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  • Writer's pictureKatharine Korte Andrew

Frances Elizabeth Coates Grace: The Grace Family, Hemingway, and Opera (1898-1988)

Frances Elizabeth Coates Grace (1898-1988) was more than a celebrated soprano; she was a pivotal figure in Hinsdale's cultural history. Her journey from Michigan to Illinois intertwined her destiny with Hinsdale, where she enriched the local arts scene and formed memorable ties, including with the young Ernest Hemingway. Grace's legacy in Hinsdale goes beyond her music, embodying the town's rich cultural heritage and its connection to broader historical narratives


From the Hinsdale Historical Society Archives:“Frances Coates Grace: Soprano and Diseuse.” Accessed as A.23.01.009, Biography File “Grace,” Hinsdale Historical Society Archives.
From the Hinsdale Historical Society Archives:“Frances Coates Grace: Soprano and Diseuse.” Accessed as A.23.01.009, Biography File “Grace,” Hinsdale Historical Society Archives.

Frances Coates Graces (1898-1988)

Frances Elizabeth Coates was born 14 April 1898 in Battle Creek, Calhoun County, Michigan to Floyd B. Coates and Catherine Gertrude Stockdale.[1]

 

When Frances was seven years old, her mother, Catherine, began taking her to operas and concerts in Chicago featuring musical legends including Eleanora Duse, Luisa Tetrazzini, and Enrico Caruso.[2]


By 1915, the Coates family had moved to DuPage County and Frances was attending Oak Park and River Forest High School. During her time in High School, Frances briefly dated young Ernest Hemingway, going on walks, skating, and to the movies and opera together.[3]


A young Ernest Hemingway in 1917. From the 1917 Yearbook of Oak Park and River Forest High School.
A young Ernest Hemingway in 1917. From the 1917 Yearbook of Oak Park and River Forest High School.

In an article by Robert K. Elder, Frances’ only granddaughter, Elizabeth (Riggs) Fermano shared letters, remembrances, and unpublished writings by Frances about her time growing up and going to school with Ernest Hemingway. In the remembrance, she wrote about Hemingway and how they had an informal double date with Hemingway’s sister and boyfriend on a canoe trip down the Des Plaines River.[4]


While hospital bound in Milan, Italy in July 1918, Ernest Hemingway wrote to his high school crush Frances, “I can’t break the old habit of writing you whenever I get a million miles away from Oak Park.”[5]  During his career, Hemingway used a version of her name, “Liz Coates” in a controversial short story—“Up in Michigan” (1923). The name Frances also appears in two of his novels: The Sun Also Rises and To Have and Have Not.[6]


Ernest Hemingway biographer Carlos Baker traced the author’s teen obsession with Frances back to when Frances performed in a high school performance of Martha, a three-act opera, in April of 1916.[7]

Baker wrote, “Playing his cello in the orchestra pit, Ernest could hardly keep his eyes on the score. His friend Al Dungan, a gifted cartoonist, made a caricature of a boy with desperate eyes and labeled it: ‘Erney sees a girl named Frances.’ He was too shy to ask her to the Junior-Senior prom on May 19.”[8]
According to Elder’s article, Frances’ unpublished remembrances reveal that she saw Hemingway as a “troubled person who masked an inferiority complex with bravado.”[9]

The letters exchanged between Frances and Hemingway were a remarkable find in 2017. Frances’ granddaughter was interviewed and stated, “I didn’t think anybody would be interested in the letters… My grandmother wasn’t really anybody famous. She was a beautiful, elegant person, but she was also very private about her life.”[10]

However, this very much downplays Frances’ life and career.


While Hemmingway was infatuated with Frances, she was not romantically interested in him. She was already being courted by a high school classmate, John Grace Jr, who she would later marry.[11]


In 1916, Frances enrolled at Northwestern, studying opera and becoming a Soprano and Diseuse. She was accepted into the Delta Gamma sorority and studied music and voice under Lucie Lennox, who taught at Northwestern and later became her manager. In 1918, she left Northwestern to care for her mother, but continued to perform opera all over the Chicagoland area and the world.


She married John H. Grace Jr. on 18 September 1920 in Marcellus, Michigan.


She studied and trained under Lenox Darcy of New York, Florence Magnus of Chicago, Gerald Moore of London, Yvette Gilbert of Paris, and Maggie Teyte of New York.[12]

Frances performed all over the world, including London, New York, Chicago, and of course in her hometown Hinsdale. She performed in Buckingham Palace[13] and in 1938, Grace was invited to perform at the White House by President Franklin Roosevelt.[14]


Most of her appearances were recitals and solo performances instead of with operatic companies.[15]  She was best known for her solo performance of the Claude Debussy opera, “Pelleas et Melisande.”[16]


From the Hinsdale Historical Society Archives. “Frances Coates Grace: Soprano and Diseuse Presents in Concert form Pelleas and Melisande by Claude Debussy,” circa 1950. Accessed as #23.01.005, “Grace,” Biography Files, Hinsdale Historical Society Archives
From the Hinsdale Historical Society Archives. “Frances Coates Grace: Soprano and Diseuse Presents in Concert form Pelleas and Melisande by Claude Debussy,” circa 1950. Accessed as #23.01.005, “Grace,” Biography Files, Hinsdale Historical Society Archives

Frances was also noted in the music world for her unique method of cutting down a four-hour “grand” opera to an hour’s worth of entertainment.[17]


After the Chicago Opera Company folded, Frances helped form several suburban chapters that supported the Lyric Opera of Chicago.[18] She was the chairwoman of many organizations, including the Hinsdale women’s committee of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,[19] the Chamber Music Guild in Washington, D. C.,[20] the American Opera Society,[21]


Frances was also involved in the United Charities of Hinsdale, the Hinsdale Woman’s Club,[22] and the Hinsdale Assembly.[23]





Frances and John Henry Grace Jr.

John H. Grace Jr. was born on 22 July 1898 to John Henry Grace Sr. and Edith Dugan Grace. John Henry Grace Sr. was an official of the Great Northern railroad and founder of the John H. Grace Company, which specialized in railroad equipment.[24]


In 1930, Frances, John Jr., and their daughter, Katherine, were living at 200 Ravine Road, then 120 Ravine Road, in Hinsdale, a home recently put on the Hinsdale Historical Society’s Historic House Register.[25] By 1939, the Grace family moved to 712 Taft Road in Hinsdale,[26] where they were enumerated in the 1950 census.[27]


John H. Grace Jr. later took over the family business, serving as President of the John H. Grace Tank Car Company of Chicago.[28] He also served in both World War I and World War II. During WWII, he was a Commander of the U.S. Naval Reserve.[29]


During World War II, the Grace family moved to Washington, D. C., where John was stationed.[30] However, they later returned to Hinsdale after the war.


John Jr. was also a member of the Grace Episcopal Church of Hinsdale and the Hinsdale Golf Club, as well as the Union League Club of Chicago.[31]


Frances Coates Grace passed away on 5 March 1988.[32] John Henry Grace Jr. passed away on 18 June 1989.[33]


Frances and John had one child together: Katherine Grace, who married Richard Morrison Riggs at Grace Church on 12 July 1947.[34] Katherine graduated from Vasser College.[35] After her marriage to Richard, both Katherine and Richard completed masters degrees in geology at Columbia University.[36]





In 1981, Katherine graduated from the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest and became a Reverand.[37]She was the Vicor at St. Francis in San Antonio, Texas[38] and the first woman to be ordained as a deacon and then as a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas.[39]


While the Riggs primarily resided in Oklahoma City, until their move to Texas, Katherine and Richard’s daughter, Elizabeth Grace Riggs, became the third generation of the family to participate in the Hinsdale Assembly.[40]


Available Recordings of Frances Coates Grace

A 1952 recording of Frances performing Claude Debussy’s “Pelleas and Melisande” can be found here: https://soundcloud.com/hiddenhemingway/pelleas-and-melisande-performed-by-frances-coates-grace.


_Pelleas and Melisande_ performed by Frances Coates Grace



_Margarcon_ performed by Frances Coates Grace (1940)


A 1941 recording of Frances performing A. A. Milne’s “Christopher Robin is Saying His Prayers” can be found here: https://soundcloud.com/hiddenhemingway/christopher-robin-is-saying-his-prayers-performed-by-frances-coates-grace-excerpt.

_Christopher Robin is Saying His Prayers_ performed by Frances Coates Grace (excerpt)

A 1941 recording of Frances performing Eugene Field’s “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” can be found here: Stream "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" performed by Frances Coates Grace by Hidden Hemingway | Listen online for free on SoundCloud.


_Wynken, Blynken, and Nod_ performed by Frances Coates Grace

 

References


[1] “Frances C. Grace, 89; sang opera.” 1988. Chicago Tribune, 7 March 1988, page 21.

[2] Elder, Robert K. 2017. “To Have and Have Not,” Northwestern Magazine (Winter 2017): 38-40. Accessed as “GRACE”, Biography Files, Hinsdale Historical Society Archives.

[3] “Frances C. Grace, 89; sang opera” 1988.

[4] Elder, 2017.

[5] Elder, 2017.

[6] Elder, 2017.

[7] Cited in Elder, 2017.

[8] Cited in Elder, 2017.

[9] Elder, 2017.

[10] Elder, 2017.

[11] Elder, 2017.

[12] “Frances Coates Grace: Soprano and Diseuse Presents in Concert form Pelleas and Melisande by Claude Debussy,” Accessed as #23.01.005, “Grace,” Biography Files, Hinsdale Historical Society Archives.

[13] “Recitalist to Give College Club Program.” 1939. The Gazette (Cedar Rapids Iowa), 26 September 1939, p. 8.

[14] “Frances C. Grace, 89; sang opera,” 1988.

[15] “Frances C. Grace, 89; sang opera,” 1988.

[16] “Frances C. Grace, 89; sang opera,” 1988.

[17] Frances Coates Grace: Soprano and Diseuse Presents in Concert form Pelleas and Melisande by Claude Debussy,” Accessed as #23.01.005, “Grace,” Biography Files, Hinsdale Historical Society Archives.

[18] “Frances C. Grace, 89; sang opera,” 1988.

[19] “Orchestra Committee Tea.” 1941. Chicago Tribune, 10 October 1941, p. 33.

[20] “Tea Given Today by Mrs. Grace.” 1944. Evening Star (Washington, D. C.), 28 March 1944, p. 16.

[21] “Buffet Supper Set by Opera Society as Season Prelude.” 1958. Chicago Tribune, 16 September 1958, p. 27.

[22] “Hinsdale Woman’s Club Has Successful Fashion Show.” 1931. Chicago Tribune, 8 May 1931, p. 25.

[23] “Party Whirl.” 1968. Chicago Tribune, 20 December 1968, sec. 2, p. 15.

[24] “Mrs. Edith B. Grace.” 1961. Chicago Tribune, 11 May 1961, part 5, p. 12.

[25] 1930 United States Federal Census.

[26] 1939 Hinsdale City Directory.

[27] 1950 United States Federal Census.

[28] “Grace.” 1989. Chicago Tribune, 7 July 1989, sec. 2, p. 10.

[29] “Grace.” 1989. Chicago Tribune, 7 July 1989, sec. 2, p. 10.

[30] “Co-Chairmen Appointed for War Bond Box Sale.” 1943. Chicago Tribune, 17 June 1943, p. 23.

[31] “Grace.” 1989. Chicago Tribune, 7 July 1989, sec. 2, p. 10.

[32] “Frances C. Grace, 89; sang opera,” 1988.

[33] “Grace.” 1989. Chicago Tribune, 7 July 1989, sec. 2, p. 10.

[34] “Riggs-Grace.” 1947. Chicago Tribune, 12 July 1947, p. 11.

[35] “Miss Grace Engaged to Richard M. Riggs.” 1947. The Tulsa Tribune, 20 February 1947, p. 12.

[36] “Reverend Katherine Grace Riggs.” 2017. The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 1 October 2017, p. 20.

[37] “Reverend Katherine Grace Riggs.” 2017. The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 1 October 2017, p. 20.

[38] “Grace.” 1989. Chicago Tribune, 7 July 1989, sec. 2, p. 10.

[39] “Reverend Katherine Grace Riggs.” 2017. The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 1 October 2017, p. 20.

[40] “Party Whirl.” 1968. Chicago Tribune, 20 December 1968, sec. 2, p. 15.

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Feb 20

Beautiful

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