Eleanor Ellis Perkins, who spent almost all of her life in Evanston, contributed much to her community throughout her life. “Miss Ellie,” as she was affectionately known, was born in 1893 to Dwight Perkins, an architect and creator of the Cook County Forest Preserve system, and Lucy Fitch Perkins, author, artist, and illustrator. An author, book reviewer, conservationist, lecturer, and one of the founding members of the League of Women Voters of Evanston, Perkins greatly influenced Evanston in many ways.
As the daughter of noted children’s book author and illustrator Lucy Fitch Perkins, Eleanor was exposed to writing and creativity from an early age. After attending Evanston Academy and then Northwestern University, she studied drama at Radcliffe College. There, she wrote and produced for the well-known English 47 Workshop. In 1920, Eleanor and Dora Dupont Williams, another Evanstonian, attended the Women’s Suffrage Association convention, which celebrated the victory of women’s suffrage. Here, the League of Women Voters was formed. Williams and Eleanor returned to Evanston and established the League’s local branch in 1922. For most of the rest of her life, Ellie was active in the League and in politics in general. In 1944, Eleanor was the campaign manager for Emily Taft Douglas, and when Douglas became the first female Democrat elected to Congress from Illinois, Perkins was one of her aides. Eleanor both collaborated with her mother and used her mother as inspiration for her own works. In 1919, Eleanor and Lucy collaborated on a book of children’s poetry called News from Notown, with Ellie writing the poems and Lucy illustrating. Eleanor produced many plays that were dramatizations of her mother’s books for the Goodman Theater, the Chicago Art Institute, and Northwestern University. In 1956, Ellie wrote a biography about her mother entitled Eve Among Puritans, for which she received much praise. Perkins was well known for her book reviews and lectures. She began writing reviews for the Daily News-Index beginning in 1941. By 1951 she was writing in the New York Times, yet she admitted that “writing has always been more or less a sideline. Talking is really my line” (Sun Times, 6/26/1966). For over 30 years she was a professional lecturer, catering to thousands of groups. She would speak about current events, books, and recent trips around the world she went on. Ellie helped form the Evanston Center, was a member of the Evanston Garden Club and Evanston Art Commission, and in 1950 received an alumni merit award from Northwestern. Particularly in her later years, Eleanor was interested in conservation. She was very troubled when she saw that parts of the Cook County Forest Preserve, which her father had once helped the create, were being used as dumping grounds, and spoke and wrote much about the necessity of saving the environment. After decades of service to her communities in many ways, from writing to politics to conservation, Eleanor died in 1969 when visiting her friend in Austin, Texas.