[In which we learn about Helen herself, although the author makes no mention of the major memorial collection of post-Impressionist and modern art at the Art Institute of Chicago for which Helen Birch Bartlett was known nationally.]
The closest relationship existed between Hugh Birch and his daughter from her babyhood. Her crib stood beside his bed, and whenever her sleep was broken her little hand crept through the bars and found refuge and comfort in his. As soon as she was old enough, she accompanied him on rambles over the farm at Highland Park near Chicago (now the Bobolink Golf Club), that he had bought and was beautifying. During these walks he taught her to recognize and love the plants and trees and birds about her. How much they meant in her life is shown in her poems, which have been published in a volume entitled “:Capricious Winds.” Many of her poems have not been collected. She wrote them with great spontaneity and gave them as greetings to her friends. The facsimiles here printed are of two she wrote for her father.
Helen Birch’s life with her numerous girl friends in Chicago and elsewhere was unusually interesting. Catherine Eddy, daughter of Abby Spencer Eddy and afterwards the wife of Senator Albert J. Beveridge, grew up with Helen, and the two cousins were like sisters throughout her life.
With her mother and father, Helen had travelled extensively through Europe, England,and the adjacent islands. Especially enjoyable was a journey to the Canary Islands with her father, ending with ten days in the Madeiras, and then through Spain and Portugal to Paris where her mother was awaiting their arrival.
In the winter of 1893 Hugh Birch went to Florida. At that time the railroad ended at Titusville at the head of Indian River. Further south and west the state was almost a wilderness. By boat and on foot he explored most of the wild coast to the south, looking for a desirable location for a winter home. Wisely he chose the ocean front near Fort Lauderdale as preferable to any other part of the miles of shore.
Hugh Birch has a sixth sense about land. He seems instinctively to recognize beauty, to know how to bring it out. He took his little daughter with him and she first saw Florida land in its primitive beauty and glory. After that they enjoyed it together. Even when her mother wanted her to go to Europe for the opera season the little girl always stipulated that before sailing she was to have her winter with her father in Florida. Their home, facing the Atlantic Ocean with a mile and a half of beach, is full of the evidence of the love that she and her father have lavished on it.
In 1919 Helen Birch married Frederick Clay Bartlett, an artist, intimately connected with the art growth of Chicago and Illinois. They spent their honeymoon traveling in Japan, China, and the Philippines. He had passed years in study and travel in France and Germany. Mr. and Mrs. Bartlett were wonderfully alike in their tastes and desires—lovers of music and painting in their many forms.
In the winter of 1924-1925 Mr. Bartlett with his wife and his son by a former marriage invited his father-in-law to a very memorable and delightful trip to Venice and through Italy to Florence, the hill towns, Rome, Naples, Capri, and then to Jerusalem, and to Cairo, Egypt. There they chartered a steamer and went up the Nile to the Assuan Dam. This trip culminated with a hurried trip to Genoa, Milan, and the Riviera and home to a summer residence in Beverly, Massachusetts,—a most memorable journey, to be treasured in the hearts of the living as the happiest experience in the lives of them all.
Helen’s death occurred in 1925. A friend, Janet Fairbank, wrote, “There is always something triumphant in the tragedy of untimely death. Helen Bartlett died too young, but nevertheless she lived life to its peak. For her there were no experiences of anticlimax—no adjustments—no capitulations. She died at her life’s blazing noon, and she had never seen a sunset which did not seem to her fairer than the dawn.”
A woman so universally loved—so truly educated and so wholesomely normal, at home in several spoken languages, in music, in art, and in the higher art of touching the spiritual best in the people who met her, could not be better honored than by the lovely stretch of well-watered woodland that her father has given in her name to the young people of Antioch College. It was a fine sense of discrimination which has associated her memory with this region of ever varying beauty and dignity.