One of the unexpected discoveries made in my visit to Osceola is how vividly Alice Barr Johnson is remembered by the family and community, and how strongly her presence is felt in the Johnson Library and Museum and the St. Clair County Historical Society Museum. She lived in the 1900 house that is now home to the library/museum for 48 years whereas Thomas Moore Johnson lived there for only 18. Larry Lewis’s history of Osceola reveals how she is remembered by members of the community in general, while the Journal of the Johnson Library and Museum attests to how she is remembered by her descendants.
The second annual volume of the Journal of the Johnson Library and Museum appeared in 2008. It contains a wealth of fascinating writings by and about Alice Barr Johnson, who was born on a St. Clair County farm on September 22, 1861, just as Osceola was in flames a few miles to the east. With the equivalent of one year of college, she taught school in Henry and St. Clair Counties before marrying TMJ at nineteen on May 8, 1881. This volume includes a page long summary of her life, which is highly informative about the thirty years of her widowhood. While TMJ had been reclusive and averse to travel further than St. Louis, Alice shared neither of these traits. About her later life, the biography reports:
She spent the winter of 1919-20 in Washington, D.C. with Mr. and Mrs. Hutten (they were from Osceola.) This was repeated during the winter of 1920-21. In the winter of 1922-23 she was again in Washington, then to Europe again in April. On one European trip she flew as a passenger across the English Channel. In the summer of 1928 she was in Durham, N.C. where she stayed with her son Franklin P. Johnson and his wife Martha. A grandchild (Robert Franklin Johnson) was born March 29, 1928. She was in Washington again for the winter of 1932-33. She also spent 3 winters with Waldo P. Johnson (her son) and his wife Katherine (not known when or where.) She was in El Dorado Springs, Missouri for the winters of 1942-43, 1943-44 and 1944-45. She was in Chicago with Franklin P. Johnson for the winter of 1947-48. She died in Osceola on July 2, 1948.
The volume also includes a typewritten memoir dated 12/4/1944, written at El Dorado Springs, Missouri where she was staying with her son and his wife. This is extremely informative about the Barr family but has little about the Johnsons. However, a handwritten memoir about a train journey to Chicago is dated 1947 and includes references about her children and grandchildren that bring the reader up to date to the mid-twentieth century. The 2008 edition of the Journal also reproduced two programs for a long-lived literary club that was active for decades in Osceola and of which Mrs. T.M. Johnson was a major participant. The Twentieth Century Club’s 1898-1899 program included presentations from her on The Drama During the Period of Louis XIV and Francois Guizot. The 1940-41 schedule finds her as president of the organization. In addition to several presentations on The Iliad and The Tempest, she is hostess for several “Critic Report” meetings.
Alice Johnson never followed her husband into the Theosophical Society or the HBofL, and was a mainstay of the Osceola Presbyterian Church for decades. But she evidently shared his intellectual curiosity, having authored a study of the Croatian medieval philosopher Patricius for The Platonist. She lived to see two of her children achieve professional academic distinction and success that had eluded her husband. (The new history of Osceola reports that friends of TMJ made inquiries on his behalf about an academic position, but he was considered an unqualified amateur.) Franklin’s Classical Studies and Helen’s Indian Religious Studies careers are both documented at the JLM along with their father’s non-academic career as a scholar. Future blog entries will explore their careers in light of the influence of both parents.