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Fortune and Faith in Old Chicago

Fortune and Faith in Old Chicago

A Dual Biography of Mayor Augustus Garrett and Seminary Founder Eliza Clark Garrett

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Charles H. Cosgrove


Hardcover (Other formats: E-book)
320 pages, 6 x 9, 32 illustrations


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Table of Contents

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About the Book

This engaging biography of Augustus Garrett and Eliza Clark Garrett tells two equally compelling stories: an ambitious man’s struggle to succeed and the remarkable spiritual journey of a woman attempting to overcome tragedy. By contextualizing the couple’s lives within the rich social, political, business, and religious milieu of Chicago’s early urbanization, author Charles H. Cosgrove fills a gap in the history of the city in the mid-nineteenth century.

The Garretts moved from the Hudson River Valley to a nascent Chicago, where Augustus made his fortune in the land boom as an auctioneer and speculator. A mayor during the city’s formative period, Augustus was at the center of the first mayoral election scandal in Chicago. To save his honor, he resigned dramatically and found vindication in his reelection the following year. His story reveals much about the inner workings of Chicago politics and business in the antebellum era.

The couple had lost three young children to disease, and Eliza arrived in Chicago with deep emotional scars. Her journey exemplifies the struggles of sincere, pious women to come to terms with tragedy in an age when most people attributed unhappy events to divine punishment. Following Augustus’s premature death, Eliza developed plans to devote her estate to founding a women’s college and a school for ministerial training, and in 1853 she endowed a Methodist theological school, the Garrett Biblical Institute (now the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary), thereby becoming the first woman in North America to found an institution of higher learning.

In addition to illuminating our understanding of Chicago from the 1830s to the 1850s, Fortune and Faith in Old Chicago explores American religious history, particularly Presbyterianism and Methodism, and its attention to gender shows how men and women experienced the same era in vastly different ways. The result is a rare, fascinating glimpse into old Chicago through the eyes of two of its important early residents.


Charles H. Cosgrove is a professor of early Christian literature and the director of the PhD program at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, a union of schools descended from the institution founded by Eliza Garrett in 1853 and located on the campus of Northwestern University. He is the author of numerous books and articles in a wide range of fields, including theology, ethics, ancient music, and legal history. A lifelong native of the Chicago area, he is an aficionado of the city’s history and makes the occasional appearance in area music venues as a professional jazz trombonist.


“In telling the story of Augustus and Eliza Garrett, Charles H. Cosgrove has done an excellent job pulling together the slender threads of antebellum Chicago history. More than just a biography of an early mayor and businessman, this history illuminates the importance of evangelical religion in the social and cultural life of early Chicago."—Theodore J. Karamanski, author of Rally 'Round the Flag: Chicago and the Civil War

“Cosgrove focuses on two individuals who shaped and reshaped the diverse worlds of nineteenth-century Chicago political, religious, business, and educational life. Readable, enlightening, engaging, and instructive, the dual biography invites the reader into the fabric and feel of early nineteenth-century urban life. [Many] will appreciate greatly the careful attention to Eliza Garrett’s role in the founding of the institution that bears her name and her struggles with controlling clergy.”—Russell E. Richey, coauthor of The Methodist Experience in America: A Sourcebook

“Grounded in the development of Protestantism in Chicago and especially in the crucial role that Eliza Garrett played in founding Methodist institutions, this thoughtful look at an early Chicago couple who found economic success in the city's rise reminds us of just how many stories of early Chicago are yet to be told."—Ann Durkin Keating, author of The World of Juliette Kinzie: Chicago before the Fire

“Cosgrove captures the personal, economic, and religious struggles of a unique nineteenth-century American couple. Steeped in original research, Cosgrove’s book not only brings the sights and sounds of Old Chicago back to life but also allows us to see how the Garretts formed a unique partnership, leading one to a career in early Chicago politics and the other to become the first woman in the United States to found a theological seminary.”—Christopher H. Evans, author of The Social Gospel in American Religion: A History

“What stands out in this richly textured dual biography of Augustus Garrett, the seventh mayor of Chicago (1843–1844 and 1845–1846) and his determined, albeit emotionally scarred and religiously conflicted wife, Eliza Clark Garrett (founder of the Garrett Biblical Institute for the training of Methodist ministers, now the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary on the Evanston campus of Northwestern University) is the illuminating glimpse into Chicago’s frontier past. The book is spiced with colorful anecdotes and forgotten facts.”—Richard C. Lindberg, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society