May 23, 2010
What Happened to Irene Pease Mantonya?
My good friend, architect, author, photographer and all around fantastic guy, Gregory H. Jenkins AIA, has presented me with a bit of puzzle. Yesterday he published a photograph on his website, "Chicago Sculpture in the Loop,"of a plaque on the Michigan Avenue Bridge. It isn't all that interesting at first glance, but a name on the plaque caught Gregory's eye and he contacted me for any additional information I might have. "Uh, sorry to disappoint, but I have no idea!" Googling commenced.
The first item I found was the above photo from the Chicago Daily News archives. The caption reads, "Informal portrait of Mrs. Irene Pease Mantonya sitting at a desk and writing with her head turned to look toward the camera in a room in Chicago, Illinois." I soon discovered that she was a Republican and the first woman appointed to Board of Local Improvements (thus her name on the plaque). You can see a picture of the opening of the Michigan Avenue Bridge here.) She was also a "designated alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention from Illinois, 1920." This last bit of information was listed under "Irene Pease Montana."
Encouraged, I pulled my copy of Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990 from the shelf. Nothing. And, yes I checked alternate spellings of her name. Odd because the woman had obviously achieved a milestone in Chicago politics at the time.
The archives of the Chicago Tribune was a bit more helpful. A July 16, 1919 article titled, "Presenting Lady Member, Board of Improvement" states she was married to Paul S. Mantonya, lived at 3163 Pine Grove Avenue and had a 21 year-old son at the time. You can read the entire article at the right. According to article, she had a long day and took quite some time to get used to her desk.
Other Tribune articles reveal that she accompanied Michael J. Faherty, President of the Board of Improvements and good friend of Mayor , on a European fact-finding tour of European subway systems. An article dated October 13, 1927 ("BERLIN STOPS ITS SUBWAY TO GIVE CHICAGO A TIP") is particularly interesting because it seems Irene's husband, Paul, was also on the trip.
The next time Irene pops up in the paper is in a piece headed, "30 CIVIL SERVICE EMPLOYES FIRED FROM CITY HALL." (June 1, 1928) It seems there were some secret political payrolls found and guess who was on one of the lists. Yep, Irene Pease Mantonya. She was listed as a "private contract supervisor" and was receiving $300 per month.
Politics was in the blood of the Pease family. Irene's father, James Pease, referred to as a Republican chief of the old regime" in his April 12, 1917 obituary, had gained his greatest power and wealth under Mayor Fred A. Busse. He had gone from being a paperhanger to a leader in the 25th Ward. After he quite the political game, he became a millionaire (Carterville Coal Company). It also states that Irene had two sisters.
But, that's all I've got. So, I'm turning to you, my readers. What happened to Irene? Did she leave public service? Chicago? Any remaining Pease family members around? Gregory and I would really like to know.
Photo credit: DN-0071158, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum.