Women's history, early village history intersect

Hinsdale’s first international celebrity just happened to be a woman.

Loie Fuller, born in 1862 in the midst of a bitterly cold January, did not take long to discover her love of being on stage.

“After Loie was able to walk, her parents took her with them to several presentations of the Chicago Progressive Lyceum, that early movement toward culture which few of the living still can remember,” Hugh Dugan wrote in “Village on the County Line.” “On one of these occasions, when Loie was two and a half, she slipped away from her parents, climbed on the Lyceum platform and recited the prayer (other sources claim it was a nursery rhyme) she had learned to say at home. There was applause, and she returned the salutation.”

By the 1920s, according to Dugan, she was traveling across the country. She made an unsuccessful trip to Germany and then Paris, where she found dancers at the Folies Bergére imitating her Serpentine dance and convinced the manager to hire her to perform it instead. She debuted in 1893 and soon her popularity spread, with children to royalty mesmerized by her dancing. She devised several new dances, the Violet, the Flame, the Butterfly, Fire and the Lily, Dance of the Pearls and more, using colored spotlights to accentuate her movements on stage.

By 1900, she was earning $10,000 a month in a six-month contract, according to “Hinsdale,” written by Timothy Bakken.

“Her performances became constant sell-outs, box seats at one time reportedly going for $5,000, not inconceivable in an age which abounded with idle royalty and untaxed rich,” he wrote.

As her life progressed, performing gave way to educating dancers at the school she opened and assisting in relief work during World War I. She died in 1928. Vanity Fair offered this epitaph in 1934, according to Bakken:

“There are three things without having experienced which the education of no man ... can be said to have been completed. They are: to be kissed by a beautiful woman within fives minutes after the first meeting of her, to lose money on a horse race and to see Loie Fuller dance. And the last is not the least requisite.”

The second day of Women’s History Month and only about a month before the 150th anniversary of the village’s incorporation seems an appropriate time to highlight this product of Hinsdale, perhaps the most famous of all its residents in her day.

Of course Fuller is not the only female associated with Hinsdale to have made history, even if others did so on a much more local scale.

The late Ly Hotchkin was the first female executive director of The Community House. The late Joyce Skoog was the first female village president. Kathleen Gargano is the first woman to serve as village manager.

We will delve more into these women’s lives in a special section to celebrate the village’s sesquicentennial later this year.

But this month seems a fitting time to honor their accomplishments — and those of all the women who have helped to make Hinsdale the wonderful place it is today.