Robert J. Burdette, humorist, lecturer, and preacher (for in that line of progression has he won his way to the hearts of the American people until his name is a familiar one in almost every household of the land), was for many years a resident of Iowa, and first became known to fame in connection with the Burlington Hawk-Eye. He was born July 30, 1844, in Greensboro county, Pa., a son of Frederick E. Burdette, of Virginia, who was of Huguenot lineage, while his mother was of Welsh and German ancestry, and through her he inherited from a long line of Welsh ancestors his Christian name of Robert Jones. When he was two years of age, his parents removed to Cincinnati, Ohio, and in 1852 made their way by the water route to Peoria, Ill., for the era of railroad transportation was then unknown. In the public schools of Peoria he received his intellectual training, being graduated from the high school with the class of 1861, but his entire life has been a school in which his mind has constantly broadened and his perceptions deepened. He has been a student of human nature more than of all else, giving deep and earnest consideration to the questions which affect the race, its welfare and its progress.
He had hardly left the schoolroom when, in July, 1862, about the time of the eighteenth anniversary of his birth, he enlisted as a private in Company F, Forty-seventh Illinois Infantry, and thus served until the close of the Civil War. He left the military for the civic department of the government service, becoming a mail agent, and in 1869 he entered upon what proved the initial step of his journalistic career, becoming proof-reader on the Peoria Daily Transcript. Eventually he was made night editor; and, ambitious to enter upon an independent venture in the journalistic field, he began the publication of the Peoria Review, an evening paper, about 1871. This did not prove successful, however, and in 1872 he became city editor of the Burlington Hawk-Eye, where he rapidly rose to fame through his humorous articles published in that paper. In the winter of 1876 he went upon the lecture platform in connection with the Redpath Lyceum Bureau of Boston, and his fame on the platform became international.
Robert Jones Burdette, with a chivalry that has always been typical of his nature, accredits his success in life in very large measure to the influence of the two ladies upon whom he has conferred his name. His first wife, Caroline Garrett, was born and reared in Peoria, a daughter of the late Auren Garrett, one of the pioneers of that city. Her father, whose death occurred July 13, 1905, had for seventy-two years been a resident of Peoria, where he located in 1833, when it contained a population of little more than five hundred. His father Augustus O. Garrett, was the pioneer hotel proprietor of that city, and at one time a prominent factor in public affairs there. He continued his identification with the business interests of Peoria until his death in 1867.
Auren Garrett was born in Litchfield, Conn., Sept. 29, 1818, and his boyhood days were passed at Honeoye Falls, N. Y., until he was fourteen or fifteen years of age, when he accompanied his parents to the great West. They embarked on a sailing vessel at Buffalo for Chicago, but Auren, the eldest son, traveled overland with a valuable team of horses and wagon, reaching Peoria in the early part of August, 1833. The parents and other members of the family had arrived but a few days before, after completing the trip by water. Auren Garrett for many years followed steamboating on the Illinois River, acting as pilot for more than two decades; and when his diligence and economy had brought him a little capital, he invested in a stock of merchandising, and eventually became extensively engaged in dealing in crockery and wall paper, continuing in trade until his retirement from active business cares in the evening of life. His last years were spent in the home of his daughter, Mrs. David Muir, at 1115 North Glendale Avenue, Peoria, and there he passed away, survived by but one daughter of his first marriage, Miss Medorah Hall Garrett, of Rosemont, Pa. Three daughters of the second marriage are living: Mrs. David T. Muir, of Peoria; Mrs. A. B. Humphrey, of Santa Monica, Cal.; and Mrs. E. E. Newman, of Los Angeles, Cal. Mr. Garrett belonged to that class of splendid pioneer settlers who recognized and improved the opportunities of the great West, and while advancing individual success, contributed in substantial measure to the development and growth of his adopted city.
It was in Peoria that Robert Burdette and Caroline Garrett were married, and after residing for several years in Burlington they removed to Philadelphia, Pa., and later to Ardmore, a suburb of that city. It was the influence of Mrs. Burdette that led her husband into his humorous writing, and, as he said, "gave him strength, courage, hope, and good sense;" contending that in everything she told him to do he prospered, and that every time he went against her advice he failed. She was a lady of scholarly tastes and habits, recognized her husband's talents, and ambitious for his recognition, because of his power, inspired him to put forth his best effort, and gain a place in the world for which nature intended him. Those who know aught of Mr. and Mrs. Burdette in their home life recognize its close approach to the ideal. For many years an invalid, he was most devoted to her care and welfare.
They had but one son, Robert, Jr., who is now on the reportorial staff of the Hawk-Eye. He was born at Burlington, April 10, 1877, and attended the Haverford College Grammar School, of Haverford, Pa., and also Haverford College. After a year spent abroad with his parents, he began newspaper work on the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, and is now with the Hawk-Eye. Well known in the city of his birth and residence, he is particularly active outside of business circles in the work of the Baptist church. Mrs. Burdette passed away in the month of May, 1884, and not long afterward Mr. Burdette removed to Bryn Mawr, Pa., where he lived with his sister-in-law, Miss Medorah H. Garrett.
Mr. Burdette continued for some years his active literary work in the East, writing for papers and magazines and going upon his lecture tours in the winter seasons under the management of the Redpath Lyceum Bureau. He has been a well-known contributor to the Ladies' Home Journal, Brooklyn Eagle, Philadelphia Press, Lippincott's Magazine, Life, and other publications. Among his writings, aside from his articles for the magazines and journals of the country, are: "Chimes from a Jester's Bells," "Sons of Asaph," "Modern Temple and Templars, or Life of Russell H. Conwell," "Smiles Yoked with Sighs;" while his lectures cover the following subjects: "Rise and Fall of the Mustache," "Advice to a Young Man," "Home," "Move On," "The Woman with the Broom." His latest production is "Rainbow Chasers."
In 1898 Mr. Burdette was married to Mrs. Clara B. Baker, of Pasadena, who, like his first wife, has been a constant source of inspiration and encouragement to him in his work. In her maidenhood she was Miss Clara Bradley, a native of Wisconsin. She married Professor Wheeler, of the university of that State. In those early years Mr. Burdette formed the acquaintance of Professor Wheeler and his wife, and a strong friendship sprang up between them; but later the Wheeler family removed to California, where Professor Wheeler died, leaving a young son, Roy Bradley, the latter now at Pasadena, Cal. He was graduated from Harvard University with honors in June, 1904. Mrs. Burdette lived in California for some time, and then married Colonel Baker, an ex-Confederate cavalry officer, and later a lawyer of considerable reputation on the Pacific Coast. Following his death, Mrs. Burdette occupied her handsome residence on Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena, living there for several years with her son Roy. In 1898 she became the wife of Robert Jones Burdette, and they maintained their residence in Pasadena.
It is there that Robert Jones Burdette entered upon the work of the ministry, supplying for one summer the pulpit of the First Presbyterian church, after which he became pastor for the newly organized Temple Baptist church of Los Angeles, Cal. He has for many years been a firm believer in the doctrines of the Baptist denomination, and having been ordained to the ministry, he is devoting his time to the upbuilding of the church there, which in 1906 contemplates the erection of a structure valued at a million dollars, to contain an immense auditorium reserved for the church, while the other rooms will be used for office purposes.
Mrs. Burdette, who is famed for her business ability throughout California, is one of the leaders in this enterprise. Under all the humor that has brightened the lives of the thousands throughout the land who have been interested readers of all that has come from his pen, there is in Robert J. Burdette a depth of character and humanitarian spirit that are manifest in every written and spoken utterance. He has broad human sympathies; and while he frequently treats of the harmless little foibles of human nature, the prejudices in which it indulges and the foolish actions which it perpetrates, his fun is kindly, tender, and considerate. Without special educational privileges, he has become a scholar through deep reflection. He has gained an intimate knowledge of the trend of the world's progress, the possibilities for human development; and in all of his work there has been a spirit of humanitarianism that, like his humor, has been a radiating influence for good.
below left is the Burdette's home, "Sunnycrest," on Orange Grove Avenue
in Pasadena, CA.