1930, Chicago, IL. The Rosenwald Building opened; it was designed as affordable housing for middle class Black families it was THE place to stay. The official name for the building was Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments.
In 1937 Mrs. Pearl Pachaco Williams, Recreation Director for the building was designing a program for the residents of the building. Of the activities she had planned one was ballet classes for the girls, Mrs. Mildred B. Haessler heard of these plans and offered to teach the classes.
Mrs. Haessler was a resident of Ravinia, Illinois who graduated from Vassar College and received an A.M. from the University of Illinois. She had begun her dance training at the age of 11 and loved it enough that she wanted to share that joy!
These ballet classes at the time were restricted to residents of the Rosenwald Building, there were two classes one for 7-10 year old girls and the other for those over 10. By 1957 there were eight classes with ages ranging from 5-22 and students were coming from all over Chicago and the near suburbs!
Mildred and Pearl went on to staging shows at the Eight Street Theatre, which was located behind the Stevens Hotel, now the Hilton on Wabash and 8th Street.
What I find fascinating is that in 1937 young Black girls and young Black women were eager to learn ballet! Not only did they learn but they performed The Toy Shop and Swan Lake at the Civic Opera House 16 June 1957! This was an Anniversary, a 20 year anniversary!
Some of you readers may be aware that I have been sharing pictures of African-American people that have been left, abandoned, in abandoned buildings throughout the Englewood community on Chicago’s Southside.
I share these pictures in the hopes that some family member might recognize them.
In my collection are four program books from The Mildred B. Haessler Ballet Group’s performances, for 1954, 1957, 1958 and 1959. These books contain beautiful black and white pictures of the African-American dancers who were the students and performers. How I wish these pictures were in color!
There were two articles in one of the programs; one dated 10 June 1957 from The Chicago American Newspaper and the other dated 13 June 1957 from the Chicago Daily Tribune. Older Chicagoans will recognize the name of the reporter for The Chicago American, Wesley South.
I was unable to unearth much information on the ballet group itself but I did locate an old EBay auction for a hardcover book, “Handwritten Chicago Ballet Journal Haessler School of Dance Taylor Stubbs 1947-1949”, the auction ended 16 June 2013 and it sold for $360.00! These programs may not be of any monetary value but the history in these pages is invaluable.
Below you will find copies of the newspaper articles as well as a select group of pictures form the 20th Anniversary program. In time I hope to scan and share each page of each book.
To view the pictures just click on them and they open, use your “back” button to return to see another picture.
I hope you enjoy this little bit of perhaps, unknown history!
8 thoughts on “African- Americans, Mildred B. Haessler, Pearl Pachaco Williams and Ballet on Chicago’s Southside”
What an awesome, warm post!! Thank you for sharing Mildred and Pearl’s story! Just a small snippet in time, but a great value of honor, commitment, and perseverance!!
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Thank you Dante! I hope you are doing well!
Thanks for the story! Pearl is a cousin of mine!
Hi Carol! A cousin?! How wonderful! It was such a pleasure to learn about Peal and her wonderful accomplishment! Please keep in touch I’d love to know more about her!
As a direct result of being a long term student of Mrs. Haessler, I became a Dance Education major in college, and went on to open my first dance school in Chicago, IL. Her strict teaching and stress on technique, her love of the classics, and her love for every student she ever had was so genuine. I loved her so very, very much. A couple other facts about her school are: we practiced to a live pianist every Saturday; our music for every show was a live, full orchestra; and every four years our show was at the Civic Opera House; she created a sorority for her students and invited us to her home when it was not the popular thing to do. Mrs. Haessler was a ‘class act.’
Thank you so much for responding and sharing your history with Mrs Haessler! What a wonderful thing to have opened you own school, kudos to you!!
Learning about the legacy she left was eye opening for me!
Hi! This is wonderful stuff. I’m a professor working on an article re: black dance in Chicago. Do you have an email we could communicate re: some of the fantastic items you’ve scanned above? (I’m trying to read part of The Chicago American article re: S. Side ballet group and am missing lines! It’s so good, need to know what they say!) Warm wishes – Lauren Erin Brown
How wonderful that you found my little blog post!
I would love to share what I have with you, I can be reached directly at email@example.com
I look forward to hearing from you!