I suppose most of the world wonders about us. Why we do what we do with such passion that we’ll stay up all night, pepper family with questions for which no one could possibly know the answer (though, they would be surprised at what a single memory might provoke in terms of paths), stay bent over our computers for hours or similarly disposed in county offices surrounded by hundred-year-old stacks of books and documents.
It’s because of pearls like this: Leta Maude Best Mueller.
Turns out, Leta and her husband, Alfred Felix Mueller lived in my home from 1923 to 1939, perhaps longer. Alfred, a grocery store shipping clerk at Guyer & Calkins Wholesale Groceries in Freeport, and Leta had two children, Max B (1916-2006) and Jean A (1920-2002) whom, one would expect, grew up in this house.
It’s odd. Now that I know about this family, I can imagine these four people living here. I don’t know a lot about them (yet) but I can imagine that the parents shared the room that is now my office—at the end of the hall, the biggest in size with a rather large sitting room. I suspect Max, the oldest and the only male child, probably slept in the second largest room—also with its own large sitting room—and, the stairs to the full walk-through attic within which he likely played, perhaps hung out one of the dormer windows yelling to friends on the street or contemplating the stars. And, he might well have seen the sky from the attic or his sitting room, as the giant weeping pine tree wouldn’t have been blocking his view (if it was even there at the time).
Jean was probably relegated to the smallest bedroom—9 by 13 wouldn’t have been all that small for a bedroom—with no sitting room. And, though I will likely find out by the time I get to the tax records portion of this house history search, next to the bathroom I’ve always wondered was original to the house or if it once might have served as her sitting room.
Okay, it’s not like I didn’t know people lived in my 100-plus year old house, so why am I seemingly so enthusiastic?
Leta Maude Best Mueller went to college.
In an era where few women attended college–and even fewer colleges were co-ed–it seems Leta attended Wesleyan in Bloomington, Illinois (majoring and serving as undergraduate assistant in English) for her first two years then transferred to Northwestern University where she studied English and “the science curriculum.” I haven’t yet learned if she graduated but I hope to even though I suspect she did not.
I’ve begun to trace Leta and Albert’s family trees but it appears Leta’s grandfather was a physician, which might account for her interest in and ability to attend college.
What really made today’s search most special was finding this. I present Leta Maude Best, junior at Northwestern University.