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Funeral services for Mrs. Emma Gillett Oglesby, widow of Richard J. Oglesby, former governor of Illinois, and United States senator, were held at 2:30 p. m., Wednesday, November 28th, 1928, at St. John's Memorial chapel at Oglehurst, the historic family estate near Elkhart. Rev. Edward Haughton, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal church of Springfield, officiated. Interment was made in the mausoleum at the
Elkhart cemetery.

Mrs. Oglesby died at 5:20 p. m., Sunday, at the family estate. She had been seriously ill for some months. All her children were at her bedside when death came.

For years Airs. Oglesby was a prominent figure in the life of Illinois and of the nation. Her years as first lady of the state, as a member of the Washington official set, as a social leader and as a member of the board of directors of the World's Columbian exposition, her acquaintance abroad gained through travel, made her a nationally known figure.

Hospitality at Oglehurst is widely known. Many celebrities of the nation and the world have been entertained there. It has been a long established custom to entertain the tenants of the estate each Christmas, at which time Mrs. Oglesby took personal charge of the dinners.
Oglehurst exemplified the broad culture of its owner. Works of art from all parts of the world are contained in it.

Mrs. Oglesby was born Feb. 11., 1845 at Cornland, a daughter of John Dean and Lemira Parke Gillett. She was married to Hiram David Keays of Bloomington in November, 1864, and he died in 1868. She was married to Governor Oglesby in November, 1873, at her father's house in Elkhart, Illinois. Seven children were born to them.

Mrs. Emma Gillett Oglesby had preserved to the last much of the beauty and dignity which gave her the reputation of being the best looking woman that ever occupied the executive mansion at Springfield. Her last days had been spent at Oglehurst, the family estate, with her son, John G. Oglesby, former lieutenant governor.

Her husband was first elected governor of Illinois in 1864. He was chosen again in 1872 but resigned to serve a term as United States senator. He was elected governor for the last time in 1884 and after serving out his term retired from public life. After his death in 1899, Mrs. Oglesby went back to live at Elkhart amid the scenes of her girlhood days.

Mrs. Oglesby was prominent in society during her years as the first lady of the state during her husband's three terms, her life in Washington while Richard J. Oglesby was United States senator from Illinois, and several trips abroad. It was during one of the trips to Italy that she saw her daughter Felicite married to Count Allessandre Cenci Bolognetti.

Of recent years she had outlived most of the friends she knew when she was prominent in Springfield society and had taken recourse to books for companionship. Although the passing of more than eighty years had told on her, she was said to be as witty and mentally active as during her earlier years.
Her father terminated her school days in New Haven, Conn., when she was sixteen years old and placed her under the tutelage of his cousin, a classical scholar who laid out a course of reading for her. Beginning with the Bible it included Shakespeare, Plutarch, Rollin, Gibbon, Robertson, D'Aubigny, Guizot, Motley, Parkman, and Bancroft.

The walls of the library of Oglehurst presented a nearly unbroken array of much worn classics-history, fiction, biography, philosophy, and travel. Situated on the peak of Elkhart hill, the home overlooked the village of Elkhart. Its spacious rooms contained many art objects and curios significant of past associations.

Mrs. Oglesby is survived by four children: Hiram Gillett Keays, Elkhart; Mrs. Felicite Oglesby Cenci Bolognetti, John Gillett Oglesby and Jasper Oglesby at home. Richard James Oglesby, Jr., died in 1913. Decedent also is survived by the following sisters: Miss Nina Gillett, Paris, France; Miss Jessie Dean Gillett, Elkhart; Mrs. Katharine Gillett Hill, Lincoln ; and Mrs. William Barnes, Decatur.


Mrs. Richard J. Oglesby will be laid away in her eternal home this afternoon, with simple ceremonies in the village church near which she was born and about which revolved her life.

She was 28 years of age when she married Richard J. Oglesby in 1873. Even before the war, Richard J. Oglesby had placed his stamp upon the destinies of this state and nation. An early partisan of Lincoln, he had taken part in the organization of the Republican party in Illinois. At the Decatur convention in 1856, he had urged the name of Lincoln as the party's candidate for the presidency. When the war broke he went forward, soon rose to high command and suffered what were regarded as mortal wounds.

Easily he holds the proud position as Illinois' most respected and most popular leader. Lincoln went to the White house and never returned. He had not made the contacts nor established the personal relations among the people of this state that in later years raised "Uncle Dick" to such high place in popular affection.

To this life, Mrs. Oglesby made remarkable contributions. The two, husband and wife, were as unlike as two persons could be, yet they made an admirable success of life. "Uncle Dick" possessed rare qualities. Under any circumstances they would have elevated him to distinction but, in any appraisal of his life, it would be a fatal mistake to omit or to minimize in the slightest degree the constructive influence and power of this wonderful woman in the development of her great husband.

When the story of the Oglesby era shall have been completely assembled and properly adjusted to the events in which it formed a part, Illinois will have one of its most absorbing chapters.

Mrs. Oglesby lived to be 83 years old. From her circle death had taken one by one all her friends and companions save one, Mrs. Caroline Lutz, who is still older in years. Mrs. Lutz's tribute to the memory of her friend of more than half a century appeared in The State Journal Monday morning. And we were reminded of Tom Moore's tragic song, "The Last Rose of Summer," the dramatic figure of the aged person left alone in a world in which once his name was heralded and sung.


The death yesterday at Oglehurst, near Elkhart, Illinois, of Mrs. Emma Gillett Oglesby, aged 83 years, fills the hearts of the people ,f Illinois with sincere sorrow. They realize that because of her advancing age and lingering ill health, death was to be expected, but a deep sorrow comes with the thought that this distinguished former "first lady of the state" has passed.

Of remarkable personality, poise and intellectuality, Mrs. Oglesby represented American gentility and nobility to a superlative degree. Wedded to the late Richard J. Oglesby in 1873, while he was serving his second term as governor and shortly before he proceeded to Washington as United States senator, Mrs. Oglesby has been a conspicuous figure in state and national affairs. Springfield became more distinctively her official home when Senator Oglesby was elected governor for a third term, occupying the mansion in January, 1885.

Because of her distinguished abilities, Mrs. Oglesby shared the great honors bestowed so generously upon her deserving and illustrious husband.

Assuaging the sorrow that floods our hearts today as we think of the passing of these distinguished personages who have added so much to the fame of this state is solace to be found in meditation upon their graciousness, goodness and the service they have rendered for the human family.


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© July 2006 - Transcribed by Kim Torp
Genealogy Trails

Journal of ISHS, vol XXi, Jan. 1929 No. 4