July 1, 2014 2 Comments
Our ability to reconstruct the past hinges on the existence and accessibility of primary sources. The Salisbury House archives contain a preponderance of Carlalia (Carl memorabilia), but we lack commensurate material about his better half: Edith Van Slyke Weeks. We’re trying to change this. Recent research has yielded new images and newspaper articles about Edith, and these sources help flesh out a portrait of a well-educated, well-traveled woman.
Edith was born to the Van Slykes of Dubuque, Iowa, in 1882. The family later moved to Des Moines, where Edith completed high school.
Young Edith graduated from North High School around the turn of the twentieth century. Pictured below is her report card from North High School from the late 1890s. Clearly, Edith possessed considerable academic abilities.
The importance of education was a central concern for the Van Slyke family. Indeed, Edith’s mother Eva, graduated from Iowa State University in 1874. Edith continued the tradition of well-educated Van Slyke women with her graduation from the University of Michigan in 1903.
During her time in Ann Arbor, Edith joined the University of Michigan’s chapter of Sorosis, a women’s social and educational club.
In 1907, a blurb about Edith appeared in a Sorosis booklet printed to commemorate the club’s twentieth anniversary (left). Her name appears alongside the other alumnae of her year.
By this time (1907), Edith had met and married Carl Weeks. The couple, according to family anecdotes, first met around 1904 when Edith walked into the Des Moines pharmacy where Carl worked. Overcome with affection, Carl followed Edith to Europe around 1905.
Following Edith’s European sojourn, the pair courted through 1906 and walked down the aisle in February 1907.
Edith’s life after her marriage comes down to us in even more fragmented terms. Still, photographs from family albums and newspaper articles suggest a woman who cared deeply for her family, actively engaged in her local community, and generously supported the arts.
We imagine that Carl snapped the photograph below during the early years of their relationship. If Carl was the photographer, his shadow is visible towards the bottom of the frame. The photo’s location remains uncertain, but it’s clear that Carl and Edith often commemorated family events on film.
Like many families even today, the Weeks photo album took a decided turn towards Toddlerville after the kiddos started to arrive. Charles (1908), Bill (1910), Hud (1912), and Lafe (1918) were regularly photographed with their mother.
Bill, Charles, Hud, & Edith, c. 1913
By the time Edith and Carl started making plans to build Salisbury House in the early 1920s, four rambunctious boys were roughhousing about the Weeks family home.
The Weeks Family in 1921 – Clockwise from Edith: Lafe, Bill, Carl, Charles, & Hud
In addition to photographs of the immediate Weeks family, our archives also include an interesting image of Edith on vacation in Havana, Cuba in the late 1920s or early 1930s. She was pictured with an unidentified friend at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a famed watering hole for American expats, including Ernest Hemingway. We wonder, in fact, if the Weekses and Hemingway met in Cuba.
Salisbury House was completed by 1928. Edith, with her academic training in art history and love of the subject, likely played a central role in acquiring the family’s stunning collection of fine furnishings and artworks.
Edith’s personal interests also emerged in her community involvement. She belonged to a variety of organizations and women’s clubs in Des Moines. A 1928 Des Moines Register article included a photograph of her (second from left) alongside fellow committee-members of the city’s Fine Arts Association.
In 1931, Edith hosted a meeting of ladies involved in the Iowa Association of Women’s Clubs. Dozens of women gathered at Salisbury House for tea and other activities.
Edith also lent her support to charitable organizations. Below, she was pictured (on right) with other prominent Des Moines women at a charity ball in 1931.
Edith was again pictured in the Des Moines Register in 1934 alongside a piece from the family’s art collection painted in the style of English artist George Romney. Here, the photograph was accompanied by an article about a meeting of the Des Moines Women’s Club, hosted by Edith at Salisbury House.
In addition to photographs and articles related to Edith’s community involvement, she was also pictured in the Register with family members. The photo below showed Edith with her mother on Mother’s Day 1935.
Although we have added some Edith-related images and articles to our archives in recent months, we still lack significant sources related to the later years of her life. Details about her, particularly during the 1940s and up to her death in 1954, remain elusive.
The last image we have of Edith Weeks dates to the first half of the 1950s. She and Carl were seated in the Great Hall of Salisbury House. Edith has lost a significant amount of weight, which may have indicated a marked decline in her health.
The photographs and articles included here expand our cache of primary sources about Edith Van Slyke Weeks. Still, we hope to learn more about this remarkable woman’s life.