Mingins (1859-1917), a
Pennsylvania native, was the last surviving child of
six born to Elizabeth Wood and Scottish immigrant
and Presbyterian minister, George J. Mingins
(1828-1916). A prominent clergyman of his day,
George founded the Union Tabernacle Presbyterian
Church of New York and, for fifty years, served as a
pastor in New York City.
Clara studied teaching under Mary L. Van Wagenen in
New York, founder of Manhattan's first free
kindergarten. In the mid-1880s, Clara began training
kindergarten teachers at the Camp School at the New
Britain, CT Normal school, and in 1894 spent two
years in Newton, Massachusetts as a supervisor of
kindergartens. By 1896 she'd relocated to Detroit,
where she served as superintendent of the
kindergarten department at a teacher's college, the
Washington Normal School. For a monthly salary of
$180, she helped establish Detroit's first forty-two
kindergartens with an enrollment of nearly 2,000
students, employing 99 teachers.
Olive Periam (1861-1932),
a divorcee, taught kindergarten at Chicago's Lincoln
Park Congregational Church before her marriage in
the late 1880s. She returned to the profession when
the marriage ended. While teaching at the Washington
Normal School in 1903, Nellie became second
lieutenant in Clara Mingins' battle with the Detroit
school system. She also became Clara's roommate and
companion for the remainder of Clara's life.
(Nellie's only child, Purcell, had died in infancy
in 1895, and her ex-husband had remarried six months
prior. He was a colorful character named Victor
Hendrick, who worked as a violin maker, artist and
traveling salesman. See below for additional
information about Nellie's parents and siblings.)
1903, amidst newspaper fanfare, Clara and Eleanor had
jointly resigned from
the Washington Normal School, citing inadequate
funding and overcrowded classrooms. They soon assumed similar positions at
a small Presbyterian liberal arts college in Alma,
Alma Academy and Alma
From 1897 to
1913, Alma College also operated a
college preparatory school for younger students,
the Alma Academy. In 1903 one of those students was
Eleanor's teenaged niece,
Grace L. Dymond (1889-1974),
who lived with Clara and Eleanor. Grace was the daughter of Eleanor's sister,
Mary "Mamie" / Amy Periam
Dymond (1856-1914) and
Charles E. Dymond (1854-1918).* The Periams
were a close-knit family who looked after their own.
In 1900, before relocating to
Michigan, Eleanor lived with Mamie's family on
Pratt Avenue, next door to Jonathan, Ida and Alice.
At the end of her life, age seventy-seven and the last
surviving Periam sister, Alice lived with Grace.
Over the 1903 holidays, Clara
and Eleanor were hosts to another young woman, as
well: Clara's niece,
Mildred Eliza Mingins (1880-1972).
Mildred was a 1900 graduate of the Trenton, NJ
Normal School, visiting from New Jersey. She was the
daughter of Clara's late brother, Ernest, who had
died in 1892, his wife, Susan Hill Mingins,
following three year's later, each of them before
their fortieth birthday.†
To Chicago for the holidays
24, 1903, the foursome (Clara, Eleanor, Mildred and Grace) traveled
by rail from Michigan to Chicago for a four-week visit
with relatives in Chicago. Living
in Chicago then were Eleanor's three sisters – Mamie
Periam Dymond (Grace's mother),
Ida Periam (1858-)
and Alice Periam
(1863-1941) – and the family patriarch, the widowed Jonathan N. Periam
An expert in
animal husbandry, Jonathan Periam edited and
published Prairie Farmer magazine and
authored several books.‡ His wife, the former Mary Wadhams
(1835-1897), had died in 1897.
On the afternoon
of December 30, a party of seven gathered to
attend a performance of Mr. Bluebeard at
Chicago's newest luxury theater, the Iroquois.
The party members:
wife of Robert
Smith Abbott (1858-1933) who was treasurer of a
large Saginaw lumber and salt company.
Probably a friend of Eleanor Periam who, in mid-1903,
had lived in Saginaw, MI. The Abbotts lived in Detroit
and Saginaw in this period. Both their son and
daughter had died in infancy two decades
was the daughter of Jacob and Mary Ann Bell
Iroquois, the large group was unable to find seats all
together so Clara and Eleanor sat in the second row
from the stage on the north side of the ground
floor, close enough to hear orchestra musicians turn
pages on their sheet music. The other five members in the
approximately eight rows further back.
Clara and Eleanor survived by
scrambling over seats and escaping out a north wall
exit into Couch
Place alley. In the process, Eleanor fell
twice and something dropped upon her from an upper
fire escape, bruising her neck and back.
(Probably not the full weight of a falling/jumping
body or her injuries would
In the years after the fire
Ten days after the
Iroquois Theater fire Mildred Mingins announced her engagement to
Paul Weyand (1874-1934), a
Methodist-Episcopal minister. They married seven
months later and would go on to have two sons, Paul
jr. and James. James became a surgeon and
served for five years during World War II, achieving
the rank of major. Mildred became a school
teacher after her children were grown. Her son
Paul also became a teacher.
The name was sometimes misspelled Weyland. In
some records, Mildred's date of birth would be
reported as 1881 but christening records show it as
On April 2, 1912 Clara and Eleanor returned to
American shores following a European vacation. They
had sailed out of South Hampton on the SS Prinz
Friedrich Wilhelm (1908-1929). When the Titanic
sank, they most certainly noted it too had sailed
out of South Hampton, just one week after their departure. The SS Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm was
one of several ships in the vicinity of the Titanic
when it went down. Family members of other
Iroquois Theater survivors,
the Hippaches, were among Titanic survivors.
Marshall Everette, author of the 1903 book about the
Chicago's Awful Theater Horror, also wrote a
book about the Titanic.
Clara Mingins worked in
Ypsilanti, MI for a time until physical limitations
forced her retirement.
Eleanor Periam sometimes
reported herself as the widow of Victor Hendricks –
decades before his death and long after he'd
remarried to another woman.
The Dymond family moved from
Chicago to the Grand Rapids, Michigan area by 1910.
In 1915, Grace Dymond married Charles W. Porter and,
in 1923, married William Shakespeare, a vocal coach
who claimed to be a descendent of The Bard.
Described as a "dramatic soprano," In the late
1920s, Grace performed song medleys at local women's
clubs, singing and playing the piano, and in the
1940s gave music lessons in Chicago. Her aunt Alice
Periam lived with her in the last years of her life.
Three of the Periam sisters –
Eleanor, Ida and Alice – became active in the Christian
Science faith during the last years of their lives.
In 1908, Margaret Abbott and her
husband relocated to Green Bay, Wisconsin, when he became an accountant for Diamond Lumber Mill.
They became active in the First Baptist church there. She
was an invalid for the last several years of her
Discrepancies and addendum
* The Dymonds
had sold their livery stable on Ravenswood in
Chicago the January before the fire and in July
1903, purchased 90 feet of property on Kenmore
Avenue for $55,000. They may have owned the
flats they and the Periams occupied then on Kenmore.
† 1904 newspaper stories
about the theater party's escape described Mildred
as Clara's adopted daughter but when Mildred married
seven months later, newspapers reported that she had
lived with the reverend James Mason family in
Metuchen, NJ after her parent's deaths. She was
a teenager at the time, with several siblings.
‡ Concise Manual for
Horse Owners, 1891, and Live Stock A Complete
Compendium for the American Farmer and Stock Owner
including Horses, Cattle, Swine, Sheep and Poultry,
newspapers persisted in referring to twenty-three-year-old Mildred as "little Mildred." One of several
instances in which newspapers Interjected
when facts such as ages were missing.