It’s International Women’s Day (March 8, 2023) and a great day to celebrate all the strong and amazing women that helped Robert Allerton become the philanthropist and artist we know!
At the age of seven, Robert’s mother Pamilla Allerton died from scarlet fever. Pamilla was much beloved by Robert’s father Samuel, but a second marriage to Pamilla’s sister, Agnes, gave Robert the mother figure he had lost.
Agnes Thompson Allerton was an avid reader and philanthropist, donating hundreds of books to start the Allerton Public Library in Monticello and one in Allerton, Illinois. A lover of the decorative arts, she collected lace and textiles that were donated by Robert to the Art Institute of Chicago to create the Agnes Allerton Wing for Textiles in 1928. Agnes also instilled in Robert a love for gardening. Robert’s parents owned homes in Lake Geneva, Chicago, and in South Pasadena, California and she indulged her love of gardening on their various properties. His mother for the majority of his life, Agnes had her own bedroom at the Allerton mansion and she visited Robert often.
Another Thompson sister, Reinette Lester McCrea, also had an influence on Robert’s life. Besides her interest in gardening, art and philanthropy like Agnes, Reinette took on a leadership role in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, organizing her wealthy friends into the North Side Civic League. In a December 3, 1911 article in the Chicago Daily Tribune, she is quoted as saying, “I became interested in suffrage by reading in the newspapers, the awful wrongs committed against girls and women in one way or another. It seemed to me from my little experience in reform work that the situation which made such wrongs possible could never be righted without the ballot in the hands of women – the chief reformer in this kind of work.” When Robert commissioned a copy of Germain Pilon’s Monument to Henry II and Catherine de Medici for his gardens, he commissioned a second copy for his aunt Reinette. Upon her death in 1916, she bequeathed the statue and $5000 to the city of Lake Geneva for it to be erected “in the memory of some good women I have known at the Lake, who have done so much for Lake Geneva.” Among the names of the women listed on the monument are Agnes Thompson Allerton, her sister.
Two other women, Ellen Emmet and Anna Rathbone, were notables in Robert’s life. Ellen was ostensibly Robert’s first love. A portrait artist based in New York, their romance never came to fruition, perhaps because of distance. Included in the over 500 works Emmet painted over her career, two works hang in the Allerton mansion today, one of Robert and one of his father, Samuel. Anna Rathbone, Robert’s godmother, was a steady source of familial connection throughout her lifetime, visiting Robert at his home in Monticello. Her portrait also hangs in the Allerton mansion today.
It is because of these women that Robert Allerton lived the creative and philanthropic life that he did. Happy International Women’s Day to all women!