Dr. Edith Farnsworth

Native Chicagoan Edith Farnsworth was born into the lumber and paper business, and was raised to be very well-educated. She studied literature and composition at the University of Chicago and violin at the American Conservatory of Music. Due to her talent on the violin, she studied further in Italy for several years during the 1920s with concert violinist and composer Mario Corti. She became fluent in Italian and French and spoke some German. She also had interests in the sciences as well as the arts.

Though it is believed that she contemplated a career in music, she eventually decided to pursue a career in medicine and graduated from Northwestern Medical School earning her MD in 1938. During World War II, Dr. Farnsworth rose through the traditionally male field to become an associate professor of medicine at Passavant Hospital specializing in Nephrology (the study of the kidney) and divided her time between private practice as a physician and research for the university.

After selling the Farnsworth House to Lord Peter Palumbo in 1971, Dr. Farnsworth spent the end of her life in a small villa in Bagno a Ripoli (near Florence, Italy); while there, she became a published translator of Italian poetry and recorded extensive memoirs. She died on December 5th, 1977 after a brief illness, and her ashes were returned for burial in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.

It has been widely assumed that Dr. Farnsworth and Mies van der Rohe were romantically involved, but this has never been confirmed. Dr. Farnsworth’s diary, written in retrospect years later, gives no indication that there was an intimate relationship. Mies had left his wife and children behind in Germany, and was involved in a long term relationship with Lora Marx during his life in the United States.