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About Martha Hillard
Martha Hillard was a daughter of Rev. Elias Brewster Hillard and Julia Whittlesey. A graduate of Vassar College, she was a college professor and had served as president of Rockford College, and was influenced by the writings of Milicent Washburn Shinn. Her son, Archibald MacLeish, became Librarian of Congress. Another son, Kenneth MacLeish, was an officer in the United States Navy during World War I. A Naval aviator, he received the Navy Cross posthumously for his combat actions. Her grandson is Bruce MacLeish Dern, (b. 1936), an Academy Award-nominated American film actor, and her great-granddaughter is Academy Award-nominated actress Laura Elizabeth Dern.
The daughter of a Congregationalist minister, Martha hailed from an established New England family. She was educated at Vassar through the generous contributions of a bachelor uncle. After several years of teaching school, Martha Hillard was invited back to Vassar as an instructor. A strong educator, Martha left Vassar and became the principal of Rockford Seminary in Rockford, Illinois. Upon the school’s succession to Rockford College, Martha became the first President.
The daughters of Andrew MacLeish, Lily and Blanche, had attended Vassar during Martha’s tenure. A trip to Chicago to visit Lily and Blanche resulted in Martha meeting the girls’ father. Martha Hillard and Andrew MacLeish were married in 1888; she was 18 years his junior. Mr. MacLeish and Martha Hillard had four children: Norman Hillard, Archibald, Kenneth and Ishbel Marjoribanks, named after Lady Aberdeen, wife of the Governor General of Canada. Norman was a well-known Illinois artist. Archibald was a writer and Librarian of Congress. Kenneth died in World War One. We are still searching for Ishbel (Mrs. Alexander Sloan Campbell).
The original MacLeish home stood at 627 Adams St. After his marriage to Martha Hillard, the couple purchased 17 acres at Glencoe and built a summer home. Over time, the summer home became their permanent home. It was named “Craigie Lea” after an old Scottish song. “The house, a great three-story residence of brick and frame construction with conical towers, dormers, and high-pitched gables. The house contained more than 30 rooms.”
Mrs. MacLeish “reigned as chatelaine of Craigie Lea, she engaged in religious and cultural activities that made her one of the most esteemed women of Chicago and the North Shore. Each year, on the lawn of Craigie Lea, she presided at a garden fete that was one of the outstanding annual events of social life on the North Shore.” She served as president of the Chicago Woman’s Club. Through her efforts, the Women’s American Foreign Mission Baptist Society was formed. Martha was an intimate friend of Jane Addams, the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and helped her in the establishment of Hull House, a Chicago home established to improve the social condition of the underserved. Mrs. Martha Hillard MacLeish died December 19, 1947 at the age of 91.