Leona Leoti Thorne was born in February 1859 in either Ohio or in Bourbon, Marshall County, IN, the daughter of Jacob and Amy (Minerd) Thorne. She never married, but devoted her life to her profession of public education for more than half a century, inspiring a sense of wonder in the minds of thousands of Chicago schoolchildren.
As a young girl, Leona migrated with her parents and siblings to Chicago. She was educated at the Chicago Normal School, graduating in 1877.
She was listed as a public school teacher in the federal censuses of 1900 and 1910, and as a public school principal in the census of 1920.
In 1880-1892, Leona lived at 4100 Ellis Avenue. Circa 1900 and 1910, she made her home with her mother on Vincennes Avenue in Chicago. She enjoyed writing letters to her half brother Corwin Tilbury in Pittsburgh and to her cousin Goldie Minerd in Indiana. Circa October 1931, when Goldie Minerd was living and working in Chicago, and wanting to visit the Thornes, Leona wrote: "It is not safe for you to come alone on the street cars after dark. You would have to change cars and that you cannot do with safety until you are better acquainted with the city and with the street car systems. It is so easy to take the wrong car and then all sorts of things can happen to a young girl in a large city..."
Leona's work as an educator for the Chicago Board of Education spanned more than half of a century. Circa 1880, she taught at Cottage Grove School and in 1892-1894 at the J.R. Doolittle, Jr. School and in 1911 at the Ryder School. By 1915-1922, she had become principal of the Moseley School, located at 2348 Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
In a letter penned in July 1930, her half-brother Corwin Tilbury wrote: "Leona you know is not in school anymore. She was retired on age under the law in Illinois. After teaching 52 years, being forced to quit went mighty hard but I guess she is getting more used to the change now."
The Great Depression must have taken its toll on Leona, but it is not known to what extent. She wrote to cousin Goldie Minerd in February 1932 that "Chicago is still bankrupt - with a good share of the people out of work. And when they do work the pay is so small it can't be seen by the naked eye... There is a general movement here to delay the foreclosing of mortgages. If people can keep up the interest, the principal is allowed to run. That is a great help... If Roosevelt doesn't help things, I think we shall have to find a Mussolini somewhere."
In a letter written in 1935, about a cousin's wedding, Leona said: "The observations of an 'old maid' - the disposition is about the most important item in a happy marriage."
Circa 1935, Leona resided at 4531 Woodlawn Avenue in Chicago. Her brother Willis E. Thorne and sister Annette "Nettie" Blood are thought to have lived at the same address at that time. In the heart of the Great Depression, she drew her income from the rental properties she owned. A letter of hers' of that era stated:
We are all praying for better times but where they are coming from nobody seems to know. Our apartments are all rented, but the rents are too low - to satisfy us. The renters probably think it's all right. You see it makes a difference "whose ox" is being gored.
In 1948, after the death of her half-brother Corwin, Leona learned that she was named in the will. Corwin's bequest was for her to receive 40 percent of the assets in his estate, which resulted in a payment to her of close to $3,000. At the time, she was still living at the Woodlawn Avenue address with her sister Nettie.
Leona passed away at the age of 89 on Dec. 6, 1948, in Chicago. A short death notice was printed in the Chicago Tribune, stating that she had died "suddenly" and naming her sister "Annette T. Blood" and brother "Willis E. Thorne." The notice said her remains were resting in the chapel at 4327 Cottage Grove and that the funeral service would be private, instructing mourners to "Please omit flowers."
Her sister Nettie wrote a note to cousin Goldie Minerd the following month, saying: "Leona was not any sicker than she had been for some time but a slight stroke took her in a few days. Will has been so bad we have not dared tell him and the doctors say we must not... I don't see how I am going to live without her - we have never been separated - but I must, I presume."
Copyright © 2002-2003, 2008, 2010, 2019 Mark A. Miner