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HEUSTIS, Bertha Lincoln

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1030 Grove Terrace. Photo courtesy: Old House Enthusiasts' Club House Tour, 2007

HEUSTIS, Bertha Lincoln. (Coldwater, MI, Mar. 5, 1870--Dubuque, IA, Jan. 21, 1944). Bertha Lincoln was the daughter of Charles Perez Lincoln, the fourth cousin of President Abraham Lincoln, and the the United States consul to China for twelve years appointed at the end of the Grant administration and continued under President Hayes. (1) After five years in China, the consul and his family returned to Washington, D. C. where Bertha began singing lessons. In competition with one hundred of the finest amateur soloists, she won the position of soprano soloist for the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, D. C. She held the position for several years while continuing her studies and performing in light operas.

In June, 1893 she had her formal debut as a public singer in Milwaukee. It was after this performance that she met and later married Dr. James Walter Heustis of Dubuque. They lived in a large brick house at 977 Locust. The November 1903 issue of the Atlantic Monthly Magazine reported that she "touched the hearts of all present" with her singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" on October 8, 1903 at the Iowa DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION Convention in Davenport, Iowa. (2)

It was not the first time she had performed in public. In 1902 she had sung the song "Iowa" at the dedication of the National Cemetery in Vicksburg, Mississippi and at the opening of the Omaha Exposition. She had also sung it at the 1903 World's Fair in St. Louis. In February, 1903 she was asked personally by President Theodore Roosevelt during his visit to Dubuque. In 1906 Mrs. Bertha Lincoln HEUSTIS was chosen to sing the "Star Spangled Banner" to the one thousand delegates attending the D.A.R. National Convention in Washington, D.C. in 1906. (3)

She opened a vocal studio above HARGER AND BLISH around 1907. (4) She was also a popular accompanist of other musicians. (5)

In 1910 she was one of two Dubuque women in attendance at the national meeting of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) held in Washington, D.C. While there she also presented a petition to Congress on behalf of the Women of the Civil War for a national charter of the organization. (6)

Heustis performed on a several months long singing tour of the south through Texas and Mexico in 1911. She was the guest of honor at several large social functions and performed at the opening of a large club house in Beaumont, Texas. She returned to Dubuque by way of California where several other singing engagements were planned. (7) She directed the choir at ST. JOHN'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH, began writing for newspapers and magazines, joined ten or more patriotic societies including the very selective Society of the Mayflower Descendants, and held state offices in many of these organizations, (8)

An accredited correspondent at the White House during the administration of Woodrow Wilson, Heustis was a regular correspondent for the TELEGRAPH HERALD and Dubuque Enterprise. She often spoke of being entertained at the White House by every president through Franklin D. Roosevelt. (9)

While serving as its national president in 1915, Heustis took an active role in founding branch chapters of the National Society of American Pen Women. An accomplished author, Heustis published three volumes of poems and short stories, wrote book reviews for many publications, and produced and directed twelve motion picture shorts. She wrote the script for the only silent movie to have as its cast all hearing-impaired actors. Produced by James Spearing, His Busy Hours (1926) was only shown at the Lexington School for the Deaf in New York City. (10)

From 1901 to 1911 Heustis served as chairperson of the Dubuque Borough No.1 of the Iowa Society of Colonial Dames of America. In 1922 Who's Who Among The Women of California honored Heustis although she and her husband lived there only a short time. (11)

After the death of her husband in 1932, her income declined and she moved back to Dubuque to live with the little girl she and her husband had adopted years earlier. The little girl became her mother's nurse and source of financial support. After the death of her mother and her burial next to her husband in Arlington National Cemetery, Dorothy returned to Dubuque and sold the house and furnishings to pay final expenses. She then started out on her own, married and became Mrs. Alfred Gilkes who lived at 2282 Harold. (12)



1. Williams, Vera, "She Was the President's 'Mrs. Iowa,'" Telegraph-Herald, February 22, 1959, p. 6

2. Hellert, Susan Miller. Hidden History of Dubuque. Charleston, South Carolina: History Press, 2016, p. 75

3. Williams

4. "Vocal Studio," (advertisement) Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, January 23, 1907, p. 9

5. Miss Agatha Scott in Recital," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, February 25, 1909, p. 3

6. "Delegates Go East," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, April 15 1910, p. 9

7. "The Whirl of Society," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, February 12, 1911, p. 3

8. Williams

9. Ibid.

10. Hellert, p. 76

11. Who's Who Among The Women of California Online: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~npmelton/women/whotxt/136-159.htm

12. Wlliams