Cecilia Blair was born in Forreston, Illinois on October 26, 1860 to
Silas Jackson Blair and his wife
Charlotte (Richardson) Blair. She never knew her father as he was killed
on the battlefield when she was
just a toddler. Her widowed mother married Andrew Robertson a few years later, but Harriet
maintained close ties with her Blair relations. She made frequent trips to Forreston to visit
family and would travel
great distances to attend a wedding or other special Blair family function.
She corresponded with many Blair relatives throughout her life and had a keen
interest in the genealogy of the Blair family.
Harriet moved with her family from Forreston, Illinois to Iowa in 1873. They first lived in Alden, Iowa and then moved to
Iowa Falls. The family was living in Iowa Falls when Harriet left home to pursue her education. In
1878 she spent a year at a finishing school in Danville, New York and returned the
following year to take up her studies at the Thayer Seminary, "Chicago Female
College" in Morgan Park, Illinois where she studied languages, voice
and piano. She later transferred to the Chicago Musical College and graduated from that institution in 1883
receiving the first gold medal of merit in piano from Dr. Ziegfeldt, president
of the institution at the
time. A classmate, Claire Osborne Reed, later started the Columbia School of
Music. After graduation, Harriet took a position teaching in
Le Mars, Iowa. Le Mars was a wild place at the time and probably not
well-suited to the sensibilities of a cultured young lady like Harriet so her tenure there
was short-lived. Harriet was brought up in a time of strict Victorian attitudes and she
adhered to them rigidly. Later in life she gently admonished her granddaughter for being
seen in public when noticeably with child.
Early in 1884, Harriet returned to school in Chicago and remained
there until the death of her step-father
then she came home to Iowa Falls and taught music there
for a short time.
Over the next few years, Harriet continued to study her music
and teach in the Chicago area. She was on the faculty at Lake Forest College, Ferry Hall
and Rice Institute as well as performing concerts on her own. In 1893, she accepted the
position of head of the voice department at the University of Nebraska School of Music,
and directed the Glee Club and a mixed chorus of 200 voices as well as teaching piano.
Here she met her future husband, Dr.
Henry Baldwin Ward, who was the head of the Zoology department and the dean of the
Medical School at the University of Nebraska.
Harriet and Henry were married at her mothers home in
Chicago, Illinois on September 11, 1894. The Rev. Dr. Frank Gunsaulus of the Plymouth
Church in Chicago performed the ceremony. Their first daughter, Cecilia Blair Ward, was
born in Lincoln, Nebraska on November 1, 1895. Cecilia was joined a couple of years later
by a sister, Charlotte Baldwin Ward, born March 1, 1898. In 1909, Henry took a position at
the University of Illinois and the family moved to Urbana, Illinois.
Harriet remained a very active person throughout her life. She
worked for the Daremus Scudder Mission in Chicago as well the Presbyterian churches
in Chicago, Lincoln, Nebraska and Champaign, Illinois. She was a member of the D.A.R. in
which she held various offices and in 1944 was made an honorary vice regent. Harriet was
also active in many local clubs, most of which dealt with music and literature. She
was a founding or charter member in several of these groups, including the University of
Illinois Womens Club.
Harriet had a long, successful and fulfilling life. She
passed away on August 26, 1954, just short of her 94th birthday. She is buried
next to her husband in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana, Illinois.