Two portraits of Ellen C. Lloyd Jones (left) and Jane Lloyd Jones (right). Property of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Unknown photographer.

More on Frank Lloyd Wright’s aunts

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Or, Jennie and Nell Lloyd Jones for those of us who are Wright-fanboys.

like I’m one to talk. Whatcha been doin’ for the last 30 years, Keiran?

That’s because one of my blog readers

you can subscribe at the bottom of the page

asked if I could talk about what led to the demise of the Hillside Home School.

But before I start:

I wrote last time that the Taliesin tour guides created the story that the aunts vowed never to marry.

I was wrong.


this story originated with Frank Lloyd Wright.

He wrote in 1932 in his autobiography that the Aunts, “made a compact with each other never to marry.”1

Regardless, the Hillside school opened in September 1887. In 1891, their yearly newsletter (“Whisperings of the Hillside Pine”) said,

… a Home Building of thirty-three rooms furnished with all the modern improvements, steam-heating, bathrooms, etc.  There is also a cottage of four rooms, a school building of seven rooms, a laundry with two sleeping rooms, a workshop, a gymnasium, an octagonal barn and the other prerequisites of a well-furnished farm, with its garden, cattle, chickens, etc.   

And in 1896,

The Aunts commissioned Wright for a windmill tower. This is the Romeo & Juliet Windmill, finished at the start of the school year in 1897. Here’s Spring Green’s Weekly Home News on p. 3 in its September 9, 1897 edition:

Mr. and Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright, of Oak Park, Ill., spent several days in the valley the past week visiting their relatives. The object of Mr. Wright’s visit was to complete the arrangements for a tower and observatory which he has designed, to be erected for the new windmill. The well is finally completed. It has a depth of over one hundred and fifty feet, and has over thirty feet of water.

Wisconsin Historical Society has a photo of the windmill:

Sepia photograph by Frank Lloyd Wright of Romeo & Juliet Windmill. Property Wisconsin Historical Society, 25564.

This version of the photo is backwards from what you’ll see at the Historical Society. What you see above is the correct orientation. I can tell the one at the Historical Society is wrong because the door in their photo faces the wrong way in “Juliet” (the octagonal part of the building).

I’m totally amused with the attention Wright gives to this commission in his autobiography.

He spends over 2500 words writing about its design, and the fights his Aunts had with his Uncles about whether or not it would stand. And he ends the story proudly writing that it stands still!

btw: it was reconstructed and dedicated in 1992 so you see the reconstruction today. A link showing the dedication of the reconstructed windmill is here.

Additionally, you can also see me talking about the windmill from Taliesin Preservation, here.

In 1901

The Aunts commissioned Wright again. Once more, here’s the Weekly Home News:

October 17, 1901

Owing to the increased attendance, the principals have decided to build a new school house.  The plans have been drawn and sent from the studio of Frank Ll. Wright, architect, Chicago, and work upon the construction will begin at once.

The building, with the two classrooms on the north side (now the Dana Gallery and Roberts Room), was completed in 1903.2

In 1907

As the school turned 20 years old, the Weekly Home News wrote a piece on it on its front page on June 27. The Home News reported that:

The past year there were sixty home pupils and ninety day pupils, the day pupils all living within a radius of five miles.


See?! Hillside was not ONLY a boarding school!

            Who are you yelling at, Keiran?

one person I used to work with who kept calling it a boarding school and wouldn’t listen to me saying “DAY and boarding….” I’d say he knows who he is, but I’m guessing he never listened to me.

Here’s the Story in the Home News, continued:

The school is on the accredited list for all courses in the University of Wisconsin excepting the ancient classical course, and a diploma therein admits to the Chicago University, Wellesley and other colleges.

And that its students came from:

Canada to Mexico, from New York City to Los Angeles, California.

The Home News reports that,

in addition to the classics, geography, math, science, history, English, French, and German,

the school teaches:


            Manual Training.

            Arts and Crafts.

            Domestic Science.

This included gardens that each of the pupils maintained

            The Farm.

                        under the management of James Lloyd Jones and his son Charles.

And the kids lived in:

Home Building.

The home building contains the parlors, in one of which there is a beautiful carved fireplace which at once attracts the attention of the visitor. It is the work of Mr. Timothy. Over this fireplace is carved in the stone a quotation from the bible in Welsh, “Yr Enid hob wybodaeth, nid yw dda,” (“The soul without knowledge is not good,’ [sic]) which was chosen by Mr. Thomas Lloyd Jones, deceased brother of the principals….

            Boys’ Dormitory.

Which was that building I wrote about in my post, “Another Find at Hillside“.

            West Cottage.

This building stood for a long time. Those who know folks in the Wrightworld: Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer lived there in 1949, his first summer as an apprentice in the Taliesin Fellowship. Then it was torn down.

            The Home Cottage and The Gables.

The Gables…, contains rooms for the helpers and the laundry, which was added to the institution last year. This is equipped with modern appliances for work. An engineer and four women are employed in this department. From 2,500 and 3,000 pieces are laundered each week, and though the capacity is sufficient to take in outside work it has as yet been confined to the school.

           And it has:

The Green House.

            The Stone Building.

            A.K.A.: Wright’s building


            The Thomas Farm.

originally owned by Uncle Thomas Lloyd Jones.

William Michels purchased it after the school closed. His son, William Michels, Jr., sold it to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in the late 1990s.

Remember James

Lloyd Jones—brother to the Aunts—who ran the school’s farm?

James died

in an accident in October 1907.

That revealed problems.

See, James had bought a LOT of land, starting in the 1890s. Which was fine when the economy was ok. Then things went south and James ended up owing more money than he would make off the crops he raised.2


earlier, the Aunts signed a lot of background papers to help him with his debt.

It might have turned out ok if he’d been able to swim his way out of the debt, but there was the accident.

Andrew Porter, the husband of their niece, Jane, took over as business manager for the school in the summer of 1907.

            That’s when he and his wife commissioned Tan-y-Deri

After the accident, Andrew discovered that James owed


            that’s $2,159,068.52 in 2023.

So, two years later, the Aunts declared bankruptcy.

That was in 1909

Uhhh… a little bit happened with their nephew near the end of the year.

Despite the headlines that Wright was making in Illinois in 1909-10, the school was chugging along.

Below is a photo

Looking at the school grounds in 1910:

Campus of the Hillside Home School in Wisconsin in 1910. From collection of Peggy Traverse.

This photo came from Peggy Travers’ collection. Her family had a booklet from 1909-1910 from the school and she let others scan it.

While the School went along, it got worse when everyone found out that Wright was living with Mamah about a mile from Taliesin.  

and what I wrote about here, here, and here.

Here’s an example

of Wright’s effect on the school:

in a letter one parent wrote to Wright in early January 1912:

“I am writing Aunt Nell today that unless you can be persuaded to move from Hillside or vicinity at once that I will have to take my son out of school….

A. Cole, to Frank Lloyd Wright, January 6, 1912. Property: Crank Lloyd Wright Archives. ID: C001A06.

However the school limped along, the fire/murders at Taliesin happened on August 15, 1914.

The school closed

I don’t know how the Aunts kept the Hillside Home School open, but they had the last graduation in 1915. In 1917 Wright assumed the defunct-school’s mortgage for $25,000.3

There is the problem of how well Wright took care of the Aunts in their final years. They moved to California perhaps because they thought they would do better. Although Nell, particularly, wrote her nephew. They missed Hillside horribly. But they weren’t able to go back to Wisconsin in part (or so Wright wrote on letter J002D05) he thought they would be inundated by scandalmongers.

people writing up about his life, at that time with Miriam, of course.

When all’s said and done, though, I’ll leave you with a quote about the Hillside Home School from A Goodly Fellowship, by educator Mary Ellen Chase.5

Chase started her teaching career at Hillside. This is how she ended the “Hillside Home School” book chapter:

We travelled much in realms of gold at Hillside, saw many goodly sights of the earth, entered into many goodly kingdoms of the mind. We were watchers of the skies there. Whatever vision of imagination I have been able to give to my teaching in the years since then, I owe to two women in a Wisconsin valley thirty years ago; and I can only wish in all humility that any words of mine may prolong, if but for a season, their rightful immortality.

Mary Ellen Chase, A Goodly Fellowship (The MacMillan Co., 1939), 121.  


The photo at the top of this post was published in the book, Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1930-32, volume 2. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (1992; Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992).
Published February 22, 2024.


1. Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography (Longmans, Green and Company, London, New York, Toronto, 1932), 130.

2. The Home News said on February 19, 1903 that they were scheduled to finished the Art and Science building in April.

3. Meryle Secrest wrote about this in Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography (Alfred A. Knopf, New York City, 1992), 195-8.

4. That was something I found out with Anne Biebel (of while we wrote the history of the Hillside Home Building.

5. You can find the book in libraries, or for purchase through

Colored postcard of the Home Building, Frank Lloyd Wright's first design.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s aunts

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Jennie and Nell Lloyd Jones that is.

I have to approach them that way—

As the Big Boy’s Aunts

—or I wouldn’t get as much interest on this post.

They were the first of the Lloyd Joneses born in Wisconsin. Their three brothers and three surviving sisters (including Wright’s mother) had been born in Wales, starting in 1830. Aunt Nell was born in 1845, and Aunt Jennie in 1848.

My post today will be about them. That’s because

on March 9, 1887

Aunt Nell wrote to her nephew

            newly arrived in Chicago

about working on a building plan.

That building (in the photo at the top of this post) would be the newest construction on their planned school; as well as the first structure that Wright ever designed.

Hold on a moment.

before I get to Nell’s letter, I want to write more about the Aunts.

They never married and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Normal School in 1870. Here’s a photo from the class of 1870, below.

A photograph in sepia tone of two young women with dark hair.

25 year-old Nell is on the left, and 22-year-old Jennie is on the right.

This is my screengrab of the photograph by John Robertson, at the University of Wisconsin—Platteville. Archives and Area Research Center. Local Identifier: Record #889.

You can see the page with the whole photo of the class here.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has a photo of them at their school after 1887:

Aunt Nell is on the left with the white hair.

Nell’s white hair:

Wright’s sister, Maginel, wrote about this in The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses:

Aunt Nell’s face had been badly scarred by smallpox… and her hair had turned snow white during the illness. Once, years later, she told me about it. At the time she fell ill she had been engaged to a young man with whom she was deeply in love…. then,… she was stricken, and lay for weeks horribly ill…..

            When her fiancé came to see her he was appalled. He stayed for awhile, and… promised to return the next day. He never came back….

            “Oh,” I said to her, “Aunt Nell, how did you bear it? What did you do?”

        She gave me a grim little smile. “I hoed onions, my dear,” she said. “I just hoed onions all summer long.”…

            Maginel Wright Barney, The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses: Reminiscences of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Sister (Unity Chapel Publications, Spring Green, Wisconsin, 1965), 118-120.


Did Nell have onions on her belt because that was the style at the time?


During the American Civil War, people were asked to raise onions which could be sent to the soldiers to protect against scurvy.1

Did Maginel also write about Jennie’s personal life?2

Here’s part of what Maginel wrote:

   Aunt Jennie… was merry and animated…. It was she who told me stories of the family’s beginnings in Wales, and of their venturing to the primeval forests in Wisconsin…. Aunt Jennie had a romantic heart; yet she never married….

“The Valley of the….”, 119-120.

Some of Maginel’s memories are wrong. She wrote that Jenkin was 16 when he joined the Army. Jenk, the last of the Lloyd Jones children born in Wales, was born in 1843. The Civil War started in 1861, when he was 18. So, they must have been raising onions for the troops at that time, too. Maginel wrote that Nell’s hair went white the summer she had recovered from Small pox and had her heart broken.


the photo in 1870 of the graduating class from UW-Platteville shows Nell with jet-black hair.

So, either Nell conflated the story of the heartbreak and hoeing onions, or her niece Maginel did. Or maybe Nell had her heart broken twice.

As for Jennie –

Why didn’t she marry? Jennie told Maginel that she just couldn’t say yes to any of the men who asked her to marry them.

Maybe that contributed to the story Taliesin tour guides had created when I was there: that the two sisters vowed never to marry because one was romantically wounded.

Read my correction on this in the next post, “More on Frank Lloyd Wright’s aunts“.

Well, their decision to devote their lives to education is good for all of us.

Because they created and ran the Hillside Home School for 28 years.

1887 to 1915


I get to why I’m writing today. In early 1887, Jennie and Nell decided to start their school in The Valley.

Nell taught history at the Normal school in River Falls, Wisconsin, and Jennie was then an instructor in a kindergarten teacher training school in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Then Nell wrote to “My Dear Frank“,

Nell wrote “I heard you have been down to Hillside to look the ground over”.

SO, obviously the Aunts had spoken to him before about designing a building.

And while an unknown woman, “Miss Daniels”, had been drawing the beginning of the plan, “Miss D.—” didn’t feel it was finished/good enough.

            Then Nell wrote details about the plan on what they wanted.

The new building

  • Should face east
  • The first floor would have a room of 26 X 28 feet [67.6 square meters] to be used as a parlor or perhaps dining, and have an open staircase
  • One upstairs bathroom
  • Several small rooms – 6?
  • And two larger rooms over the kitchen
    • I’m guessing those rooms were the Aunts’ bedrooms

She wrote a few more things, like that they didn’t need closets. And they hoped to start “in the spring”.

Then Nell finished her letter with,

I hope you are well, happy and satisfying Mr. Silsbee.3

 I write in great haste but with much love

Ellen C. Lloyd Jones to Frank Lloyd Wright, March 9, 1887. Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, FICHEID: J001A03.

Construction on the building didn’t start in the spring, but they finished it in November.

We know that because of the “Home News”

It tells us that the Hillside Home School opened the week of September 22. And, then there’s this in the Weekly Home News from

the week of November 10

Frank Lloyd Wright of J.L. Silsbee architectural firm of Chicago here to finish up details and supervise the clearing and grading of grounds.  “Mr. Wright is an able young artist and if all had a ‘barrel of money’ with which to carry out his attractive mansion and cottage plans they might be happy yet.”

It’s likely this positive description came from The Aunts. Because Wright himself was just 20 years old.

More links:

Georgia Snoke (a member of the Lloyd Jones family, from the Jenkin Line), crafted a nice write-up on the Aunts from (the website kept by the Lloyd Jones family). That page is available at this link:

Georgia provides information on the Aunts’ emotional lives, which may help to illuminate why these two women never married.

The photograph at the top of this post looks up and west at the Home Building that Wright designed for the Hillside Home School in 1887.
It’s available in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, Illustrated by Vintage Post Cards, by Randolph C. Henning, 87.
First published February 7, 2024.


1. “Onions were used to protect against scurvy” is another thing I learned while working at Taliesin.

2. Why do you keep calling her Jennie when The Master called her Jane?

She was known as Jennie all over the place. She was identified as that in the UW-Platteville photo, on photos of her while the Hillside Home School ran, and by Maginel in “Valley of the God-Almighty…”. As I wrote in my first Hillside Home School post, Wright’s sister was named Jane, but known as Jennie. So I think that’s why Wright referred to his aunt as Jane. I’m insistent on this because it seems that she wanted to be known as Jennie.

3. Wright’s first employer, Joseph Lyman Silsbee (1848-1913).

I wrote more about the Aunts and the school in my next post, on February 22, 2024.