Joseph Kirkland Family Papers

Street Address: 
719 N. Rush St.
Chicago, IL

Kirkland, Joseph, 1830-1894. Papers, 1842-1939.

0.4 linear feet (1 box)

Joseph Kirkland (1830-1894) was a Chicago businessman, lawyer and writer, born in Geneva, New York in 1830 and lived mostly in the East until he entered private business in Illinois in 1856. In 1880, at age fifty, he was admitted to the Illinois bar and practiced law for the next ten years. However, what he really wanted was to become a serious author, which meant his writing career came rather late in life.

Kirkland had been developing his literary talent by experimenting with play-writing and writing book reviews for the Chicago Dial. During the 1870's and 1880's he had poems, articles and stories published in various Chicago newspapers and periodicals, but his literary reputation, albeit a modest one, rests on the publication of the first of his three novels, Zury: The Meanest Man in Spring County (1887). The book, based on his own experiences and his keen ear for Midwestern speech and character, received good reviews and sold well, though the following two novels were not as accomplished. Because of Zury, Kirkland has been credited as a pioneering realist, the first to present a truthful portrayal of Midwestern farm life, and apparently the novel inspired both Stephen Crane and Hamlin Garland.

In 1889 Kirkland was the literary editor of the Chicago Tribune, which two years later printed his series of letters from Nicaragua where he had gone as a special correspondent, and he continued to be published in Century, Scribner's and Atlantic. His last works were local histories, The Story of Chicago (1891) and The Chicago Massacre of 1812 (1893).

Joseph Kirkland married Theodosia B. Wilkinson and they had four children. He died in Chicago of a heart attack in 1894.

Call Number: Midwest MS Kirkland
Finding Aids: Collection level catalog record
Inventory: Online

After the Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed the Kirkland family's first home, they had a new one built at 719 N. Rush St. (161 Rush St. under the address numbering at the time), near where many other of Chicago's wealthy citizens were settling in the wake of the fire. This collection contains a literary sketch of the family's history at this house with notes on the Kirkland's neighbors in the area. Additionally, the collection contains correspondence from Joseph Kirkland to various family and friends describing life in Chicago, among other topics.

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