss on radium's future. As the Great Depression bore down on the country and a new war gradually came into view, radium—dangerous and expensive—lost its hold on the medical profession. The early deaths of enthusiasts like A. James Larkin did nothing to stall radium's death spiral. No longer did hospitals need to spend large sums for tiny tubes easily swallowed, thrown into the toilet, or otherwise lost. Radium's replacement, X-ray therapy, was also expensive, but provided a more controlled dose to aim at tumorous tissue without the same risk of loss, and rapidly edged radium out of medical practice. Certainly in Grinnell the Community Hospital abandoned radium therapy already in the 1920s; why it made a brief comeback at St. Francis Hospital in the 1930s is unclear, but after the death of Dr. C. W. Howell, radium therapy in Grinnell seems to have come finally to an end.

Public fascination with this wonder remedy also passed. Suddenly radium butter and radium silk seemed much less appealing than they had seemed a decade earlier.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Alone Among the Gentiles

As I write these words, Jews around the world are marking the holidays that begin the year 5779 in the Hebrew calendar. In Grinnell, however, there is little sign of these observances. True, the official college calendar recognizes the Jewish holidays, and, with the help of a campus rabbi, student groups gather to welcome the New Year, to mark the Day of Atonement, and to celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles. But it was not always so. Grinnell, whose town and college both owed their origins to deeply Christian inspiration, was a place that welcomed runaway slaves and northern European immigrants, but no Jews whatsoever were numbered among Grinnell's early population.
January 1909 cover of The Jewish Immigrant
And then, shortly after 1910, Daniel Berman arrived here. Part of the wave of early twentieth-century immigrants who landed on American shores, Berman resisted the flow that drew most new Jewish arrivals to East coast cities. Having left behind densely-populated Jewish towns in Russia's Pale of Settlement, Berman—and later, his wife and two daughters—found their way to the middle of the American plains where they became the only Jews in town. Within a few years Berman's nephew and family arrived here, and at about the same time yet another Jewish family—the Isaac Bucksbaums—made Grinnell their home, so that in the 1920s there were three Jewish households in J. B. Grinnell's new Jerusalem. This post reports on Grinnell's first Jewish residents, adding their story to the dominant narrative of Christian Grinnell.
When J. B. Grinnell and his fellow pioneers were still hard at work establishing the first outlines of Grinnell, Iowa, Daniel Berman (ca. 1873-1955) was born in the so-called Pale of Settlement in the western reaches of the Russian Empire. Because the Pale had been created to isolate Jews and to prevent them from dispersal throughout the Russian Empire, the institution had the effect of creating towns and villages within the Pale that were overwhelmingly Jewish. It was from a village like this that Daniel Berman came. The 1906 manifest of the S. S. Frederich der Große, the ship on which Berman crossed the Atlantic, listed his home town as Nikolaev, a village about seven miles from Chernyi Ostrov, from which his nephew, Samuel, hailed. Both settlements were located near the Bug River in the far northwest corner of Russia's Podolsk Guberniia.
Chernyi Ostrov (arrow) in northwest corner of Podolsk Guberniia (1820)
As often happened with European immigrants, Daniel traveled to the US alone, pioneering the way, intending to establish a comfortable landing for his wife and daughters later. The passenger list indicates that Daniel Berman was traveling, not to Grinnell, but to 601 Main Street, Marshalltown, Iowa where "M. Gralnik" awaited him. How Berman knew of Gralnik is unclear, but information networks among villagers back home often helped prepare the way for the next villager who headed across the ocean. Berman must have benefitted from contacts of this sort.
Undated postcard of S.S. Frederich der Große
Who lived at 601 Main Street, Marshalltown in 1906 I am not sure, but certainly by 1910 it was not M. Gralnik; the 1910 US Census found at that address a certain Morris Gervich. Himself an immigrant from the Russian Empire, Gervich told census-takers that he had entered the United States in 1890. Twenty-nine years old in 1910, he was already established, having fathered three children in Iowa and having established a junk business in Marshalltown. Whether Gervich provided shelter for Berman in 1906 is not clear, but by 1910 Daniel Berman certainly was not living in Marshalltown; instead, the census found him in Newton, Iowa, living with Moses Gralnik, the man to whom Berman had been directed in 1906. Like Gervich and Berman, Gralnik had emigrated from the Russian Empire, arriving in the US in 1900; according to the 1910 census Gralnik, his wife, four children, and two lodgers—one of whom was Daniel Berman—lived in a house on N. Olive Street. Gralnik identified himself as a junk dealer, a trade he was evidently teaching both Berman and his other lodger, Moses Offman, since both men told the census worker that they were employed in the junk business.
Extract from1910 US Census, Newton, Iowa (Enumeration District 34, Ward 3, Sheet 6B)
Exactly how soon after 1910 Berman moved to Grinnell is not documented, but it seems likely that Berman reached Grinnell sometime before February 1913 when his wife, Ida (age 31), and his two daughters, Dora (7) and Goldie (5), boarded the S. S. Haverford in Liverpool, sailing to Philadelphia. No record details how Ida and the girls reached Grinnell, but no later than 1915 the entire family had settled into a house at 803 Pearl Street, Grinnell, adjacent to the railroad tracks and just down the block from 517 Third Avenue where Berman located his junk and scrap metal business.

1922 Sanborn Insurance Map of Grinnell, showing 803 Pearl (bottom left) and 517 Third Avenue
Throughout the 'teens, Berman advertised in local newspapers, promising top dollar for scrap metal, rags, rubber and other recyclables. Later he also acquired and sold various hides, placing ads in the Grinnell Herald to alert farmers to his willingness to pay top prices.
Advertisements from Grinnell Register, August 30, 1917 and Grinnell Herald, December 18, 1917
Courtesy Local History Archive, Drake Community Library
When officials who conducted the 1920 US Census came to Grinnell, the Bermans were still living at 803 Pearl and Daniel was still working as a junk dealer. Berman, his wife and daughters all reported themselves immigrants from Russia, and listed their native language as "Russian." Both the Berman girls were enrolled in Grinnell's public schools, but the first years of school, when English would have been difficult to understand and speak, must have brought plenty of anxiety. Evidently the girls adapted, however, becoming more closely connected to their classmates through extra-curricular activities. For example, when Dora graduated from Grinnell High School in 1924, the yearbook reported that she had been a member of the orchestra for four years (violin). In addition, she had been part of the high school newspaper her sophomore and junior years, and was active in YWCA (although how "Christian" it was I don't know).
Dora Berman, 1924 Grinnellian, and Goldie Berman, 1926 Grinnellian
Goldie graduated in 1926; she, too, had been on the staff of the school newspaper, and had participated in "YW." But Goldie was more interested in athletics than music. A member of the tennis team her senior year, she also participated in "Gym Exhibition" three years and "Circus" two years. The quotation attached to her yearbook photo reported her "Quiet in appearance with motives unknown."

Nothing that survives tells how the girls were received in school. It bears noting, perhaps, that both Dora and Goldie had African Americans in their high school classes: Alice Renfrow was part of Dora's 1924 graduation and Evanel Renfrow graduated with Goldie in 1926. Indeed, the Renfrow home on First Avenue was only a couple of blocks from the Berman home. Conseqently, both Berman girls were part of a more socially diverse world than most Grinnellians of that era experienced.
1929 Whippet Sedan (
While the Berman girls were attending Grinnell High School, a second Jewish family came to town. In 1922 Samuel Berman (1893-1981), his wife Rebecca (Rifka) (1891-1959), and their son Milton arrived in the US. No later than 1925 the family—now supplemented with two more boys who had been born in Iowa—were living in Grinnell at 517 Third Avenue, the site of Daniel Berman's junk business. Details of the transition are missing, but it appears that Daniel transferred his business to Samuel, using the occasion to open for himself a Whippet automobile dealership at 615 Fourth Avenue. The timing was unfortunate, since the new business ran head-on into the Great Depression which rolled across the American Midwest in these years. Fighting a great deal of automobile competition at a time when average incomes plunged, Whippets did not prosper, and the company ceased production in 1931, obliging Berman to adjust his business to focus upon used cars. Whether because of the economic crunch or because his daughters were pursuing their own futures, by 1930 much of Daniel's family had left Grinnell, settling at 1600 Kingman Boulevard in Des Moines. Only Daniel remained in Grinnell where the 1930 US census found him boarding at 1203 Main Street with the Harry Jackson family. Soon Daniel himself moved to Des Moines.
Advertisement in Grinnell Herald, October 18, 1929
Courtesy Local History Archive, Drake Community Library
Meantime Samuel Berman ran the local junk and scrap metal business. The official address moved to 521 Third Avenue, perhaps an indication of an expansion in the yard where Berman prepared materials for shipment by rail. Living in the house at 803 Pearl, where Daniel Berman had previously lived, was Aron [sic] Spector, his wife Libby, and their four children. According to the 1930 census, Spector had emigrated from Russia, arriving in the US in 1913; his wife immigrated nine years later. Spector was renting the house at 803 Pearl Street, probably from Berman with whom he was working in the junk business. Isadore Berman reported in his 1992 interview that his dad, Samuel, the early to late '20s had a partner by the name of Sam [sic] Specter [sic]. So he and Sam Specter was [sic] partners in the scrap iron metal business up until about 1936 when my dad's partner Sam Specter went and moved to St. Louis....
Samuel Berman (ca. 1972)
Photo courtesy of Keith Kozloff (
At some point in the 1930s the Sam Berman family moved to a house at 703 Second Avenue, where the family remained at least through the 1940s while the Bermans' four boys, like Dora and Goldie Berman before them, moved through the Grinnell schools. Milton (1921-2008) graduated from Grinnell High School in 1940, Harry (1923-1998) and Isadore (1924- ) in 1941, and James (1925-2006) in 1944.
James (1944), Milton (1940), Isadore and Harry (both 1941)
Senior pictures from the relevant years of the Grinnellian
Unlike the Berman girls, however, Sam Berman's boys took little part in school activities. Only Isadore's yearbook caption mentions participation in a club (the Commercial Club); the others listed no activities whatsoever, perhaps an indication that the boys lived on the borders of Grinnell High School's social life. However, in a 1992 interview, Isadore explained that even as boys he and his brothers were heavily involved in their father's business, organizing and processing items that their dad had collected for resale. No doubt the boys had little free time to pursue sports and other extracurriculars.

But it was also true that 1940s Grinnell did not open its arms wide to the small group of Jews who lived here. Isadore recalled that there was "a certain amount" of prejudice, if "no outright discrimination."
We were subject to name-calling—of "kikes" and "Jews." I did feel a little bit the sense that maybe we weren't probably accepted at that particular time...But it never affected us too much. We went about our own business and ignored the element that would make remarks. And as far as being active in other social functions, we didn't participate in many community functions...and so what we didn't know we didn't miss.
If Samuel Berman followed his uncle Daniel straight to Grinnell, the path Isaac Bucksbaum took was more circuitous, even if it began not far away from where the Bermans had left for America. In 1888 Noah Bucksbaum (1866-1950) married Anna Green (1868-1944) in the Galician village of Wojnicz. Part of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire and adjacent to the western provinces of the Russian Empire, Galicia had gained considerable autonomy in the second half of the nineteenth century. Dominated by a largely Polish nobility, the population was primarily peasant, and, like Russia's Pale of Settlement to the east, included a large number of Jews. Wojnicz itself counted about 200 Jews in 1900. In the years leading up to World War I, the local economy worsened and gave impetus to increasingly bitter anti-Semitism. These circumstances encouraged large numbers of Galician Jews to seek better lives elsewhere.
1882 Map showing Wojnicz, east of Krakow
Katherine Schouten, At Home in the Heartland: A Bucksbaum Family Album (Chicago: History Works, Inc. 2007), p. 13
In August 1913, Noah Bucksbaum joined this exodus, taking with him his two oldest sons, Morris (1889-1957) and Louis (1896-1954). The three set off overland for Bremen where they boarded the S. S. Cassel for the long trip to the United States. Unlike most of that era's Jewish immigration, the Bucksbaum men landed at Galveston, Texas rather than at one of the American east coast ports. Beneficiaries of the so-called Galveston Movement, the Bucksbaums were directed to settle in America's heartland rather than in the more densely-populated Jewish quarters of New York, Philadelphia, and other eastern cities. Consequently, soon after their ship docked in Texas, the Bucksbaum men were on their way to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Nine months later, two of the Bucksbaum daughters—Sarah (1895-1977) and Tessie (1897-1954)—also crossed the ocean, landing at Baltimore and then making their way across country to Cedar Rapids. Only one month after their arrival, World War I broke out, for the time being dooming any chance to bring the rest of the family to Iowa. Anna and her remaining three children had to wait until September, 1920 before they set foot on Ellis Island, and then onward to Iowa.
Louis (left) and Morris Bucksbaum, Grinnell, 1916 (Brooks Art Studio, Grinnell)
Schouten, At Home in the Heartland, p. 31
Noah, Morris, and Louis Bucksbaum quickly settled into life in Iowa, taking jobs in some of the industries that had gathered around Cedar Rapids. But already in 1915 Morris and Louis Bucksbaum found Grinnell, residing for a time at 332 Main Street. Apparently the brothers formed their own junk business to compete with Daniel Berman's, as Morris's 1917 draft registration announced that he was employed by the "Bucksbaum Brothers," junk dealers in Grinnell. Perhaps the two young men received training from their father back in Cedar Rapids, because Noah himself ran a junk business there.

But by 1918 the family was gradually gathering in Marshalltown, the brief experiment in Grinnell left behind. Tessie and her husband, Abraham Schwartz, and Louis and his bride, Ida Gervich, were already living in Marshalltown when Noah himself relocated there in 1918. Within a year Morris Bucksbaum, who had spent almost two years in the Army, also settled in Marshalltown, marrying Bessie Dorosin there in September, 1919. Consequently, when Anna, Isaac (1901-1986), Frieda (1905-1970) and Sol Bucksbaum (1907-1980) finally arrived in Marshalltown in late 1920, the family—now enlarged by the addition of several grandchildren—was together again, although in a very different world from the one they had left in Galicia.

As the Bucksbaums and their in-laws put down roots in Marshalltown, one part of the family developed a clothing business, and this became the link to Grinnell. Morris Bucksbaum, who had been part of the short-lived 1915 junk business in Grinnell, got his start in clothing in the early 1920s by working in the Marshalltown stores of his two brothers-in-law, Hirsch and Saul Dorosin. Before long, Morris opened his own store in Marshalltown, calling it Star Clothing. Then, in February 1924 he helped his brother Isaac open a second Star Clothing store, this one in Grinnell. Initially headquartered on Fifth Avenue, next to the Grinnell Herald building, the store moved to the Spaulding Building at 918 Main Street in 1925. Stocking only men's clothing and shoes, Star Clothing did not offer women's merchandise until the 1950s, shortly before Isaac sold the business to his son, Arnold. When Arnold accepted a position at Collins Radio in Cedar Rapids in 1963, he closed down Grinnell's Star Clothing for good.
Isaac Bucksbaum in Star Clothing, Grinnell (ca. 1940)
Schouten, At Home in the Heartland,  p. 78
According to Arnold Bucksbaum's recollections, Star Clothing was a prosperous, busy enterprise, even during the Depression. Its Main Street address put it next door to J. C. Penney, a location that Isaac thought advantageous, as Star could carry items that Penney's did not; customers disappointed at Penney's had only to walk next door to find what they wanted at Star Clothing. The store was open six days a week, 7 AM to 5:30 or 6 PM. Saturday, when many of the area's farmers hit town to do their shopping, was the busiest day of the week; only on Sundays did Isaac close the store.
Advertisement from the 1932 Grinnell Telephone Directory
In late 1924 Isaac Bucksbaum (1900-1986) had married Bessie Celia (1903-1994), and the couple soon added two sons to the household: Arnold (b. 1925) and Sol (1929-2006). The family occupied a series of houses in Grinnell, beginning at 709 Eighth Avenue; the 1931 telephone directory has them at 934 High Street, but two years later they were living in a handsome two-story at 929 Elm. From 1936 until at least 1944, the Bucksbaums resided in the modified Cape Ann house at 1424 West Street. After the boys grew up and moved out, Isaac and Bessie lived at 1526 Broad where they remained until they moved to Des Moines in 1956.
Isaac and Bessie Bucksbaum, ca. 1940
Schouten, At Home in the Heartland, p. 56
In an article published in the Grinnell Herald-Register just before he left town, Isaac waxed lyrical about his time in Grinnell, thanking the "many fine friends in the Grinnell area" who had helped make his business a success. Nevertheless, life for the Bucksbaums was not without evidence of bias. In autobiographical reminiscences published just a few years ago, Arnold recalled some uncomfortable moments in his Grinnell high school sociology class.
The class started out presenting the various Races of people of the world...Almost everyone [in the class] seemed to have light brown or blond hair and have a light complexion or skin color. That means [that] their families were probably from northern Europe or [of] Scandinavian background. One exception was me...I had black hair...Also I had a somewhat darker complexion than most of the other students...I suppose [that] I looked different enough from the other students, you know, black hair and darker complexion so the teacher said, "Arnold looks like an Indian." I felt very embarrassed, but I did not say anything nor did anyone else in class say anything during the class or after the class...[The teacher's] comment bothered me (Last One in Iowa [n.p., 2015], pp. 67-69).
Arnold Bucksbaum and his wife, Corrine (1950)
Schouten, At Home in the Heartland, p. 164
Although in the 1920s several Jewish students attended the college (Joe Rosenfield was one), these three families pioneered Jewish settlement in Grinnell. Living alone among so many gentiles must have been shocking to  immigrants from the heart of Eastern Europe where Jewish populations were often large. For example, at the time of the 1897 census of the Russian Empire, Nikolaev, which Daniel Berman abandoned when he left for America, boasted 2100 Jews. Chernyi Ostrov, from which Samuel Berman came to Grinnell, reported a population of around 1100, more than sixty percent of whom were Jews. In other words, the Bermans were accustomed to living in communities where Jews constituted either a majority or large plurality of the population. But when Daniel Berman reached Grinnell he was the only Jew in town, and when his wife and two daughters arrived a few years later, the Berman family was the single Jewish household in Grinnell—four Jews among some 5000 Christians.
1915 Iowa Census Card for Daniel Berman, which declared his "church affiliation" as Jewish
It was not much different for Sam Berman and Isaac Bucksbaum, even if Daniel Berman's family was already here. When Sam and Rifka Berman, along with their first-born, Milton, reached Grinnell, they added just three persons to Grinnell's minute Jewish community. The three Berman boys born here helped expand the group some, as did the arrival of Isaac and Bessie Bucksbaum. But even during the few years when Aron Spector's family was living on Pearl Street, Grinnell's Jewish population remained very small. True, the Spectors raised four children, all born between 1923 and 1929. But not long after the Spectors settled here, Daniel Berman and his family moved to Des Moines. Consequently, in the thirty years between Daniel Berman's arrival and the outbreak of World War II, there were never more than fourteen Jews (not counting college students) living in Grinnell. These small numbers made it difficult for the Bermans and Bucksbaums to practice their religion or celebrate their traditions.

By contrast, Marshalltown, whose total population after World War I was more than 15,000, in these years became home to a growing and thriving Jewish community. Some forty Jewish families had settled there, and their increasing numbers encouraged the founding in 1920 of the Sons of Israel congregation. Too small to afford a building or a rabbi, the congregation used laymen to conduct Saturday services in the Woodbury Building (32-36 E. Main Street), and for High Holidays they rented a hall and hired a cantor.
1904 Photograph of Woodbury Block, Marshalltown, Iowa
Only in 1939 did the congregation acquire a residence on W. State Street and convert it into a synagogue. A rabbi was hired to conduct religious services and to provide instruction for children. Many years passed before the congregation purchased Trinity Lutheran Church at 211 W. Church Street, and dedicated it as a synagogue.
Undated photograph of Trinity Lutheran Church, Marshalltown, Iowa, which became the synagogue of Congregation of the Sons of Israel in 1962; after the Congregation dissolved in 1985, the building was occupied by House of Compassion
In other words, just about the time that Grinnell gained its first Jewish residents, Marshalltown's Jewish community grew large enough to establish a congregation and offer religious services. In Marshalltown one could follow the traditions of Judaism in the company of one's neighbors, and the Bucksbaums embraced this possibility. The senior generation was perhaps the most faithful in maintaining Jewish practices. The family history asserts that Noah Bucksbaum was known as "one of the most devout members of Marshalltown's small Jewish community," and Arnold Bucksbaum, remembering his grandparents' household, thought that Noah's and Anna's
way of life must have been directly transferred from the old country. The language was Yiddish, chickens in the back yard, papers on the scrubbed floor to start the Sabbath, wood-fired stove, goose down quilts and pillows, and all meat from a kosher butcher... (Last One in Iowa, p. 22).
The situation was different, however, for their children who resided in towns like Grinnell where there were few Jews and no synagogue. Almost inevitably, therefore, the second generation of Bucksbaums followed a generally less intense practice of Judaism. Katherine Schouten thought that "personal religiosity among the younger generation ultimately varied" and "certain Jewish traditions were followed [only] in deference to Noah" (At Home in the Heartland, p. 118). All the sons had a bar mitzvah, for example, and Noah and Anna regularly hosted the entire family on the holidays. The grandsons, too, regularly appeared in Marshalltown on Sundays for Hebrew school, traveling the rough roads from Grinnell, Eldora, and Oelwein. In other respects, however, these family satellites proved less rigorous in practicing their religion. Schouten says that among the second generation "kosher kitchens were to some extent [emphasis mine—DK] kept," but it had to be difficult for households that had no Jewish merchants or synagogue near at hand.
Yahrzeit of the Sons of Israel Congregation, Marshalltown, Iowa
Iowa Jewish Historical Society, Accession Number  2011.020
The Bermans, who had no relatives in Marshalltown, had even less reason to travel there regularly. Visits to the synagogue were often limited to the High Holidays, as Isadore Berman recalled. Even so, the Sons of Israel was their religious anchor. Indeed, the Yahrzeit memorial board of the Marshalltown Sons of Israel Congregation, entrusted to the Iowa Jewish Historical Society after the 1985 dissolution of the congregation, includes the name of Samuel Berman as a longtime member.
If, as Calvin Coolidge is reported to have said in 1925, "the chief business of the American people is business," then the Bermans and Bucksbaums proved themselves fully American in Grinnell. Their commercial success joined the men to the town's merchant class and made it easier for them to ignore the slurs and slights that occasionally came their way. Their children rubbed shoulders with kids their own age in the public schools, while keeping themselves focused upon their own homes and their distinctive background. Grinnell's few Jews were not welcomed into the most elevated groups in town—the men were not invited into the Poweshiek Club and the women were not asked to join the Magoun Club, for example—but neither were they hounded out of town or prevented from buying ice cream at Candyland (as African Americans were). And when Grinnell celebrated its past, as it did in 1929 with a pageant to mark the first 75 years and as it did again in 1954 to observe the centennial, no stories of Jewish immigration made it into the script. Nevertheless, the Bermans and Bucksbaums succeeded here, and left their mark upon the town and its history in anticipation of a time when we might see the town's early history with a less prejudiced eye.
PS. Special thanks to Dorrie Lalonde for putting me onto the Bucksbaum family publications and to Michelle Roseburrough for sharing with me a history of the Sons of Israel Congregation.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Isabella Beaton, "Queen Among Musicians!"

"Queen among musicians"—that's how the Rev. E. M. Vittum (1855-1938) described Isabella Beaton at her January, 1929 funeral. Dressed in one of her Parisian performance gowns—white satin with a silver spangled overdress of net—the former pianist, composer, organist, choir director, and contralto soloist lay, resplendent in her coffin. She was, the Reverend asserted, "crowned queen among musicians."
Undated photograph of Isabella Beaton (1870-1929)
The royal tribute, dutifully reported by local newspapers, brought to an end a life that had at times shone so blazingly bright as to awe her home-town admirers. Yet the road that brought Isabella Beaton to her wintry funeral had not been all glory; after an intensive and much talked-about beginning, which had included five years of study in Berlin and Paris, Beaton gradually found her energies drained by numerous quotidian duties. And although she had aspired to become the "queen" that her funeral eulogist imagined, the fierce flame that had earlier lit her career gradually dimmed, until her last several years passed in near darkness. This complicated life of musical ambition is the subject of today's post.
Isabella was the fourth child born to William (1829-1907) and Loretta Hubbard Beaton (1829-1887), newlyweds who left Ohio for the newly-founded settlement of Grinnell in 1855. Both parents were musical, and Isabella herself early showed promise of exceptional musical ability. She began playing the piano at age four, began study at the Iowa (Grinnell) Conservatory at age nine, and gave her first public concert in Grinnell's Stewart Hall when only twelve years old. However, when she graduated from the Conservatory in 1890, her musical career seemed to stall: she left Grinnell, and spent the next several years in Harlan, Iowa where she played the organ and piano, directed and sang in the choir at the local Congregational Church. No longer a prodigy, the twenty-something pianist found herself far from the centers of musical greatness, engaged in the rather ordinary career of church musician.

Then, quite suddenly her ambition received an unexpected boost: a generous bequest from her maternal grandfather allowed Isabella to leave Iowa in 1894 for Berlin where she embarked on a five-year period of intensive study: two years of piano with Emma Koch (1860-1945) and three years of piano with Morits Moszkowski (1854-1925), who, along with O. B. Boise (1844-1912), also taught her composition. Few were the small-town church organists who sped directly to one of the world's great cities, home to a lively performance scene and site of great musical innovation. When in 1897 Moszkowski left Berlin for Paris, Beaton followed, continuing her studies there. No longer young, the tall (five feet, eight inches), blue-eyed and brown-haired pianist could nevertheless hope that her European training at the feet of one of the great piano and composition teachers of the day would help vault her higher in the musical pantheon back home.
Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925), ca. 1880
When Beaton set sail for the United States in 1899, she decided that, rather than return to rural Iowa, she would settle in a city that could boast a vibrant musical culture. Her choice landed on Cleveland, where the 29-year-old took up residence with her mother's sister in the same house that her ancestors had built as pioneers. As she had hoped, press notices invariably remarked on Beaton's European sojourn. For example, an 1899 brief in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, reporting on Beaton's part in a New York concert by the Emil Pauer Orchestra, noted that "Mlle. Isabella Beaton comes from Paris by cablegram message to of her own compositions with the orchestra." The newspaper went on to claim more dubiously that, "As a pianist she ranks as the greatest student Moszkowski has ever had" (Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 9, 1899).

That autumn Beaton's name appeared in the New York Times (November 20, 1899), reporting on an Emma Nevada concert at the Metropolitan Opera House. But if the newspaper published fulsome compliments to Nevada and the Nahan Franko Orchestra that performed with her, Beaton received only passing notice: "Others who assisted in the evening's program were Miss Isabella Beaton, a finished pianist, and Miss Clara Farrington...," the Times reported.

Back in Iowa, however, Beaton's New York performance generated excitement, no matter how small Beaton's part in the concert. The Marshalltown Evening-Times Republican of November 23, 1899, for instance, nearly burst with pride in announcing that a New York critic had called Beaton "a finished pianist," adding that the Grinnell woman had "finished her musical studies by years of instruction by the best artists of Europe and deserves the appellation of 'finished pianist.'"

No doubt the New York performance proved exhilarating to Beaton herself, even if she had played but a small part in the evening. After all, rather than playing in rural Iowa where her musical career had begun, she had played in New York City, one of the world's great musical capitals! Consequently, when Beaton returned to Cleveland from New York, she continued to nourish hopes of great achievement. The road forward was not easy, however, and it began with lightly-attended concerts convened in private homes. In late December 1899, for example, she was one of several artists featured at the Cleveland home of Dr. and Mrs. A. A. La Vigne, who had invited sixty or seventy guests to join them in celebrating their first wedding anniversary. Home concerts like this were not uncommon at the time, but surely Beaton aimed for a more public venue and a much larger audience. These goals she accomplished for the first time since leaving Europe when in April 1900 she gave her first public recital in Cleveland at the Recital Hall in the Arcade.
Cleveland Plain Dealer April 17, 1900
Located in the heart of downtown Cleveland and by 1900 already ten years old, the Arcade—America's first indoor shopping mall—included a recital hall whose location and size promised Beaton plenty of attention and an audience much larger than any in-home concert could accommodate.
The Arcade, 415 Euclid, Cleveland, OH (
The Cleveland Plain Dealer (April 8, 1900) noted that the concert "is being looked forward to with much interest." As before, the newspaper could not fail to mention that Beaton had "studied abroad several years."

How many people attended the Recital Hall concert is unknown, but the brief review in the next day's newspaper was certainly encouraging. Declaring that "the entire program was of a high order and successfully performed," the reviewer thought that "the compositions which [Beaton] played gave her unusual opportunities to display her talent and training." A Bach fugue was "clearly and firmly played," and a Schumann sonata performed in a "broad style, bringing out the beauties of the exacting composition in a very musical manner." Finally, the "Air Caprice" by Beaton's mentor, Moszkowski, was played "delightfully." Although the review was brief and occupied but one small paragraph in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (April 20, 1900), Beaton's first recital in Cleveland seems to have generated a warm, if not exactly boisterous, reception.

Within ten days news of Beaton's inaugural Cleveland recital made it to Marshalltown, Iowa, where the Evening Times-Republican (April 30, 1900), borrowing from a little-known Cleveland publication, declared the Arcade concert "very well attended" and "extremely pleasing." The program, the article continued,
placed the great technical skill of the lady in the brightest possible light. Her touch is sure and at the same time musical, and her excellent training and accuracy are among her most pleasing qualities.
Nothing could have better appealed to the pianist than the conclusion, in which the reviewer confidently predicted for Beaton "a brilliant concert virtuoso as well as teacher."

Within a month Beaton's name was back in the public eye, reprising in Cleveland the Emma Nevada concert of the previous fall in New York. But it was Nevada who attracted attention, as the newspaper advertisements showed; Beaton and cellist Louis Blumenberg both executed only secondary roles. But Beaton could hardly complain; Nevada's fame brought more people to the concert where the pianist had an opportunity to impress.
Cleveland Plain Dealer May 6, 1900
As Beaton's aunt, Ruth Hubbard, noted in a May 23, 1900 letter to Abby Williams Hill (1861-1943), Ruth's niece and Isabella's cousin, critics applauded Beaton's performance:
Isabella played May 17th three numbers in the concert where Madame Emma Nevada sung [sic]. The [Wächter undAnzeiger praised her playing. The [ClevelandPlain Dealer said, "Miss Beaton, a local player, gave her selections with great skill. Her work is careful and accurate in the extreme and her technique excellent."
Whatever glory she may have garnered in this first year in Cleveland, Beaton understood that, in order to launch her performance career, she would need more than the occasional recital. Consequently, in 1900 she apparently arranged an "autumn tour" of concerts in Toledo, Bowling Green, and other Ohio cities where, according to one report, she met with "marked success" (Musical Record and Review, no. 449, February 1901). In addition, we learn that, beginning in 1899, Isabella Beaton was among the teaching staff of the Cleveland School of Music (Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 2, 1900). In late September Beaton gave her first recital to students of the school, presenting a varied program that included works by Saint Saens, Bach, Grieg, Weber, Chopin, Scarlatti, Schumann, and, as always, Moszkowski (Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 23, 1900).

With a position on the faculty at the School Beaton could count on a reliable income as well as an opportunity to offer regular piano recitals. Consequently, in January 1901 she performed again under the auspices of the school. As before, the Marshalltown newspaper (January 24, 1901) quoted a Cleveland article, claiming that a "fair-sized audience" had attended Beaton's "novel piano recital of improvisations." "Her compositions," the newspaper remarked, "were all played with a remarkable depth of feeling and expression, particularly the musical setting of Keats' 'Eve of St. Agnes' and the Berceuse."

Gratifying though these words must have been, Beaton had limited success in seeing her own compositions performed by other artists. In a 1905 letter that her father shared with the newspaper, Beaton excitedly announced that the Cincinnati orchestra had recently performed her Scherzo for orchestra, previously performed by the Emil Paur Orchestra and the Cleveland Symphony. According to the Cedar Falls Gazette (January 9, 1906),
with the exception of Mrs. Beach of Boston, Miss Beaton is the only woman in the United States whose work has been recognized and publically [sic] performed by the leading orchestras of the country. 
While performing, teaching, and composing Beaton enrolled at Western Reserve University's College for Women, from which she received a Ph.B. in 1902 and an M.A. in 1903. Whether because of these studies or for other reasons, in these years Beaton's name appears rarely in the "Music" column of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Extract from Western Reserve University Commencement Program, June 19, 1903
(Courtesy Case Western Reserve University Archives)
However, at the June 1903 end-of-year School of Music concert Beaton was once again in the public eye, playing works of Chopin, Moszkowski, and Wagner-Liszt (and sharing the program with several other pianists, vocalists, and with the St. Cecelia Choir). In late November Beaton joined a violinist, a tenor, and a soprano in concert at the Council of Educational Alliance auditorium. According to the newspaper (Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 30, 1903), the hall was packed. Nevertheless, Beaton's career as a soloist continued to bump along, difficult to distinguish from all the other musicians with whom she often appeared. Part of the reason came from her teaching, obliging Beaton sometimes to serve as second piano, accompanying students' solos.
Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 21, 1904
Less often Beaton had the stage to herself or shared it with only one other performer. For instance, in early May 1905 Beaton played several works of Chopin "in which she was heard to excellent advantage." A critic, remarking on Beaton's performance of pieces by Moszkowski and Liszt,  described her playing as "dashing and her style brilliant" (Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 7, 1905). But Beaton could not have failed to notice little difference from her very first Cleveland concerts when a brief paragraph filled with vague compliments sufficed to describe her artistry.

In a March 17, 1905 letter to her cousin, Abby Williams Hill (1861-1943), Beaton emphasized how hard-put she was for time, especially when her Aunt Ruth, by this time in her mid-70s, fell ill. Concern for her parents' health added to the burden.
I have not had ten spare moments since Christmas day in which to write a letter. Aunt Ruth was very ill for five weeks...I don't know what I would have done if it had not been for Ione [Abby Hill's daughter]. She took entire care of Aunt Ruth afternoons while I am [sic] at the was impossible for me to give up my position at the School just then because my mother [Beaton's birth mother had died in 1887; her father remarried twice, and the "mother" referred to here was her father's third wife, Margaretta Ella Assay Beaton (1834-1919)] has been very ill all the year and Papa was in bed threatened with pneumonia, so it was necessary for me to be the bread winner for the family [this and other letters quoted below come to me courtesy of the Abby Williams Hill Collection, Archives and Special Collections, University of Puget Sound].
Ruth and Margaretta both rallied, but Beaton found herself still busy when she wrote another letter a month later. With a string of guests expected in Cleveland, Beaton was busy cleaning the lace curtains from all fourteen windows in the house, putting "two pairs of curtains [at a time] through sixteen waters apiece." After they were pinned and dried, they all had to be re-hung, making for a large and prolonged job, which was only one part of getting the house ready for visitors.

Against this background of domestic concern and further academic study, Beaton continued to perform. In March, 1905 she played Schumann and Liszt for the Sorosis society and friends at a private home, sharing the limelight with four other artists. The following January Beaton joined several other performers before the Fortnightly Club. In February she offered another Cleveland School of Music recital in which, with the assistance of a vocalist and second pianist, she presented a long program that included two of her own compositions. In June Beaton's newly-composed Romanza for violin and organ was premiered at a School of Music concert. Meanwhile, Beaton often found herself attending lengthy student recitals, playing the second piano.
Undated cover photograph of Isabella Beaton, Musical Courier, February 28, 1906
To the delight of Beaton and her many admirers, the February 28, 1906 issue of Musical Courier featured Beaton on the cover. Within the magazine William G. Harding published several pages devoted to "Musical Cleveland and Its Artists." Beaton was one of a handful of musicians singled out for attention. Harding did not say how he had acquired all the biographical material, but the report on Beaton includes tidbits that had not been published, and must have come from Beaton herself. Despite that fact, the praise reproduced in print here appears surprisingly faint. If, for instance, Ferruccio Busoni, another pianist to whom Beaton compared herself, was "thrilling" audiences in Buffalo, St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, and New York, as Musical Courier regularly reported, then
Miss Beaton was pianist with the Nevada Company at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York and also in Cleveland, and has given many successful recitals in the Northern and Middle Western states.
To drive the point home, the text identifies a Beaton concert not at Boston, Chicago or New York, but at...Cedar Falls, Iowa, at the close of which "she was forced to respond to a triple encore," the magazine text immodestly bragged. So happy was the committee that had arranged her concert, the article enthused, "they doubling the fee agreed upon for the recital."

Even more revealing is the tempered lexicon of her recommenders whose testimonials, probably supplied by Beaton, also appear in the Courier's overview. Moszkowski, who, newspaper reports claimed, had named Beaton "his greatest student," could produce no more glowing praise than to admire "her artistic earnestness and enduring industry [my emphases—DK]," predicting for her "a good [my emphasis—DK] career." Boise, who had taught Beaton composition, praised her "conscientious" work and her "capacity." Like Moszkowski, Boise restrained his enthusiasm, declaring Beaton "musically and intellectually thoroughly equipped." These spare compliments, all written before Beaton returned to America, could only have come from Beaton's own files, and therefore may be understood as the best she could summon, in this way underlining how desperate she was to gain traction in her career.

In the midst of this career intermezzo Beaton's father died in 1907, bringing Isabella back to Grinnell for the funeral. Her step-mother continued to reside in the family home at 1216 Main Street, and her failing health occasioned periodic visits from Isabella over the next decade, as the Grinnell newspapers regularly noted.
Grinnell Herald, March 16, 1909
In these years Beaton also found time to enroll in additional courses at Western Reserve. But the clock was ticking, and with the arrival of 1910 Isabella Beaton, facing her 40th birthday, recognized that time was running out on her ambitions. 
Rather than continue her association with the Cleveland School of Music, in 1910 she founded her own school, naming it in memory of her father.
Cleveland Plain Dealer December 22, 1910
Locating the new organization in the home she shared with her aunt Ruth, Beaton was perhaps trying to  minimize costs and increase the convenience for herself, especially as Ruth's health went downhill. Situating the school at 7110 Kinsman—far from the center of town and the usual performance halls—Beaton might be suspected of having reined in her ambitions. The reality, however, was otherwise. Now, perhaps more than ever, Beaton worked furiously to advance her musical career.

In a January 12, 1910 letter to cousin Abby Williams Hill, Beaton wrote that she had been "working tremendously hard this winter in an effort to put the family on a secure financial basis. [I] have been sending out between two hundred and three hundred business letters every day or so...." She also began placing advertisements in some of the country's main concert venues. The 1909-1910 Boston Symphony programs, for example, included a tasteful solicitation, encouraging those interested to contact Beaton at her Kinsman Road home. An advertisement in the New York Tribune (September 24, 1910), reporting that Beaton was among the artists whom the New York agent, Marc Lagen, represented, indicates that she had signed on with a promoter in hopes of expanding her audience.
Advertisement in 1909-1910 Boston Symphony Program (
At this point, by her own report, she was practicing "from six to ten hours a day in order to make my work superior to that of [Ignacy Jan] Paderewski, [Fannie] Zeisler, [Teresa] Carreño, [Ferruccio] Busoni, and the other artists with whom I must compete in order to secure any paying concert work." 

Undated photograph of Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941)    
On the flip side, however, the financial well-being of Beaton's family consumed increasing proportions of her time and energy, as she admitted in a 1910 letter to Hill: 
I am doing teaching enough to support myself and the family at home. When there is any time left it goes into sweeping, dusting, ironing and the other duties of that sort that fall inevitably upon me.
She dreamt of a time when she might "hire a secretary and a manager and...put out my laundry work and things of that kind." In the meantime, she asked Hill whether any of a long list of names she appended to the letter might be suitable contacts for her to arrange a concert in Tacoma.
Program for Jordan Hall Concert, December 27, 1910
(Courtesy of the Archives, New England Conservatory)
Apparently no concert in Tacoma ever developed, but Beaton began a bruising concert schedule. According to an article in the Grinnell College Scarlet and Black (January 26, 1911), in late 1910, thanks to the efforts of her new agent, Marc Lagen, Beaton performed in Boston's Jordan Hall with the soprano Fay McCord. "Miss Beaton's playing and especially her compositions were most highly commended by critics," the college newspaper claimed. At about the same time she began to offer locally a series of twenty concerts each year during which she performed an enormous repertoire—some three hundred works, according to her obituarist (Grinnell Herald, January 22, 1929).
Music Magazine—Music Courier 71(July 7, 1915):32
Tickets surviving from the 1914-1915 season confirm that Beaton hosted these concerts at the Kinsman Road house that she shared with her aunt Ruth.
Courtesy Grinnell Historical Museum
Sanborn insurance maps from the late nineteenth century do not identify separate rooms in the two-story house on Kinsman Road, but do reveal the building's modest footprint; no concert in this house could have accommodated a large crowd.
462 Kinsman Road, Cleveland, Ohio, 1896 Sanborn Insurance Maps (vol. 3, p. 354)
(Cleveland renumbered its streets in 1906, changing this address to 7110 Kinsman)
Nevertheless, playing twenty concerts a year for several years, Beaton must have felt proud, and no doubt these concerts earned her much admiration. But a schedule like this must also have been exhausting.

Her obituary reports that in this same period Beaton was deeply involved in a variety of war-time activities. Her linguistic skills, for instance, recommended her for selling liberty bonds to the many  immigrants in Cleveland. Beaton was also said to have been active in the "campaign against alcoholism," and evidently contemplated accepting a missionary assignment to teach music in Korea. She was a member of the National Federation of Women's Clubs, the American Association of University Women, the Music Teachers' National Association, and a life member of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae.

During this furious spell of volunteering and work, Beaton's Aunt Ruth Hubbard grew more and more frail, and Beaton found herself increasingly trapped at home. Ruth lingered in illness for some years, and only died in December, 1917. In a letter to Abby Hill a few months later, Beaton reported herself "completely worn out."
I sat up with Aunt Ruth all night every night for two years and did not have time to sleep in the day time. [I] Have been down with tonsilitis [sic] for a couple of weeks and still have a bad cough.
Ruth Hubbard's demise provided Beaton with financial security that, had she received it a decade or more earlier, might have permitted her great success on stage. Ruth, no doubt recognizing all that Beaton had done for her over the years, bequeathed Isabella all her personal property as well as the house on Kinsman Road and several adjacent lots; Beaton also inherited Ruth's shares in Cleveland's Woodland Avenue Savings and Trust Company. It's unlikely that Beaton had ever been so well provided for.

However, in 1918 Beaton also observed her 48th birthday; despite the manic performance schedule she had maintained over the previous several years, her career had definitely stalled, and she was approaching 50 years of age. She had behaved honorably to her family, including especially the attention she gave to Ruth Hubbard's last years, but the gleam of her years in Berlin and Paris barely penetrated everyday reality in 1918 Cleveland.

Before Ruth died and during that period during which Ruth's long decline accelerated, Beaton prepared her own will, dated August 26, 1916. The conditions Beaton attached to this bequest are revealing of the musician's own values and behavior. Except for her books and music, which she intended to bequeath to Grinnell College and Western Reserve University, respectively, Beaton's estate was to pass intact to her niece, Ada Cora Park if she fulfilled one condition: demanding that Ada "take care of and provide for [Ada's] father and mother, Mr. Oliver W. Park and Mrs. Caroline Ruth Park [Beaton's older sister], and also of my [Beaton's] nephew, Hubbard B. Park," Beaton yoked Ada Park to the same kind of heroic family care that she herself had exercised in behalf of her parents and her aunt. She could hardly have demonstrated more clearly her own priorities.
Extract from Last Will and Testament of Isabella Beaton, August 26, 1916
After Ruth Hubbard's death in late 1917, Beaton's name appeared rarely in Cleveland newspapers. As she reported in her 1918 letter to Abby Hill, Beaton was exhausted, and may simply have recognized that at age 48 dreams of fame were no longer tenable. Despite what seems to have been an almost frenetic schedule of teaching, playing, and hospice-like care for Ruth, Beaton had not managed once to get her name in the same sentence with Paderewski, Zeisler, or Busoni. If this realization depressed her, it would be easy to understand.

Although already in 1918 Beaton was talking about selling the house she had inherited from Ruth, she seems to have remained in Cleveland until May 1922 when, according to her Grinnell Register obituary, she returned to Iowa, taking up residence on the Grinnell-area farm of Caroline and Oliver Park, her sister and brother-in-law. Oliver's obituary maintains that he went blind in 1922, and that the household—including Isabella Beaton—then moved into town at the Beaton homestead at 1216 Main. Whether Isabella came back to Iowa because of Oliver's disability or whether his blindness (caused by influenza, apparently) came after her arrival is not clear.

What is certain, however, is that, after her return to Grinnell, Beaton was not part of any local performances. Even when in 1923 the Grinnell String quartet performed one of her compositions (Scherzo from Quartet for Strings) at a November concert on campus, the newspaper did not mention if the composer was present.
Scarlet and Black, November 7, 1923
For the next several years, Beaton seems to have lived quietly; not once did her name appear on the pages of the local newspapers. Beaton gave no concerts at the Congregational Church or at the college, as she had done often in the past. Was she ill? Someone has said that she went blind, but that seems an unlikely explanation for her withdrawal; as critics noted ten years earlier, Beaton had memorized an enormous repertory and could easily have played numerous works without using her eyes. Loss of memory, on the other hand, would have made concert performances—even informal ones—impossible.

So far as I could learn, Isabella Beaton next appeared in print when on December 3, 1928 the Grinnell Register published the sad news that she had "entered the state hospital at Mt. Pleasant yesterday where she will remain for an extended treatment." What illness required treatment the newspaper did not say, but Mt. Pleasant, originally known as the Iowa Lunatic Asylum, devoted most of its attention to patients with mental illness.

January 19, 1929 Isabella Beaton, still at Mt. Pleasant, died unexpectedly. According to the death certificate, in mid-January she had contracted influenza which killed her within three days. The document pointed out that a contributory cause was "arteriosclerosis with chronic myocarditis," a condition that the physician noted had prevailed for "several yrs." Without more specifics, it is impossible to know what role arteriosclerosis—hardening of the arteries—played in Beaton's life. If her illness affected blood flow to the brain, however, Beaton might have suffered
sudden numbness or weakness in arms or legs, difficulty speaking or slurred speech, temporary loss of vision in one eye, or drooping muscles to the face. These signal a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which, if left untreated, may progress to a stroke.
Arteriosclerosis has also been associated with dementia and may contribute to Alzheimer's disease. There is no way to know whether Beaton's illness had this result, but it would make understandable how she ended up at Mt. Pleasant rather than at some other hospital or treatment facility.

Even without the details of her well-being, Beaton's last years contrast sharply with her youth and all its promise. Clearly Isabella Beaton was a very bright, very talented woman; a child prodigy, she went on to study with some of Europe's best-known teachers, so her star was certainly ascendant when she reached Cleveland in 1899. She then plunged into a career filled with teaching, composition and performance, a pace that she managed to increase a decade later when she founded her own music school and began a round of punishing recitals, each year performing some twenty concerts. Along the way she also completed a bachelor's and master's degree at Western Reserve; she vigorously volunteered in her community, assisting the war effort and the battle against alcohol. And she lovingly attended to the well-being of her family, including her Aunt Ruth whose long slide into the grave she monitored every night for two years. And then, as her own final act opened, Beaton returned to Iowa, no doubt intending to assist her sister and her husband. Instead, her own health deteriorated with the sad result of her death alone within the walls of the Mt. Pleasant State Hospital.

"Queen Among Musicians?" Perhaps not—at least not in the way that Beaton had dreamt and for which she had worked and practiced so long. Yet, as her family and friends—who had long taken pride in her musical accomplishments—could attest, Isabella Beaton, for all her commitment to composition, piano performance, and teaching, never let these occupations displace help to family members in need. Clearly Beaton had earned a coronation, if not among musicians, then surely among those who valued and practiced family loyalty and love.