Annie and Charles: The Sergels of Chicago

AnnieAnnie Myers Sergel’s spirit of harmony and cooperation garnered her respect and sincere affection within the Illinois Woman’s Press Association. On many occasions, Annie, along with her husband Charles, delighted in hosting soirees and dinner parties for IWPA events in their Chicago home. Such was the reputation of the Sergel’s as entertainers that invitations to these gatherings were eagerly sought.

Born in 1857, Annie was one of six children William and Mary (Wetherill) Myers raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She became a writer and magazine editor early in her career and together with her husband, Charles H. Sergel, of Muscatine, Iowa, whom she married on March 3, 1886; the couple were book publishers having developed the Dramatic Publishing Company as well as Charles H. Sergel & Company in Chicago. In addition to publishing, Charles was an editor with an interest in drama having authored several plays.

Charles published Home Dressmaking, a complete guide to Household Sewing written by Annie in 1892. The book featured more than one hundred illustrated engravings. In her preface, Annie spoke from her heart. “As a young woman who wished to be as well dressed as my limited means allowed, I had to work out for myself the principles of planning, cutting and making my own gowns. Again, as a writer for newspapers and magazines I had to study to formulate into words the knowledge I had gained by practical work. Many and many were the times I wished for some book to help in both my hand work and my writing. There was none in the market. To offer other women the help I vainly craved I present this book to the public.”

Annie is considered a founding member of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association. IWPA archives show she joined early in 1886 soon after the organization was finalized and served in various board and committee positions throughout the early 1900s. During this period, IWPA had extended membership to admit playwrights for the stage and screen. The Association’s committees reflected the issues of the period and were formed to advise members on their work. Annie served as chairwoman of the Publishers Committee from 1898-1899 aiding authors in the review and publication of their manuscripts; she was Association treasurer in 1905 and president in 1927. Besides her responsibilities to the Association, Annie was a member of many women’s clubs of the era and volunteered as a committee member of the Chicago Daily News Fresh Air Fund in 1915. She organized and was active in the Anti-Smoke League in Chicago.

IWPA’s February 1905 edition of The Stylus newsletter reported to membership, “ ’Mrs. Sergel resignation was regretfully accepted as association treasurer because she was about to set sail with Charles ‘for a five months’ tour of Europe and the East;’ Passport applications for the couple listed the trip ‘for pleasure and education’ throughout Italy, France, Algeria, Tunisia and Great Britain.’ ”

Charles and Annie often travelled by train on the 20th Century Limited from Chicago’s LaSalle Street Station to the Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Once there, the couple’s passport applications show they set sail from New York logging five voyages aboard steamers to various ports in Europe between 1905 and 1913. They journeyed to Cuba, Jamaica, the Panama Canal, and Central and South America in 1917, cruised to Alaska and Canada in 1919, toured Algeria, Italy and France in 1921, explored Italy and Egypt in 1922 and completed a round-the-world cruise in 1925.

AMSergel portraitIn addition to being the proprietor of his own publishing firm, Charles also served as the president of the Press Club of Chicago (1910-1911), and was a member of the Chicago Yacht Club and the Illinois Athletic Club. In 1915, he ran on the Republican ticket and was elected City Treasurer of Chicago during the first term of Mayor William Hale Thompson. Charles was a delegate to the Republican National Convention from Illinois (1916); elected trustee of the Cook County Sanitary District for which he had also been elected President and was a member of the Illinois Republican State Central Committee (1919). He was a member of the Illinois Society of the Sons of the American Revolution having been the great-third grandson of General James Reed, appointed brigadier-general by the Continental Congress on the recommendation of General George Washington in 1776.

At the time of his unexpected death in 1926, Charles had been in the Chicago publishing business for more than forty years. Annie succeeded him to the presidency of their company and became its active business manager. After his death, she established The Sergel Drama Prize at the University of Chicago. Open to playwrights of any age, from anywhere in the world, the prize was awarded biennially.

Annie was elected the seventeenth president of IWPA in June 1927. Shortly before Christmas that December she died at home following a week’s illness from pneumonia. She is buried alongside of her husband at Oak Woods Cemetery.