Biographies & Memoirs of Illinois People – Life Stories

Free online biographies & memoirs of people from Illinois; many famous & some lesser-known but interesting people. Includes Authors, musicians, social activists, politicians, entertainers, presidents, entrepreneurs, pioneers and more. There are also ‘collective biographies’ of hundreds of men and women throughout Illinois.

Ernest Hemingway, Ronald Reagan, Wild Bill Hickok, Miles Davis, Betty Friedan, Jane Addams, Hugh Hefner, Ida Wells, Black Hawk, Elliot Ness, Jack Benny, Carl Sandburg, Cyrus McCormick, Frances Willard, and many more.

Hint: When a book you want to borrow at Internet Archive is already checked out, go to the Internet Archive’s ‘Search’ box, check “Search Metadata”, and search for the book’s title. Sometimes they have two or more copies.

Illinois Biography & Memoirs Collection

About 140 free online books at the Internet Archive, resulting from a search for books on “Illinois – Biography & Memoirs”. Some subjects are: 250 famous Chicagoans, Al Capone, Rahm Emanuel and brothers, Gurdon Hubbard, Jean du Sable, Michelle Obama, Gwendolyn Brooks, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Marva Collins, Barack Obama, Cardinal Bernardin, William Daley, Harold Washington, Jane Byrne, Illinois governors, Charles Tyson Yerkes, Bertha Van Hoosen, Margaret A. Haley, Dee Brown, Dennis Hastert, Paul Simon.

American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams

Davis, Allen Freeman
Oxford University 1973

Jane Addams, as the founder of Hull House – a famous settlement house in Chicago – was the best known woman in America during the first decade of the twentieth century. … [she] was important for what she did and for what she wrote, but she was equally important for what she symbolized. Her work as a labor organizer and social reformer, and her influence as the author of ‘Twenty Years at Hull House’ and many other books, inspired fantastic praise. Then came World War I and Addams, as a pacifist, helped to organize The Woman’s Peace Party … For this she was accused of being a traitor.” – Book jacket

Addams, Jane (1860-1935)

See our Biography Page for free online biographies of many historical figures

The Jack Benny Show: The Life and Times of America’s Best-Loved Entertainer

Josefsberg, Milt
Arlington House 1977

“Jack Benny (born Benjamin Kubelsky) was an American comedian, vaudevillian, radio, television and film actor, and violinist. Benny was known for his comic timing and the ability to cause laughter with a pregnant pause or a single expression, such as his signature exasperated “Well!” His radio and television programs, popular from 1932 until his death in 1974, were a major influence on the sitcom genre.” – Wikipedia

Benny, Jack (Benjamin Kubelsky) (1894-1974)

I am a Man: the Indian Black Hawk

Cole, Cyrenus
Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa 1938

A biography of Chief Black Hawk, as well as a history of the conflict between Indians and Americans from prior to the War of 1812 until after the Black Hawk War of 1832. The author was an Iowa newspaperman and historian who became a U.S. congressman.

Black Hawk (Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak) (1767-1838)

Free Novels Online here at Century Past Library

The Life of Black Hawk; Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak

Quaife, Milo Milton, ed.
Chicago: Donnelley 1916

The autobiography was dictated by Black Hawk in 1833, using the official U.S. interpreter for the Sacs and Foxes. This took place shortly after the Black Hawk War, when Black Hawk was in the custody of the Government.
This volume is a re-issuance by the Wisconsin Historical Society, with a new introduction, of an 1834 publication named:

“Life of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak or Black Hawk, embracing the tradition of his nation – Indian wars in which he has been engaged – cause of joining the British in their late war with America, and its history – description of the Rock-River village – manners and customs – encroachments by the whites, contrary to treaty – removal from his village in 1831. With an account of the cause and general history of the late war, his surrender and confinement at Jefferson Barracks, and travels through the United States, dictated by himself.”

There are many resources on this site for: The Black Hawk War of 1832

Black Hawk (Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak) (1767-1838)

Growing up with a City

Bowen, Louise de Koven
NY: Macmillan 1926

A memoir of life in Chicago from about 1870 to the early 1920s, and of hospital, charity and social work there.

Contents:1. A Grandchild in Early Chicago 2. A Fashionable Career and a Fire 3. Church, Hospitals and Nurses 4. The United Charities 5. Hull-House 6. The Juvenile Court 7. The Juvenile Protective Association 8. Presidents, Meetings and Speeches 9. Suffragists and Stockholders 10. Woman’s City Club 11. Women in War Work 12. Women in Public Affairs

See also: Addams, Jane, Twenty Years at Hull-House, with Autobiographical Notes in Illinois Social History Books and Articles

Also see related works at: Social issues; Labor, Social work, Slums, Poverty

Bowen, Louise de Koven (1859-1953)

Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction

Eller, Jonathan R.
Kent State University 2004

Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction is the first comprehensive textual, bibliographical, and cultural study of sixty years of Bradbury’s fiction. Drawing on correspondence with his publishers, agents, and friends, as well as archival manuscripts, The Life of Fiction examines the story of Bradbury’s authorship over more than a half-century, from his earliest writings, which include The Martian Chronicles, to his most recently published novel, Let’s All Kill Constance. It shows in detail the often devious and unsuspected interconnections between his unpublished fiction, his story collections, and his most celebrated novels.
Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction will be welcomed by Bradbury fans and scholar, adding greatly to the understanding of his work and affecting the way Bradbury is read.

Bradbury, Ray Douglas (1920-2012)

“”Mother by the Tens”: Flora Adelaide Holcomb Bronson’s Account of Her Life as an Illinois Schoolteacher, Poet, and Farm Wife, 1851-1927″

Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society Vol 76, No. 4, Winter 1983, pp 283-307

Leiber, Justin and others, eds.
Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society

Bronson, Flora Adelaide Holcomb (1851-1927)

Find 14 more subject pages of books and articles about Illinois at the History of the Great Lakes States Directory.

Diary of Orville Hickman Browning Volume 1, 1850-1864

Pease, Theodore C. ed.
Chicago: Illinois State Historical Library. 1925

Browning was a Whig politician and lawyer in Illinois. He was also a friend of Abraham Lincoln who went to Washington as a member of Lincoln’s cabinet. He maintained a diary, from which this book was compiled by two history professors from the University of Illinois.

In 1850 Browning worked as a lawyer in Quincy, ILL. Diary entries in the early 1850s (1851 is missing) were often brief references to his work “attending court”, travel details as he rode the court circuit (like Lincoln), or weather updates. There are occasional finely detailed entries describing personal or political events of interest. Notes by the editors fill in details about many of the persons or events that Browning mentions in passing.

For numerous resources on Lincoln, see: Abraham Lincoln: Free online Books & other Resources

Browning, Orville Hickman (1806-1881)

A True Picture of Emigration, or, Fourteen Years in the Interior of North America …

Being a Full and Impartial Account of the Various Difficulties and Ultimate Success of an English Family who Emigrated from Barwick-in-Elmet, near Leeds, in the Year 1831

Burlend, Rebecca
London: Berger. 1848

A couple with five children decide to emigrate from Yorkshire, England to the American west. This narrative is written by the wife from her own viewpoint. It begins with the decision to leave England and describes the voyage to New Orleans followed by a riverboat trip up the Mississippi and their lives on their new farm. Although the writing style is old-fashioned British English, her descriptions are fresh and realistic. Burlend neither glamorized nor glossed over the hardships. The result is a forthright and honest account of her experiences, with many interesting details that are normally missed or skimmed over by male authors of similar memoirs.

Burlend, Rebecca (1793-1872)

Burnham of Chicago, Architect and Planner

Hines, Thomas S.
Oxford University 1974

2009 marked the centennial of the influential Plan of Chicago. Designed by Daniel H. Burnham, coauthored by Edward Bennett and produced in collaboration with the Commercial Club of Chicago, the forward-thinking plan proposed many of the city’s most distinctive features, including its lakefront parks and roadways, the Magnificent Mile, and Navy Pier. As a result, by the time he died in 1912, Burnham was one of the most famous architects in America as well as an internationally renowned city planner. Thomas S. Hines’s book is at once both a biography of Burnham and a vivid portrait of the birth and growth of an American city.

Burnham, Daniel Hudson (1846-1912)

“Octave Chanute, The Chicago Connection, and the Birth of Aviation”

Illinois History Teacher Vol 8, No. 1, 2001, pp 14-16

Launius, Roger D.
Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency

Octave Chanute was an American civil engineer and aviation pioneer, born in France. He provided many budding enthusiasts, including the Wright brothers, with help and advice, and helped to publicize their flying experiments. At his death he was hailed as the father of aviation and the heavier-than-air flying machine. -Wikipedia

Chanute, Octave (1832-1910)

“Edward Coles, Patrician Emancipator”

Illinois History Teacher Vol 12, No. 1, 2005, pp 2-5

Monroe, Dan
Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency

See the description at Alvord, Clarence, “Governor Edward Coles”, on this web page.

Coles, Edward (1786-1868)

Books and articles on education, the arts, journalism, recreation and architecture are in Illinois Cultural History

Governor Edward Coles

Alvord, Clarence W. ed.
Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library. 1920

This volume consists of two parts:
Part 1: Washburne, E. B. “Sketch of Edward Coles, Second Governor of Illinois, and of the Slavery Struggle of 1823-4”, pp 15-201.
Edward Coles was a Virginia slave-owner and the private secretary to President Madison in 1814 when he began a correspondence with Thomas Jefferson on the subject of slavery. Coles decided to resign his position, sell his plantation, leave Virginia, and then liberate his slaves. He moved to Illinois in 1819 with his slaves and liberated them there. After becoming governor in 1822, his efforts were critical in preventing Illinois from legalizing slavery in the state constitution.

Part 2: Appendix. pp 205-398. This is a collection of transcribed documents and letters; many of them related to personal business or legal actions involving Coles, but also including some official documents from his governorship. The last document in this section, pp 376-398, is Coles’ “History of the Ordinance of 1787”.

Coles, Edward (1786-1868)

American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley: His Battle for Chicago and the Nation

Cohen, Adam and Taylor, Elizabeth
Back Bay 2001

“Profoundly divided racially, economically, and socially, Chicago was indeed a microcosm of America, and for more than two decades Daley ruled it with an iron fist. As the last of the big-city bosses – the man who transformed a city in decline into a thriving metropolis – Daley was a towering national figure in American politics. Through his rough-and-tumble story, this brilliant biography reveals the surprising ways in which Daley’s outsize presence continues to influence American urban life.” – Book cover

Daley, Richard Joseph (1902-1976)

So What: The Life of Miles Davis

Szwed, John F.
Simon & Schuster 2002

Musical genius, visionary artist, enigma — Miles Davis still looms large as a cultural icon. In this, the first new biography since Davis’ death, John Szwed draws on various archives and never-before-published interviews with those who knew him to produce the richest and most revealing portrait of Miles Davis to date.
The shy son of a dentist from Illinois, Miles Dewey Davis III would go through several transformations before becoming the image of cool. Change, says Szwed, was the driving force in both Davis’ life and music — as quickly as he established a new direction in his music and a new identity, he would radically reinvent both.
Elegantly written and carefully researched, ‘So What’ is the authoritative life of an artist who was always ahead of his time.

Davis, Miles Dewey III (1926-1991)

The Life of Henry Dodge from 1782 to 1833 with Portrait by George Catlin …

and maps of the battles of the Pecatonica and Wisconsin Heights in the Black Hawk War

Salter, William
Burlington, Iowa: 1890

According to the author, Dodge was the first “American” (white?) child born (1782) in the area that later became the state of Indiana. He had 19 public service commissions from 1806 to 1846, including many years of military service up to the rank of Colonel, and capped by three 3-year appointments as Governor of the Territory of Wisconsin. This short, admiring biography contains highlights of Dodge’s career, a fairly extensive description of the Black Hawk War, and copies of letters from participants in that war describing key actions.

Dodge, Henry (1782-1867)

“The Character and Leadership of Stephen A. Douglas”

Proceedings of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association Vol X, 1918-21, 454-67

Lynch, William O.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Mississippi Valley Historical Association

“Stephen Arnold Douglas was an American politician and lawyer from Illinois. He was the Democratic Party nominee for president in the 1860 election, but he was defeated by Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln. Douglas had previously bested Lincoln in the 1858 Illinois election for the United States Senate, which is known for the Lincoln–Douglas debates. During the 1850s, Douglas was one of the foremost advocates of popular sovereignty, which held that each territory should be allowed to determine whether to permit slavery within its borders. Douglas was nicknamed the “Little Giant” because he was short in physical stature, but a forceful and dominant figure in politics.” – Wikipedia

Douglas, Stephen A. (1813-1861)

Books and articles about workers, medical care, business & industry, etc. at Illinois Economic History

“Biographical Sketch of Joseph Duncan, Fifth Governor Of Illinois”

Fergus Historical Series No. 26-29

Chicago: Fergus 1888
Kirby, Julia Duncan

“Read before the Historical Society of Jacksonville, Ill, May 7, 1885.” The author was the subject’s daughter. Joseph Duncan was born and raised in Kentucky, moving to Illinois in 1818. He served in the Illinois legislature and in the U.S. House of Representatives before being elected Governor in 1834.

Duncan, Joseph (1794-1844)

Life in Prairie Land

Farnham, Eliza W.
NY: Harper & Brothers, 1846

Eliza Farnham (1815-1864) was a novelist, feminist, abolitionist and activist for prison reform. She moved to Illinois from New York in 1835 and married, returning to New York in 1841. This memoir covers those years on the Illinois prairie, near Pekin.

Farnham, Eliza (1815-1864)

The Marshall Fields: The Evolution of An American Business Dynasty

Madsen, Axel
Wiley 2002

Like J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie, Marshall Field was one of the overlords of triumphant capitalism in the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century. However, his phenomenal wealth and generous philanthropy masked a disastrous personal life. Deserted by his wife and alienated from his children, the founder of the Field dynasty left a legacy of immense wealth and misery to match.
The Marshall Fields recounts the classic tale of Field s spectacular success as well as the tragic story of a man who, while making millions by knowing what women wanted, had no inkling of his own wife s emotional needs. This revealing account follows the next five generations of the Field family, concentrating on the most important and controversial figures in each generation. What emerges is a startling saga of money, madness, and mystery.

Field, Marshall (1834-1906)

Irma: A Chicago Woman’s Story, 1871-1966

Steinberg, Ellen Fitz Simmons
University of Iowa 2004

Ellen Steinberg’s Irma, painstakingly crafted out of Irma Rosenthal Frankenstein’s voluminous writings, gives us an inspiring and richly rewarding account of the life and times of an active, socially engaged woman who devoted herself to her family and her community over the course of a long and full life. Irma (1871-1966) was born in Chicago—just before the Chicago Fire—of German Jewish parents who had come to the U.S. shortly after the Civil War. Irma attended public schools and the University of Chicago, participated energetically in Jewish women’s and social-welfare activities, raised her family, and published one poem and a small book.
Irma’s journals and diaries were private accounts in which she chronicled the rhythm of her days and the shape of her life.
In each chapter, Ellen Steinberg has set Irma’s contemporary entries and later memoirs against the context of the Chicago history that Irma knew so well. Irma’s story will fascinate those interested in diaries and autobiography, women’s history, and Chicago history. From a plethora of rich source materials—including over half a million words of Irma’s writings alone—Steinberg has created a seamless, fascinating narrative about a Chicago woman who, although “nobody famous” (in her words), lived a vital life in a vibrant city.

Frankenstein, Irma Rosenthal (1871-1966)

Betty Friedan: Her Life

Hennessee, Judith
Random House 1999

There is no one in the women’s movement more renowned or pervasive in her presence, more long-lasting–or more contentious–than Betty Friedan.
But what sort of person is she, really? Judith Hennessee, a wonderfully penetrating writer who lived through many of the events recounted in this book, has dug deep and come up with a story of a woman of many paradoxes, a woman who survived disastrous moments and who continues to this day to lead, to find new energies and crusades.
Betty Friedan is a book whose candor some will find objectionable, but most will come away with a new appreciation of a memorable woman whose rich life is here riotously revealed.
“Her insecurities were as great as her achievements,” Judith Hennessee writes in her Introduction, “and her flaws costher her leadership. But the movement she ushered in is immense, worldwide; it has permeated our lives; it is intrinsic to the public debate, and its issues have to be addressed. What she did for women outweighs the rest.”

Friedan, Bettye Naomi (1921-2006)

For historic Illinois, we have books, articles, maps, and more; arranged by topic on 15 pages. Start at the directory at History of the Great Lakes States.

Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life & Times of Benny Goodman

Firestone, Ross
Norton 1993

Before Elvis Presley and rock-‘n’-roll, another King ruled the roost of American popular music. His name was Benny Goodman and his domain, the gilded age of Swing. Benny’s concerts, records, and radio shows catapulted the hot and controversial sounds of jazz into the hearts and homes of a hungry public. Swing, Swing, Swing at once illustrates Goodman’s enormous impact on American music and culture, reflects the rich textures of the times in which he lived, and evokes the very private life of a complicated, difficult man. Raised in a tenement in Chicago’s Maxwell Street ghetto, he grew up to become the symbol of glamorous high-society living. Benny’s undeniable position as social groundbreaker – his were the nation’s first racially integrated bands – was characteristically downplayed by the man himself: he simply wanted the finest musicians he could find. Here are the sounds and stories that define the remarkable life of the world’s most demanding and idiosyncratic band leader. The violent clashes between his smiling public persona and his intensely private nature; the infamous “Goodman Ray” (no musician who played with Benny escaped its wrath); the conflicting stories of Goodman’s parsimony and his largess – these stories and many more paint a vibrant portrait of a truly original, undeniably American artist.

Goodman, Benjamin David “Benny” (1909-1986)

The Valley of Shadows

Grierson, Francis
London: Lane 1913

Benjamin Henry Jesse Francis Shepard (1848-1927) was an Illinois composer and pianist, who also wrote under the pen name of Francis Grierson.

“Written more than a century ago, The Valley of Shadows is a passionate recounting of Grierson’s experiences as a boy growing up on the prairies of central Illinois in the few short years leading up to the Civil War. Set in a region that was neither north nor south; neither for nor against slavery, it foreshadows the coming of a bitter conflict that would divide families and set neighbors against one another.”
– Open Library Review

“A superb narrative. . . . Grierson combines many aspects of Illinois mythology: prairie and dream, Lincoln and freedom, struggle and redemption. He also depicts the Lincoln country as a mythic Garden, inhabited by heroic pioneers who are swept into the valley of shadows, the coming national conflict . . . a unique achievement of uncommon power and symbolic depth—an Illinois masterpiece.”
— Reader’s Guide to Illinois Literature review of The Valley of Shadows

Grierson, Francis (Benjamin Francis Shepard) (1853-1937)

Hugh Hefner: An Unauthorized Biography

Brady, Frank
Macmillan 1974

“Hugh Hefner was an American magazine publisher and life-stylist. He was the founder and editor-in-chief of Playboy magazine, a revolutionary publication, aimed at a sophisticated young readership, with revealing glamour photographs and sensational articles provoking charges of obscenity. The first issue, in 1953, featuring Marilyn Monroe in her nude calendar shoot, sold over 50,000 copies. Hefner extended the brand into a world network of Playboy Clubs, as well as his own luxury mansions where the Playboy ‘playmates’ shared his wild partying life, keenly reported in the media. An advocate of sexual liberation and freedom of expression, Hefner was a political activist in other causes too.” – Wikipedia

Hefner, Hugh Marston (1926-2017)

Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story

Baker, Carlos
Collier 1988

“Now hailed as a classic, Carlos Baker’s bestselling Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story brings into sharp focus one of the titans of twentieth-century American literature, a writer whose life itself was the stuff of legend. Baker draws not only on Hemingway’s diaries, letters, and unpublished writings, but unlike more recent biographers, on the personal testimony of the artists and writers, sportsmen and soldiers-indeed, virtually all the men and women who played a part in Hemingway’s career. . . Here are the many faces of Hemingway: boxer, drinker, humorist, fisherman, hunter, lover, heroic activist; but above all, here is Hemingway, the most influential prose stylist of the century.” – Publisher

Hemingway, Ernest Miller (1899-1961)

Works of Fiction set in Illinois

Wild Bill Hickok: The Man & His Myth

Rosa, Joseph C.
University Press of Kansas 1996

Eulogized and ostracized, James Butler Hickok was alternately labeled courageous, affable, and self confident; cowardly, cold-blooded, and drunken; a fine specimen of physical manhood; an overdressed dandy with perfumed hair; an unequaled marksman; a poor shot. Born in Illinois in 1837, he was shot dead in Deadwood only 39 years later. By then both famous and infamous, he was widely known as “Wild Bill.”
Excavating the reality behind the myth, Joseph Rosa delves into the exploits and ego that defined Hickok and shows how the man was overtaken by his own legend. Rosa exposes a controversial and charismatic man—army and Indian scout, wagon master, courier, frontiersman, gunfighter, lawman, prospector, addicted gambler, and short-time actor—who was elevated from regional fame to national notoriety by inadvertently being in the right place at the right time.
Culminating four decades of research by one of the top authorities on Wild West legends, Wild Bill Hickok is a highly readable, fun, and accurate account of the larger-than-life character whose reported accomplishments-both real and imaginary-in Kansas, Missouri, and the surrounding territory frequently brought him unwanted publicity. Setting the record straight, Rosa exposes some of the deliberate lies that vested Hickok with a “man-killer” reputation he didn’t deserve. In fact, Rosa shows, the number of men he killed is probably a lot closer to ten than to the more than 100 he is often credited with.

Hickok, James Butler “Wild Bill” (1837-1876)

The Autobiography of Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard, Pa-pa-ma-ta-be, “The Swift Walker”

Hubbard, Gurdon S.
Chicago: Donnelley 1911

Hubbard came to Chicago in 1818 as an employee of the American Fur Company. He went by way of the Illinois River to St. Louis and Cahokia, spent the winter at a post near Hennepin and in the spring returned to Mackinac. He was with the Illinois brigade again in the winters of 1821-22 and 1822—23 and in 1822 he established “Hubbard’s Trail” from Chicago to Danville. From 1828 to 1834 he lived in Danville and after that in Chicago. The autobiographical material covers his career to 1830, and furnishes a valuable picture of northern Illinois during the fur trade period.
Chapter headings are:

Childhood – Engagement with American Fur Co. – Mackinaw
First Year in the Indian Country – Marquette Cross – Chicago – Fort Dearborn
Mud Lake – Isle La Cache – Starved Rock – Fort Clark – Encounter with an Indian – St. Louis
Shaub-e-nee – Wa-ba and Che-mo-co-mon-ess – Tippecanoe Battle Ground – The Feast of the Dead
Fishing in Muskegon Lake – A Month in Solitude – Lost in a Snow Storm – Death of Dufrain
Kalamazoo River – Cosa – An Accident – A Visit – Wolf Stories – Crooked Creek
Attacked by an Indian – Alexis St. Martin – Sleeping Bear
Pa-pa-ma-ta-be – From St. Joseph to the Kankakee – “Hubbard’s Trail” – Under the Ice – Peoria and St. Louis
1824 – Placed in Charge of the Illinois River Trading Posts
Trouble with Yellow Head – Danville – “Winnebago Scare” – in the Ohio River – Ka-ne-kuck

For a fictional biography of Hubbard, see: Holt, Alfred Hubbard, Hubbard’s Trail in Michigan Novels and Historical Fiction

Hubbard, Gurdon Saltonstall (1802-1886)

“Planting the Prairies: John Kennicott and Horticultural Advocacy in Nineteenth-Century Illinois”

Illinois History Teacher Vol 13, No. 1, 2006, pp 2-6

Lyon-Jenness, Cheryl
Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency

John A. Kennicott was a medical doctor, originally from upstate New York, who moved his family to Cook County, Ill in 1836. While supporting his family with his medical practice in the early 1840s, he planted the first commercial nursery in the area. He became increasingly interested in botany, and was a cofounder of the Illinois State Agricultural Society. His sons were also involved in the nursery, and one of them, Robert Kennicott, would become a renowned naturalist. – Wikipedia

Kennicott, John (1835-1866)

“Eight Weeks on a St. Clair County Farm in 1851: Letters by a Young German”

Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society Vol 75, No. 3, Autumn 1982, pp 162-178

Trautmann, Frederic, ed.
Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society

Kohler, Carl (?-1890)

The Soup has Many Eyes: From Shtetl to Chicago: A Memoir of One Family’s Journey through History

Leonard, Joanne Rose
Bantam 2000

Our lives are made rich by those who came before us. Like ingredients in a long-simmering soup, they flavor who we are and what we do. In this beautiful, haunting, and larger-than-life memoir, one woman shares with us the humor, heartbreak, and triumph of her Jewish ancestry, to comfort and strengthen us all, whatever our faith.
At home in her Pennsylvania kitchen, Joann Leonard makes soup. In her grandfather’s pot, she improvises, using her great-grandmother’s unwritten recipe. As she does, amid the fragrant steam rising from the pot comes a stream of memories, half-told tales, and departed ancestors asking that their stories be told.
In a nation where most people’s roots lie in faraway lands, The Soup Has Many Eyes is a rich, poetic, deeply satisfying testament to the importance of family bonds, spiritual insight, and–most of all–the miracle that happens when we invite the past into our lives.

Leonard, Joanne Rose (1944-2019)

Books and articles on Abraham Lincoln

Cyrus Hall McCormick: His Life and Work

Casson, Herbert N.
McClurg 1909

“Cyrus Hall McCormick was an American inventor and businessman who founded the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, which later became part of the International Harvester Company in 1902. From the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, he and many members of his family became prominent residents of Chicago. Numerous prizes and medals were awarded McCormick for his reaper, which reduced human labor on farms while increasing productivity. The French government named McCormick an Officier de la Légion d’honneur in 1851, and he was elected a corresponding member of the French Academy of Sciences in 1878 “as having done more for the cause of agriculture than any other living man.” -Wikipedia

McCormick, Cyrus Hall (1809-1884)

“Free Frank and New Philadelphia: Slave and Freedman, Frontiersman and Illinois Town Founder”

Illinois History Teacher Vol 15, No. 2, 2009, pp 37-41

Walker, Juliet E. K.
Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency

Free Frank McWorter was an American slave who bought his own freedom and in 1836 founded the town of New Philadelphia in Illinois; he was the first African American to found a town in the United States. The New Philadelphia Town Site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2009.

McWorter, Free Frank (1777-1854)

“Eva C. Monroe: Social Welfare Reformer and Advocate for Children”

Illinois History Teacher Vol 10, No. 1, 2003, pp 13-16

Hendricks, Wanda A.
Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency

Eva C. Monroe was an African American, born in a small Illinois town. As a young woman she moved to Springfield, where she worked at a sanitarium and then as a probation officer. In the latter job she worked with courts to rescue children from the corrections system (prison). In the 1890s she was working to organize African American women to work on social reform, and also established an orphanage. Throughout the remainder of her career she played a prominent role in both in developing social reform organizations and in establishing group homes for orphans and other African Americans in need of assistance.

Monroe, Eva C. (1868-1950)

Online Collections of Vintage Photos & Images Worldwide

Eliot Ness: The Real Story

Heimel, Paul W.
Cumberland House 2000

Eliot Ness was “the man most often associated with bringing down the notorious Chicago crime boss, Al Capone. . . The Ness that Paul Heimel uncovered was more – and less – than the mythical Untouchable who single-handedly cleaned up Chicago. Eliot Ness was fallible, frustrated, and a victim of his own success. . . The Eliot Ness revealed here is fully human, a driven overachiever, a man in search of recognition, and a tragic figure.” – Book cover

Ness, Eliot (1903-1957)

After Capone: The Life and World of Chicago Mob Boss Frank “the Enforcer” Nitti

Eghigian, Mars
Cumberland House 2006

After Capone is the first book-length work to present the complete, never-before-told story of Frank “the Enforcer”Nitti–born Francesco Raffele Nitto–the driving force behind the Chicago mob’s operations in the years that followed Al Capone’s imprisonment. Beginning with Nitti’s Italian origins, Mars Eghigian traces the Enforcer’s entry into and subsequent rise inside Chicago’s underworld, his near-fatal shooting by city detectives, his strange death, and the ultimate downfall of all who were associated with him.
Based on years of research and supported by original sources from state and federal archives, After Capone is the definitive reference on Nitti’s violent life and times. The result is a comprehensive and arousing portrait of the cunning mob boss, his life experiences, the people around him, and organized crime in Chicago in the post-Capone era.

Nitti, Francesco Raffaele (1886-1943)

Chief O’Neill’s Sketchy Recollections of an Eventful Life in Chicago

O’Neill, Francis
Northwestern University 2008

This remarkable memoir of immigration and assimilation provides a rare view of urban life in Chicago in the late 1800s by a newcomer to the city and the Midwest, and the nation as well. Francis O’Neill left Ireland in 1865. After five years traveling the world as a sailor, he and his family settled in Chicago just shortly before the Great Fire of 1871.
As O’Neill looked back on his life, writing in Chicago at the age of 83, he could give first-hand accounts of Pullman strike of 1894, the railway strike of 1903, and the packinghouse strike of 1904.
O’Neill’s story offers perspective on the inner workings of the police department at the turn of the twentieth century. His memoir also brings to life the challenges involved in succeeding in a new land, providing for his family, and integrating into a new culture. Francis O’Neill serves as a fine documentarian of the Irish immigrant experience in Chicago.

O’Neill, Francis (1848-1936)

Antoine Ouilmette; a resident of Chicago A.D. 1790-1826. The first settler of Evanston and Wilmette (1826-1838) …

with a brief history of his family and the Ouilmette Reservation

Grover, Frank R.
Evanston, ILL: Evanston Historical Society. 1908

Ouilmette was a French trader with a Pottawatomie wife. The Ouilmette Reservation was a large tract of land he owned on the shores of Lake Michigan where Evanston and Wilmette are now located. Ouilmette was likely one of the first three or four white settlers in the Chicago area.

Ouilmette, Antoine(1760-1841)

Books and articles on Local, City, and County History in Illinois

Empire: William S. Paley and the Making of CBS

Paper, Lewis J.
St. Martin’s 1987

The vivid and fascinating biography of one of this century’s most powerful men: the founder of CBS, William Paley.
“A portrait of an American businessman and his leadership of an enterprise that has transformed national life”.–Publishers Weekly.

Paley, William Samuel (1901-1990)

Forty Years of Pioneer life: Memoir of John Mason Peck D.D….

edited from his Journals and Correspondence by Rufus Babcock

Peck, John Mason
Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society 1864

John Mason Peck (1789-1858) was a Baptist missionary on the Illinois frontier who evangelized; established numerous churches, Sunday schools and Bible societies; and established institutions for training preachers and teachers. The editor wrote that he drew upon fifty years of Peck’s collected correspondence (1808 -1858) as well as 53 volumes of his journals to write this memoir.

Peck, John Mason (1789-1858)

General histories and works that don’t fit the descriptions for other pages are in The History of Illinois

Paul Powell of Illinois: A Lifelong Democrat

Hartley, Robert E.
Southern Illinois University 1999

Paul Powell emerged from the hill country of southern Illinois to serve in state government from 1935 until his death in 1970. His political tenure included three terms as Speaker of the Illinois House, four terms as minority leader, and two terms as secretary of state. The sponsor of hundreds of bills, he worked tirelessly for his constituents in southern Illinois. He also worked tirelessly to promote his own interests.
In this first political biography of Powell, Robert E. Hartley follows the money. He tells how this man of humble origins and meager means amassed a world-class political and financial base. Part of that story is the disclosure of a personal fortune that boggled minds, including the unbelievable yarn of the $800,000 cash found in the hotel room following Powell’s death.
Following Powell’s story, Hartley takes us deep into the Illinois political world of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, a time when politicians were on an “honor system” regarding their financial holdings. This was before disclosure of political contributions, before computer records, and before public meetings laws.

Powell, Paul (1902-1970)

Ronald Reagan

Walsh, Kenneth T.
Park Lane 1997

Building on exclusive interviews and access to major figures of the Reagan era such as Michael Deaver and Mikhail Gorbachev, Kenneth Walsh, longtime White House correspondent of U.S. News and World Report, shows us a more complex and compelling man than either end of the political spectrum would have us believe – an arch-conservative with roots in FDR’s New Deal; a divorce who rarely saw his own children, yet lectured America on family values; a rabid hater of Communism who once belonged to leftist Hollywood organizations and later brokered peace with the Soviet Union. Though Reagan regularly blurred reality and fiction to create what he – and so many millions of Americans – wished to be true, his motivations were not always political, and here you will learn what drove Ronald Reagan from a small flat in Tampico, Illinois, to the White House, and what obstacles he overcame to get there.

Reagan, Ronald Wilson (1911-2004)

My Own Times, Embracing also the History of my Life

Reynolds, John
Belleville, Ill. 1855

At 600 pages, this book is unusually long and informative for a pioneer memoir. The author, son of Irish immigrants, was taken to frontier Tennessee as a baby in 1788, and then the family moved to Kaskaskia, Illinois in 1800. The narrative combines memoirs of Reynold’s personal life and public service career (including a term as Governor of Illinois and seven years in the U.S. House of Representatives) with historical background for the region. Very substantial parts of the book are devoted to State government, state political issues and campaigns, and the Black Hawk War.

Reynolds, John (1788-1865)

Books and articles on Native American tribes in historic Illinois

Looking Back: An Autobiography

Richardson, Merrick Abner
Chicago: Richardson 1917

A privately printed volume by a Chicago businessman.

Richardson, Merrick Abner (1841-1927)

Recollections of Frontier Life

Roe, Elizabeth
Rockford, IL: Gazette Pub. House 1885

Contents:-My Childhood -The Garden and the Gardener -Earliest Recollections of Methodism and its Influence on Me -Religious Resolutions and How they were Prosecuted -Recollections of Early Married Life -Doctor’s Adventure on the Farm -Removal to Rock River – Progress of Methodism -Recollections of Methodism in Chicago -Recollections of Payne’s Point -Recollections of Rockford and our new Home on the Prairie -Visit to Nebraska -Death of Dr. John Roe

Roe, Elizabeth Ann Lyon (1805-1887)

On the Illinois Frontier: Dr. Hiram Rutherford, 1840-1848

Rutherford, Hiram
Southern Illinois University 1981

These letters and papers present the saga of a pioneer doctor who migrated to Illinois, made house calls on horseback, har­bored a slave family in violation of Illinois’ Black Laws, and, when hauled into court, sought legal counsel from a friend, Abraham Lincoln, only to learn that Lincoln was already in the pay of the slave owner.
The first selection of this book contains a series of person­al letters, mostly to John Bowman, Dr. Rutherford’s future brother-in-law, in Pennsylvania. Rutherford describes life in Illi­nois in the 1840s in vivid enough detail to make it real for Bowman—and the contemporary reader.

Rutherford, Hiram (1815-1900)

Carl Sandburg: A Biography

Niven, Penelope
Scribner’s Sons 1991

“Carl Sandburg was an American poet, writer, and editor. He won three Pulitzer Prizes: two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln. During his lifetime, Sandburg was widely regarded as “a major figure in contemporary literature”, especially for volumes of his collected verse, including Chicago Poems (1916), Cornhuskers (1918), and Smoke and Steel (1920). He enjoyed “unrivaled appeal as a poet in his day, perhaps because the breadth of his experiences connected him with so many strands of American life” – Wikipedia

Sandburg, Carl August (1878-1967)

Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in the Mississippi Valley

Spencer, John W.
Davenport: Griggs 1872

Spencer moved to the Illinois frontier in 1820 from Vermont as a young man. This 70-page book is mainly a series of anecdotes about the early days there.

Spencer, John W. (1801-1878)

Books and articles on Religion in historic Illinois

A Woman’s Story of Pioneer Illinois

Tillson, Christiana H.
Chicago: Donnelley. 1919

As a young woman, Mrs. Tillson moved with her husband from Massachusetts to southern Illinois in 1822. In the 1870s she wrote this private memoir about the journey to Illinois and her first few years on the frontier for the benefit of her youngest daughter. The book is notable for its literate, detailed account. The editor, from the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, added extensive notes.
Some of the topics covered in this volume are:

Anti-slavery issue, Baptists in Illinois, Pioneer in Vandalia James Black, pioneer Jesse Buzan, early settlers in Chicago, visit to Cincinnati, Ewardsville Land Office, Military Bounty Lands, Methodists in Illinois, Dr. Horation Newhall, pioneer Judge Hiram Rountree, pioneer Col. Israel Seward, pioneer Milton Shurtleff, pioneer Warren Hooper, Commodore Yoakum, pioneer Joel Wright, pioneer Eleazar Townsend, Vandalia.

Tillson, Christiana Holmes (1798-1872)

Petticoat Surgeon

Van Hoosen, Bertha
Chicago: Peoples Book Club 1947

Autobiography. The author graduated from the University of Michigan Medical school in 1892 and spent her medical career in Chicago. She gradually became an outspoken feminist who opposed the medical establishment’s discriminatory treatment of women, becoming in 1915 the first president of the American Medical Women’s Association.

Van Hoosen, Bertha (1863-1952)

Books and articles about everyday life, women, ethnic groups, social issues etc. at Topics in the social history of Illinois

“Ida Wells-Barnett Confronts Race and Gender Discrimination”

Illinois History Teacher Vol 3, No. 1, 1996, pp 30-32

Hendricks, Wanda A., Jones, Paullette Pennington, and Taylor, Careda Rolland
Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency

Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, more commonly known as Ida B. Wells, was an African-American investigative journalist, educator, and an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She arguably became the most famous black woman in America, during a life that was centered on combating prejudice and violence. – Wikipedia

Wells-Barnett, Ida Bell (Ida B. Wells) (1862-1931)

Frances Willard: Her Life and Work

Strachey, Ray
London: Unwin 1912

Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard was an American educator, temperance reformer, and women’s suffragist. Willard became the national president of Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1879, and remained president until her death in 1898. Her influence continued in the next decades, as the Eighteenth (Prohibition) and Nineteenth (Women Suffrage) Amendments to the United States Constitution were adopted.

Willard, Frances Elizabeth Caroline (1839-1898)

The Life of Frances E. Willard

Gordon, Anna Adams
Evanston: National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union 1921

See the description for the other entry for Frances Willard on this web page.

Willard, Frances Elizabeth Caroline (1839-1898)

Collective Biographies

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940

Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress

This collection of life histories consists of approximately 2,900 documents, compiled and transcribed by more than 300 writers from 24 states, working on the Folklore Project of the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program that was part of the U.S. Works Progress (later Work Projects) Administration (WPA) from 1936 to 1940. Typically 2,000-15,000 words in length, the documents vary in form from narratives to dialogues to reports to case histories. They chronicle vivid life stories of Americans who lived at the turn of the century and include tales of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the 1871 Chicago fire, pioneer journeys out West, grueling factory work, and the immigrant experience.

The United States Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-Made Men; Illinois Volume

Chicago: American Biographical Publishing Company 1883

Contains over 800 pages of biographies.

See the list of resources on this website for: Genealogy & Local History Research

Who’s Who in Illinois

A biographical dictionary of leading men and women of the commonwealth

Biographical Press
Chicago: Larkin, Roosevelt & Larkin 1947

This is Volume 1, which contains names A-Z. It is not clear if further volumes were published. The index is at the front.

Books and articles on War in historic Illinois

“Women Making a Difference: Ira Craddock, Adelaide Johnson & Laura Dainty Pelham”

Illinois History Teacher Vol 4, No. 1, 1997, pp 22-28

Burton, Shirley J.
Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency

Who’s Who in Illinois: Women, Makers of History

Gilman, Agness Geneva and Gilman, Gertrude Marcelle
Chicago: Eclectic 1927

More than Petticoats. Remarkable Illinois Women

Henderson, Lyndee Jobe
TwoDot 2007

More than Petticoats: Remarkable Illinois Women chronicles the stories of twelve Illinois women who lived in the era of True Womanhood and dedicated themselves to charity toward family and strangers. Unwittingly, these women forged a legacy that expanded well beyond Illinois’ borders.
From First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s devotion to country to ballroom dancer Irene Castle’s fight for animal rights, the women of Illinois acted with progressive vision.
Meet the wife of the Mormon Prophet, Emma Hale Smith, who challenged ideology; Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams, the model of usefulness; Myra Bradwell, considered America’s first woman lawyer; and African American entrepreneur Annie Minerva Malone, who built a beauty empire.
Born before the dawn of the twentieth century, the women herein paved the way for future generations. Author Lyndee Jobe Henderson presents absorbing biographies filled with rarely published details.

Chicago Lives: Men and Women who Shaped our City

Janega, James, ed.
Triumph 2006

A unique journey through the 20th century in Chicago, this work reveals the characters whose lives put an indelible stamp on the city. Some were famous, like Richard J. Daley and Harold Washington, while others were infamous or unacknowledged, living fascinating lives that helped shape the city while remaining anonymous at the same time like, such as Emma Schweer, who is believed to have been America’s oldest elected office holder; Zofia Kuklo, a shy church-going, Polish immigrant grandmother who hid Jewish individuals from the Nazis during World War II; and James Tuach MacKenzie, the dashing and charismatic former drum major and band manager of the Stock Yard Kilty Band, among the most prominent of Chicago’s many pipe bands. In “Chicago Lives” readers explore the struggles of immigrants, the innovation of architects and artists, the dedication of activists and city officials, and the actions of Chicagoan’s whose feats were never recorded by history books, until now.

The Book of Chicagoans

A biographical dictionary of leading living men and women of the city of Chicago

Marquis, Albert Nelson
Chicago: Marquis 1917

The Women of Illinois

McCormick, Henry
Bloomington: 1913

Chapter headings are:

– The Pioneer Women of Illinois – Mrs. Le Compt – Mrs. John Edgar – Mrs. Robert Morrison – Mrs. Mary A. Bickerdyke – Mrs. Mary A. Livermore- – Frances E. Willard – Jane Addams – Mrs. Lida Brown McMurry – Mrs. Letitia Green Stevenson – Marie Eugenia Von Elsner (Litta) – The Women of Today

Selected Podcasts & Media about Events & Issues in the 21st Century

People to See: An Anecdotal History of Chicago’s Makers & Breakers

Nash, Jay Robert
New Century 1981

“People to See is an irreverent and revealing portrait of the merchant princes and magnates Marshall Field, William Randolph Hearst, P.K. Wrigley, George Pullman; crime kings Roger Plant, Al Capone, Arnold Rothestein, who fixed the 1919 World Series and “Shoeless Hoe” Jackson who played it that way; Richard J. Daley and the long line of his predecessors who insisted Chicago was not ready for reform; the proud pioneers of journalism and literature, Ben Hecht, Carl Sandburg, Nelson Algren, Saul Bellwo, Gwendolyn Brooks; and the rich heritage of Chicago sports. This is social history dominated by vivid personalities–regal and raffish characters with a talent for making out, moving up, and having their own way.” -Publisher. Chicago (Ill.) — Social life and customs — Biography.

Giants Gone: Men Who Made Chicago

Poole, Ernest
Whittlesey House 1943

Chicago Portraits: Biographies of 250 Famous Chicagoans

Sawyers, June Skinner
Loyola University 1991

Historical sketches of prominent figures from Chicago’s past, either born and bred there or born and raised elsewhere but associated with the city. A sampling, just from last names beginning with the letter “A”, yields Jane Addams, George Ade, Nelson Algren, Saul Alinsky, John Peter Altgeld, Sherwood Anderson, Louie Armstrong, and Jacob Arvey.

Library of American Lives: Illinois Edition 1950, Vol 1

Vol 2

Thompson, Charles M.
Historical Record Association 1950

“A source edition recording the recent and contemporary history of the State through the medium of the life histories of its most constructive members, and chronicling the backgrounds and activities of its prominent families and personages with emphasis on their accomplishments in making Illinois one of the great American commonwealths.”

Men of Illinois

Witherspoon, Halliday
Chicago: Witherspoon 1902?

Mainly a directory of men in business, for the benefit of newspapermen around the state. The index is arranged by occupation.

Of nearly 250 webpages of books and other resources at Century Past History,

over 90 pages are in the group History of the Great Lakes States.

We also have hundreds of biographies of Americans and famous people worldwide on our Century Past Free Online Library. Visit the Biography Index.

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