Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Notable Naperville Women - Genevieve Towsley

If you’ve ever walked or driven by the Barnes & Noble Bookstore on the corner of Washington Street and Chicago Avenue, no doubt you’ve seen the bronze statue of Genevieve Towsley sitting near the door. 

Part of the Century Walk public art initiative, the statue shows Genevieve much as she was when she passed away in 1996 at the age of 88. Commemorating her nearly 50 years of writing for Naperville newspapers, she’s holding the familiar notepad and pencil.

Naperville became Genevieve’s “home town” in a round-about way. She was born in Oak Park, but spent many years on an Idaho farm when her family moved there when she was eight.  They returned to Illinois in 1924 so she could attend her chosen college, North Central, at that time still known as Northwestern. 

Genevieve stayed on at North Central College as a teacher until 1932 when she left to raise her family. By 1948 she was writing for The Clarion, a local newspaper. 

One of her former NCC students, Harold White, Jr., bought the Naperville Sun and convinced Genevieve to write for him starting in 1954. She wrote two columns for the Sun over the years:  The Grapevine and Sky-Lines. The Grapevine dealt with local news and issues in the Naperville community. Her column was influential in the desegregation of Centennial Beach and when the Naperville Heritage Society was formed in 1969, she was a charter member. Her writing helped generate interest moving Century Memorial Chapel to the grounds of the Martin Mitchell Mansion, becoming the first addition to Naper Settlement.

Sky-Lines had more of a historical tone. Genevieve re-told local legends, interviewed long-time residents and waded through old books as research. Because of her work, the Sky-Lines articles are a major resource of local history. A selection of columns was gathered up in 1975 under the title A View of Historic Naperville and has been through several printings.

Daughter Dr. Caryl Towsley Moy, a professor, a clinical therapist and many other distinguished things, wrote a book of her own to honor her mother, Genevieve.

When the statue was first installed, Genevieve was wearing her customary glasses, but unfortunately those have disappeared. Still, it’s a pretty faithful depiction of a lovely and smart writer who probably loves sitting outside a bookstore and is happy to share her bench with you.

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