Special tours will honor the women who shaped Brucemore

Tours of Cedar Rapids mansion to be held Thursday, April 2

Irene, Barbara and Ellen Douglas pose with a friend in 1928. (Photo courtesy of Brucemore archives)
Irene, Barbara and Ellen Douglas pose with a friend in 1928. (Photo courtesy of Brucemore archives)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The women who inspired and shaped Brucemore will be honored as the estate debuts “In Her Steps: A Women’s History Tour” on Thursday and April 2.

These women had an impact not only on the historic estate but also on Cedar Rapids, said Tara Richards, director of community engagement at Brucemore. These women led diverse lives influenced by their “passions, interests and circumstances,” she said.

The themed tour will uncover their stories and take a deeper look at their history. The tours, sponsored by Hills Bank, will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and April 2. Space is limited.

Below are a sampling of the women who will be included in the tours:

— Irene Douglas moved to Brucemore in 1906 with her husband, George, and her daughters Margaret and Ellen. Irene gave birth to a third daughter, Barbara, in 1908. Together, the couple transformed the estate, tripling the size of the property and adding gardens and other features to the landscape. She was active in the community as a mother, bookbinder and garden enthusiast. Douglas also was a patron of the arts who gave her support to many local cultural groups. She helped support many local artists, including Grant Wood and Marvin Cone, whose works hang at Brucemore today.

— Margaret Douglas Hall, the oldest daughter of Irene and George Douglas, is best remembered for her philanthropy. Margaret and her husband gave generously to meet a number of community needs. They helped support the Margaret and Howard Hall Radiation Center at Mercy Hospital, as well as many others. She grew up at Brucemore and lived in the guest house on the property after her marriage. Later, she inherited the estate from her mother. When Margaret died in 1981, she left her home to the National Trust for Historic Preservation so the community could continue to enjoy the property that she called home.

— Agnes White Hembra grew up at Brucemore with her father, Archie White, who was the head gardener for nearly 15 years. During that time, the White family lived on the estate in the Servants’ Duplex. White donated photos and letters to Brucemore, which provide a glimpse into her life and serve as a valuable resource in understanding of servant life back then.

— Carolyn Shimek began working at Brucemore in 1943 for the Halls. She joined the staff while her husband, Frank, was serving in World War II. She planned to work on the estate for the winter but ended up staying for more than half a century. In 1981, when Margaret Hall died and left her home to serve the community, she ensured life tenancy for the employees living on the site, including Shimek. Her firsthand experience and gifts of photos, furniture and diaries continue to shape the understanding of life at Brucemore.

Space is limited for the tours. Admission is $15 per adult, and tickets can be purchased online at or by phone at (319) 362-7375.

Brucemore is a living landmark that charts the history of Cedar Rapids. The independent nonprofit preserves and shares the estate through innovative and collaborative programming.

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