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Kenneth (1912-2003) and Catherine (1915-2009) Stilwell Papers

Identifier: 31/6/99

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The Kenneth and Catherine Stilwell papers include material dating from the period 1935-1950. Found within the collection is: correspondence in the form of postcards from Northwestern University and from Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom, as well as letters regarding Northwestern registration, degree requirements, and Catherine’s position as a dormitory counselor. Personal items include wedding day plans, academic reports and course information, and receipts for class materials and living expenses. Newspapers and newspaper clippings from The Daily Northwestern (1941-1944) reflect, among other things, the roles of women on campus while their husbands served in the military. Also found withing the collection are programs, mainly from musical concerts and operas spanning the years 1935 to 1950. Venues or programs documented by these items include: New York’s Radio City Music Hall; Frank Simon and His Famous Armco Band; the Chicago City Opera Company; the Municipal Opera of St. Louis; Grant Park (Chicago) Concerts; Northwestern University’s Summer Session Chorus and Orchestra; the Cincinnati Summer Opera; Chicago’s Selwyn, Harris, and Erlanger Theatres; Northwestern University Theatre; Northwestern University School of Music; the First Methodist Church of Evanston; the Northwestern University Sophomore Council’s “Lady You’re Gone” (book by Sondra Gair and featuring Jean Verhagen [later Jean Hagen] as Lily); and the Shubert organization’s “The Student Prince in Heidelberg.” Finally, included in this collection are photographic negatives depicting Chicago and Northwestern from the period 1941-1944.


  • 1935 - 1950


Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on use of the materials in the department for research; all patrons must comply with federal copyright regulations.

Biographical / Historical

Kenneth R. Stilwell, a native of Carmi, Illinois, was born in 1912. After earning a bachelor's degree from Evansville College in 1934, he returned to Carmi to teach music and math at the local high school. During the summers he pursued a master's degree in music at Northwestern University, graduating in 1941. Years later he told people of his clarinet teacher's claim that Benny Goodman's tone was "a little thin," an observation that did not at all diminish Stilwell's admiration for Mr. Goodman. Whenever he was not studying, practicing, or performing music himself during the summers, he attended concerts and plays.

Catherine Williams, born in 1915, was a native of Grayville, Illinois. She first studied music at William Woods College for two years and then piano in Paris for one year. Later, as a music teacher in Grayville, Illinois, 15 miles from Stilwell’s hometown, Catherine agreed to accompany Kenneth's students on the piano for regional music contests. The two began dating and Catherine also enrolled in summer classes at Northwestern to continue her formal education. The couple were married at Howes Memorial Chapel of Evanston’s Garrett Theological Seminary on June 23, 1941, and returned to their coursework the following day.

During World War II, Kenneth served as a musician in the Seabees, the Construction Battalions of the United States Navy. He directed a military band on Guam and played saxophone in a swing band led by George Liberace. While Ken was in the Navy, Catherine worked as a civilian for the Navy, and served as a counselor at Interlochen Music Camp in Michigan in 1943. She also became a resident advisor in one of the women's dormitories on the Northwestern University campus and earned her B.A. degree in music in 1944. Catherine said years later that she had tried to practice piano four hours each day while she was in college.

Reunited in 1945, the couple settled in Decatur, Illinois, where Ken taught band and orchestra in the public schools until retirement in 1972. Throughout his career he also performed on saxophone, clarinet, and trumpet in local dance bands and gave private music lessons. For 40 years Ken played clarinet in the municipal band. Catherine taught piano in the preparatory music department of Millikin University in Decatur. She also sang before school groups of nearby Mt. Zion. Both sang in their church choir for 50 years and supported arts education in their community throughout their lives.

The couple had two children. Ken died in 2003, Catherine in 2009.


1 box

Language of Materials



The Kenneth and Catherine Stilwell Papers include material dating from the period 1935-1950, reflecting their time as students at Northwestern.


Collection is arranged alphabetically by folder title.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Kenneth and Catherine Stilwell Papers were donated to the University Archives by Carolyn Stilwell on September 16, 2009 (Accession Number 09-210).

Separated Materials

Six photographic negatives were placed with the nitrate negative collection of Northwestern University Archives.

Processing Information

Jessica Gottesman; February 11, 2010. Added to ArchivesSpace by Jill Waycie, January 27, 2021.

Guide to the Kenneth (1912-2003) and Catherine (1915-2009) Stilwell Papers
Jessica Gottesman
February 11, 2010
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Library Details

Part of the Northwestern University Archives Repository

Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US