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May Estelle Cook Manuscript Collection-Oak Park Public Library

Identifier: 2017-007

Scope and Contents

This collection contains the manuscript copy of May Estelle Cook’s book Little Old Oak Park and published copies.


  • undated

Language of Materials


Biographical / Historical

May Estelle Cook was born in 1865 in Chicago and moved to Oak Park in 1870. Her father, Edward Cook, was a member of the Masons, eventually serving as Grand Master of the State of Illinois. As a child, May Estelle Cook expanded her social circle through playing with other early Oak Parkers and attending the First Congregational Church in Oak Park.

As an adult, Cook was one of the first women in Oak Park to attend college. She graduated from Wellsey College in 1888 and took additional English courses at the University of Chicago.

After college, Cook helped to organize the McDowell Society, and in 1891 she became a charter member of the Nineteenth Century Women’s Club. Furthermore, she helped establish the Club's Community Lecture series in 1903, a continuing education program. From 1903 to 1910, Cook served as secretary of the Community Lecture series, which involved organizing annual lectures, publicizing events, and selling tickets. The lecture series was widely successful and was held in the Oak Park Public Library and its precursor, the Scoville Institute. Cook resigned from the secretary position in 1910 and began working as an English teacher. From 1910-1935 she taught at South Side Academy, Englewood, and Austin High Schools. She continued to be a part of the Community Lecture series as an active member of the lecture committee until through 1938. She was made an honorary member of the Community Lectures in 1942.

Cook's father, Edward, had been heavily involved in the development of the Scoville Institute in the 1870s, drawing floor plans for the Institute and even serving as its’ first librarian. After Edward's death in 1916, Cook served as secretary for the Scoville Institute Board from 1916 to 1954. The Friends of the Oak Park Library honored Cook for her outstanding service in 1955.

Cook was also active in local politics throughout her life and was an advocate for world peace. She was a member of the Oak Park Chapter of the League of Women Voters to support women’s suffrage. Notably, in 1927 Cook and Henry W. Austin’s wife were able to attend a meeting of the High Council of the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

Cook is also known for her writings on Oak Park. She wrote an article about the many contributions and accomplishments of James W. Scoville for the 61st Anniversary issue of the Oak Leaves in 1940. She later wrote the book Little Old Oak Park which documents the early history of the village. It was published April 7, 1961. A day later on April 8, May Estelle Cook died.


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One of Oak Park’s most famous residents, May Estelle Cook was a founding member of the 19th Century Women’s Club and served on the board of trustees of the Scoville Institute for several decades. She taught at Austin High School and was actively engaged in social and cultural causes in Oak Park. The collection contains the original manuscript of the book Little Old Oak Park, one of the earliest histories of the area.


Oak Leaves 6/27/35 p. 3; Oak Leaves 5/12/38 p. 8; “Lectures in Oak Park A Bit of Significant Village History”, Oak Leaves 10/13/38 p. 14 Cook, May Estelle.; Oak Leaves 2/29/40 p. 1; Oak Leaves 5/21/42 p. 12; 55; Oak Leaves 6/17/54 p. 7; Oak Leaves 4/21/55 p.3; “Death of a Citizen” Oak Leaves 4/31/61 p. 3; 73; “May Estelle Cook Made History and then Wrote It,” Wednesday Journal 3/18/87 p. 46; 52 Bach, Erwin E.
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Repository Details

Part of the Oak Park Public Library Special Collections Repository

834 Lake Street
Oak Park IL 60301 USA