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Biography of Queen Avery Coonley, 1874-1958

 

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By Hannah M Kasch, undergraduate, Loyola University Chicago

Mrs. Queen Avery Coonley (neé Ferry) was born to a wealthy Detroit family in 1874. In her 84 years, she acted as a humanitarian, an advocate for progressive education, an executive board member of the National Woman's Party (NWP), a benefactor of the arts, a wife, and a mother. Ferry attended Vassar College, graduating in 1896. Afterwards, she briefly pursued a career in teaching kindergarten. In 1901, she married Avery Coonley, a Christian Scientist and publisher. Together they had one child, a daughter, Elizabeth. The Coonley family moved around during the next decade, first to Chicago and then to Washington, D.C. during World War I.

While in Chicago, Coonley made a profound impact on the world of childhood education by opening several elementary and kindergarten schools. She championed Friedrich Froebel's principles and progress in school structure. She not only purchased grounds for schools and took responsibility for tuition, but initiated an interactive program to teach in a natural and non-rigid environment. While working in education, she commissioned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design both a school building and a new home for her family. Wright described the Coonley house project as "One of those [he'd] always regarded with pleasure." Her family's wealth gave her the opportunity to support many schools, and causes, including her Alma Mater, Vassar College.

Queen Coonley's support for woman suffrage began in 1916 when Alice Paul and Elsie Hill were working in Chicago, at the time of the NWP launch and subsequent campaign in the western states. Coonley supported the NWP financially and also served as the Party's treasurer in the 1920's. Coonley's commitment to the NWP deepened when her family moved to Washington, D.C.

Though devoted to family and the education of future generations, Coonley gave much of her life to other projects and political causes, as well. Among the greatest of Coonley's achievements were contributions in the areas of women's rights and art patronage. In the years that she campaigned for women's right to vote, she also curated fine art presentations. Coonley produced several art shows, many in her native Detroit. Coonley contributed to numerous philanthropic endeavors over her lifetime as well.

Queen Coonley continued her work as art patron and education executive until her death at the age of 84 on July 9, 1958 in Washington, D.C.

Sources:

"Mrs. Avery Coonley, Suffragist, was 84," New York Times, July 11, 1958.

"Queen Ferry Coonley collection, 1906-1982," Texas Archival Resources Online. Accessed September 15, 2015. http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utaaa/00102/aaa-00102.html.

"The Avery Coonley School." Accessed September 15, 2015, at http://www.averycoonley.org/?page=acshistory.

The Washington Herald. 23 Oct. 1921.

Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts of the City of Detroit, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Jan. 1921).

Alice Paul Oral History, pp. 162-63. Interview transcription accessible online at http://content.cdlib.org/view?query=coonley&docId=kt6f59n89c&chunk.id=0&toc.depth=1&toc.id=0&brand=calisphere&x=21&y=11

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