Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Gillett Sisters


Emma Susan, Grace Adeline, Nina Lemira, Katherine, Amaryllis T., Jessie D., Charlotte

One of the most noted, cultivated and clever families of women in Illinois is that of the late John Dean Gillett and his wife, Lemira Parks Gillett, of Elkhart, Illinois, who were among the oldest settlers of Logan County (1842). The family consists of seven daughters, who were reared in the lap of luxury up to the day of their father's death. At that time each took charge of the estate left her by her father, and has since managed it personally in an intellectual, business like and successful manner. As girls, these daughters were carefully educated along classical lines, their only business training having been that given by their father. It is therefore somewhat unusual that they should one and all have taken upon themselves the care of their vast estates, and with the result that to-day each personally directs her entire estate and business interests in the most successful manner.

The eldest daughter, Emma Susan Gillett, educated in New Haven, Connecticut, was married in 1867, when quite young, to Hiram Keays, of Bloomington, Illinois. She was left a widow after three years of married life, with one son, Hiram G. Keays. In 1873 she married Richard J. Oglesby, three times elected Governor of Illinois, and once to the United States Senate. The issue of the second marriage was three sons and one daughter. Her second son, John Gillett Oglesby, was elected Lieutenant-Governor of Illinois at the age of twenty-nine, being the youngest Lieutenant-Governor ever elected in the state.

Mrs. Oglesby came into her inheritance after Governor Oglesby had retired from politics, and within a quarter of a mile of the village of Elkhart, Illinois erected her beautiful home called "Ogleshurst." For seven years she lived there, organizing and putting into shape her property, and since the death of her husband. Governor Oglesby, she has lived in Rome, Italy, her home being one of the most interesting and she being one of the most popular entertainers of the American colony at Rome.

The second daughter, Grace Adeline Gillett, Jacksonville, Illinois, was married in 1885 to Hon. Stephen A. Littler of Springfield, Illinois, one of the most indefatigable political workers of the day. Their handsome and well-appointed home was the scene of many magnificent banquets given by Mr. Littler to his political friends. Mrs. Littler's presence, personal charm and grace of manner, is well as her beauty, won her many friends. Her love and personal care and munificent gifts to the suffering infants and children of her tenants, and the working classes about her, won for her the love, respect and admiration of all those fortunate enough to be within her sphere of influence. Mrs. Littler lived only a few years after her father's death to enjoy her share of his fortune, but up to that time was interested in keeping her consignment of the cattle, so well known as the "Shorthorn Herd of John Dean Gillett" up to its well-known reputation, fanning and leasing her lands, raising oats, com, wheat and clover. At her death she left her estate not only intact, but greatly increased in value.

The third daughter, Nina Lemira Gillett, was educated in a convent, and is one of the best read women of her time, a woman of fine business ability who, after placing her land and property in shape, turned her attention and time to the buying of stocks and bonds, being clever enough in the panic of 1903 to throw her enormous savings which she had in readiness to invest, into stocks and bonds at the opportune moment, holding them several years and disposing of the same, thereby realizing a handsome profit, thus showing her ability to be as great in financial foresight as in farming. She has also made a great success socially and financially in Paris, where she now resides. She has circled the globe more than once in her extensive travels, and is a fluent French and Italian scholar.

Katherine Gillett Hill, fourth daughter of the late John Dean Gillett, was educated in a convent at Springfield, Illinois, and was married in 1874 to James E. Hill, a cousin of the late John A. Logan. To them four children were born, two sons and two daughters, the two sons living to manhood and one daughter to womanhood. Edgar Logan Hill, the eldest son, is a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and holds a prominent position with the American Steel & Wire Company, at Worcester, Massachusetts. John Dean Gillett Hill is a graduate of Harvard Law School, and Lemira Gillett Hill is a graduate of Miss Chamberlain's School in Boston.

Mrs. Gillett Hill, at the death of her father, took entire charge of her farming lands, not even requiring the assistance of an overseer. She has for twenty years managed as capably and as systematically as any business man her five thousand acres of farm land in and about Lincoln, Illinois, having about fifty tenants under her supervision. She is a woman of varied qualifications and interests, being artistic and musical, a splendid mother and likewise is greatly interested in the woman suffrage movement. Farming with her is not amateurish, and not the fad of a rich woman, but with Mrs. Gillett Hill it is at once an art and a science, and a very remunerative business, which has made her one of the best known farmers in America. She is none the less womanly for her business capabilities. From her childhood she has been a fine horsewoman, and having been gifted with a beautiful voice, she has done much charitable work with her musical voice. With her fine intellect, she has become a writer of some note and is withal a splendid entertainer, possessing great natural wit and repartee. She has been much sought after in the social world. Mrs. Gillett Hill in the year 1910 purchased a charmingly artistic home in Washington, and this home, once a studio, has proved to be one of the most unique and picturesque residences in the city.

Amaryllis T. Gillett, fifth daughter, was educated in Kenosha, Wisconsin. During her school years she devoted herself to the study of history particularly, and was always a referee for dates and historical events. She held in trust the money presented by her mother, Lemira Parke Gillett, to the Library at Elkhart, Illinois, and selected and bought all of the books for this library for about twenty years. After superintending her farms in and about the town of Cornland for many years, she removed to the City of Washington, in 1908, and bought up a great deal of real estate, building handsome houses and selling them at a great profit With keen foresight she realized that real estate at the capital was sure to advance. Miss Gillett is one of the prominent women of Washington, and entertains lavishly in her handsome home during the winter season. She is a member of the best clubs of Washington, viz: Chevy Chase Club, Archaeological Club Aviation Club and the Riding Club, and was elected Librarian-General of the Daughters of the American Revolution at the last National Congress, on the ticket with Mrs. Matthew T. Scott, President-General. By the latter, she has been placed on many special commissions to further the improvement of the grounds and surroundings of Memorial Continental Hall.

Jessie D. Gillett is the sixth daughter of John Dean Gillett A woman who runs a 3000 acre farm, takes a prominent part in the management of a National Bank and is the founder of a public library, which she presented to the village of Elkhart, Illinois, in memory of her mother, in addition to being a shrewd financier, and expert stock grower and an accomplished horse-back rider, all of which is Miss Jessie D. Gillett, has taken a long step in the direction of proving that no nook or comer of what was once the exclusive domain of man is now secure against feminine invasion. After taking hold of "Crowhurst," her home farm, located near the village of Elkhart, Illinois, she soon showed the surrounding farmers what a woman could do with a farm, and the result has caused her male competitors not only to envy, but also to adopt many of her improvements. "Crowhurst'' is now one of the most inviting and attractive country residences in the middle west Miss Gillett believes that if one would be a successful farmer the latest and most progressive agricultural principles must be applied. She has converted this once old-fashioned farm into a model producing possession, and her surroundings are of the most up-to-date character. Her lands being tilled and drained in the best manner known today, she produces crops that are seldom equalled in the state; she makes a great specialty of corn and her farm has been made famous in this, the great corn-belt of Illinois. Added to her ability as a farmer, Miss Gillett's personality is most charming. She is a very beautiful woman, with great tact and a most fascinating manner; is one of the women the state of Illinois may well be proud of.

Charlotte Gillett Barnes was seventh and youngest daughter. She inherited her property when quite young, and married the following year, 1891, Dr. William Barnes, one of the most-noted surgeons of central Illinois. Her beautiful home is in Decatur, Illinois, where she interests herself most enthusiastically in musical circles.

Mrs. Barnes' land lies in and about the cities of Elkhart and Mt Pulaski. She inherited a talent for describing lands and could repeat off-hand and without notes, rapidly and without error, proper descriptions of her lands that numbered up into the thousands of acres.

While an interested and enterprising business woman, she has let music be her principal work in life, and her talent for music has made her one of the most noted pianists of the Middle West. She has two children, Gillette Joan Barnes and William Barnes.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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