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A Winnetkan Looks Back: An Interview with Katrina Wolcott Kelley

By Sally Schneiders

Katrina Wolcott Kelley is 90 years old, though you would never guess by looking at her. On the day I interviewed her she answered her front door clad in Lycra leggings and a turquoise fleece jacket. As Katrina reminisced about growing up in Winnetka in the 1930s she laughed, made jokes, and entertained me with anecdotes. It was difficult for me to keep pace.

Kelley lived with her family in Hubbard Woods from her birth in 1925 until her marriage in 1947. Mrs. Bruce, the housekeeper, and a succession of “second maids” (at least three of whom were named Ruth), rounded out the household. Katrina married (twice) and raised three children on the North Shore during the 1950s. She currently lives just a few doors down from the Winnetka Historical Society’s Museum at 411 Linden.

Here Katrina gives us a brief view of a Winnetka child’s life c. 1935:

What was your address and why did your parents decide to live in Winnetka?
My address was 932 Euclid Avenue. I think my parents and grandfather thought that Winnetka was a good place to raise children.

What were your parents’ names and did they grow up in Winnetka?
What did they do during the day? My mother’s name was Catharine Craft Wolcott. She grew up in Chicago in Hyde Park. Her mother died when Mother was in boarding school so her father, John Corson Craft, lived with us until he died in 1927 or so. My mother played bridge or she might have attended a meeting of the Northwestern Settlement House, the only “good works” I remember her doing. My father, Ryland Anson Wolcott, was born in Wolcott, Indiana, the town his grandfather founded. Daddy was in the real estate business, maybe the mortgage part because I remember he wouldn’t foreclose on people during the Depression. He died of heart disease when I was twelve.

What style of clothing did you wear?
My clothes came from Marshall Field’s in Evanston. Also my mother bought some of my clothes at a shop in Wilmette called La Jeunesse. I wore what were called “wash” dresses in the summer and wool skirts or jumpers in the winter.

Katrina Wolcott (Kelley) and her beloved housekeeper “Brucie,” c.1928. Courtesy of Katrina Kelley.

Katrina Wolcott (Kelley) and her beloved housekeeper “Brucie,” c.1928. Courtesy of Katrina Kelley.

What chores did you do at home?
I don’t remember any chores although I eventually made my bed after the last of the Ruths left. They served the meals that Mrs. Bruce prepared and they made the beds and dusted.

Did you attend one of the dancing schools like Mrs. Wilson’s?
I went to dancing school taught by Mr. Bernique at the Winnetka Women’s Club. The boys had to wear white gloves. Once my sister Nancy had to pick me up after class, and that night she announced at the dinner table, “Well, none of you will believe this, but Katrina is popular!” Then in middle school it was Miss Pratt’s and in high school I went to Mrs. Wilson’s dancing school. Her kids were at North Shore and it was a way of mixing New Trier and NSCDS kids.

You mentioned writing to movie stars while you were at the summer camp run by the Winnetka Community House. Did they respond?
Yes. The movie stars I wrote to from Camp Douglas Smith did send their pictures. I pinned them up behind the door of our study but Mother made me take them down. I don’t remember Errol Flynn much but was impressed with William Powell and the “Thin Man” movies.

Did your father take the train to and from work?
Did he come home for dinner at a regular time? Yes, my father took the train to work from the Hubbard Woods station and, yes, he came home for dinner every night where we ate dinner as a family. Brucie cooked it; the second maid served it.

Did you attend the Century of Progress fair in 1933 or 34?
Yes, I went to the World’s Fair in the two years it was in Chicago. I didn’t get to see Sally Rand there but did catch her a few years later when my friend Ruthie Gillies’ parents took us to a movie in Chicago that had a “stage show” with Sally.

How did you get to Hubbard Woods School?
I walked from my house to the end of the street where Oakley runs into Gordon Terrace. There is only one column there now but there used to be two. It was by those columns that our collie, Bobby, sat and waited for me to come home from Hubbard Woods school for lunch at 3:00. The first time I was allowed to walk home alone from school I didn’t. I went home with Mary and Nora King on Foxdale. Brucie was so worried she telephoned my father who came home on the train. He was not happy! Everyone was so upset when I didn’t come home from Hubbard Woods School on time because of the Lindeburgh baby’s recent kidnapping.

Are there any other memories that you would like to share?
Behind our house there are now a lot of houses in Forest Glen. When I was a child it was the Dennehey’s woods. The night the Dennehey’s house burned we all went over to watch.

One of the things I forgot to tell you about Brucie is the way she worked on keeping the second maids pure. Some of them would go out dancing with boys at the Aragon or Trianon Ballroom. Sometimes they would pretend to go in the front door instead of around in back so the young men would think they were daughters of the house. Brucie put a stop to this. Our favorite maid, Anna Suter, married well and Brucie would get postcards from her from Florida and other glamorous places. So Brucie’s efforts paid off. ■

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One Response to “A Winnetkan Looks Back: An Interview with Katrina Wolcott Kelley”

  1. January 18, 2017 at 3:42 AM #

    I startedited school at North Shore in 1930. We moved to St Petersburg, Fl in 1931 and back to Winnetka and North Shore in 1933. We lived on Linden Avenue. I don’t remember the number but our neighbors were the Buckinghams.

    In 1935 we moved to Glencoe and I went to school there. I attended New Trier through my junior year. I well remember Katrina as I was a member of Her class. Others I particular lynette remember were Dickinson Golden and Hill Brackett. I dated a few times with a girl we called Jumbo. I had lost a year at New Trier due to infectious Mononucleosis and so when I returned to North Shore I was a year behind my original class. I was drafted while still in school and was on leave on my way to Hollywood and Overseas, CBI. During Graduation, I am pictured with the graduating class as the only one in uniform. My family moved to Fayetteville Arkansas and I got a EE Degree. My brother John also attended and graduated from North Shore with the Class of 1947. I now live at 1003 Burbank CT, Sun City Center, Fl, 33573.. I am on the Alumni List and receive the Acorn and othercommunicationstuff regularly.

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