Monroe, Lucy

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Born March 1865, Chicago, Illinois; died 5 September 1950, Chicago, Illinois

Also wrote under: Lucy Calhoun

Daughter of Henry Stanton and Martha Mitchell Monroe; married William James Calhoun, 1904

Lucy Monroe was the third of four children. Her upper-middle-class parents—a fashion-conscious, self-educated woman and a lawyer fond of horses and books—saw that she was well educated, despite their dwindling family income.

Monroe and her sister Harriet (later founding editor of Poetry) became close, traveling together, sharing interests in the arts, competing as journalists, and joining forces in Chicago's emerging artistic community.

Monroe wrote newspaper and magazine columns from 1890 to 1896. From 1898 to 1905 she was an editorial reader for Herbert S. Stone, who published The Awakening on Monroe's recommendation. She also participated actively in the professional Contributors' Club, named and helped found The Little Room, Chicago's preeminent artistic salon, and played in Anna Morgan's little-theater productions.

Monroe married a Chicago lawyer who became Taft's minister to China in 1909-13. In 1916, widowed and childless, Monroe went to France as a wartime nurse, then returned to China as unofficial "first lady" of the Peking diplomatic corps. Forced home by political unrest in 1941, she lived quietly with her younger brother.

Monroe's first journalistic endeavors, as art critic for the Chicago Herald in 1890-91, did not gain much local attention; but her informed and clear prose earned Monroe a commission as the first Chicago correspondent for New York's journal of literature and art, The Critic.

Monroe was hailed as "an accomplished littérateuse" whose "Chicago Letter" signaled eastern recognition of her native city as a literary center. From March 1893, one hundred twenty-five weekly installments of Monroe's "Chicago Letter" appeared, then nine more after September 1895.

The first seventy "Chicago Letter" installments were Monroe's best. They were unified by an implicit theme—the coherence of Chicago's cultural development. As a set, they achieved a rhythmic, narrative structure by tracing the gradual preparation, full-blown celebration, diminishing echoes, and final fiery destruction of the World's Fair Columbian Exposition.

Within that framework, Monroe embedded commentaries on World's Fair buildings, novels about Chicago, lectures and academic congresses, art exhibits, libraries and museums, little theater, and World's Fair memoirs—all as unfolding events in Chicago's cultural history.

After a five-week break in August 1894, Monroe began to emphasize her personal interests—especially in paintings, drama, and publishing houses—instead of trying to embody a common cultural motif. Many letters lacked any primary subject, and the separate installments became fragmented by brief notations.

Particularly in her later letters, however, Monroe frequently took an argumentative stance, berating the Chicago Woman's Club for its near exclusion of a black woman, promoting efforts by Hull House and other civic groups to make art accessible to the poor, and criticizing the Woman's Bible for feminist excess and tastelessness.

Generally, Monroe's work is more important as historical document than as aesthetic creation. The "Chicago Letter" attests to—and discusses significant facets of—Chicago's self-conscious rise as a cultural center in the 1890s. It also contains frequent commentaries on women's increasing leadership, written from the occasionally feminist perspective of a cultivated society woman.

Other Works:

"My Chinese House," House Beautiful, 57 (February 1925), 133-35.

Correspondence by and memorabilia concerning Lucy Monroe (Calhoun) are included in the personal papers of Harriet Monroe, Regenstein Library, University of Chicago.


MidAmerica, 5 (1978).


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Monroe, Lucy

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