Father and Son? Robert and John Gregg Allerton and the Public Perception of an Illinois Couple, 1922–64

Saturday, January 9, 2010: 12:30 PM
Elizabeth Ballroom F (Hyatt)
Nicholas L. Syrett , University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO
In 1960 87 year-old Robert Allerton adopted 59 year-old John Gregg in the first adult-child adoption in the state of Illinois. The two had been companions for almost forty years, living in Chicago and Monticello, Illinois as well as on the island of Kauai in Hawai'i. Even before the adoption, Allerton and Gregg, an orphan by his twenties, had referred to each other as father and son and were often identified as such in the Chicago newspapers that wrote frequently about Allerton and his elite social set. This paper employs newspaper accounts as well as the letters of Allerton, Gregg, and their correspondents to explore two interrelated questions: How did the two understand their relationship? How were they perceived by others? In some ways Allerton and Gregg seem a perfect male counterpoint to the Boston marriages that other scholars have documented in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth. They were wealthy, educated, unencumbered by spouses or children, and free to do as they pleased. And yet because they were men they could not cloak their relationship in the perceived asexuality that tended to characterize women's long-term companionships. Thus they claimed a filial status long before it was legally theirs. My contention is that while they employed this terminology in order to move in the world free of impunity, they were, at least by other members of their social set and the elite more generally, understood for what they were: a couple. Their filial claims thus allowed them to discussed each other and be discussed publicly at the same moment that many understood them for something quite different. The analysis in the paper thus owes much to the framework of the Boston marriage and the work of lesbian historians but diverges in important ways because of gender.
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