When Eden Juron Pearlman walked into the Charles Dawes house 26 years ago, she said to herself, “this will be a great job for a year.”
But then it became great for another year, and another, and another, as Perlman moved from her first decade assembling and displaying historical collections, to 16 years more as the Evanston History Center’s executive director.
Pearlman, who retires at the end of this month, tells Evanston Now that after 26 years, “it’s a good time” for her to go into consulting, and for a new director to take over with, perhaps, a new direction as well.
“Change is good,” Perlman says.
The History Center houses some 100,000 artifacts, documents, books, and other memorabilia from Evanston’s past.
But the way of viewing that past, Pearlman says, has changed since she came out of the University of Illinois to start working at the history site.
“I have seen the history lens” become more accurate and reflective of issues which were barely touched in the past, Pearlman notes.
“In the early days,” she says, history was “pretty much one-sided and white-male-centric.”
Now, there is much more emphasis at the History Center about women’s history, Black history, and the past and present of Asian, Hispanic and Indigenous people.
One thing that has not changed, however, at least in appearance and significance, is the Center’s home since 1960, the Dawes House, at 225 Greenwood St.
Dawes was a 20th century Renaissance man, serving as vice-president under Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and being named Ambassador to the United Kingdom.
Dawes was also the only U.S. vice-president to compose a #1 hit song, “It’s All in the Game,” which became a top pop seller in the 1950s. Dawes wrote the music years before, but had passed away before words were added.
Actually, one important thing has changed at Dawes’ 19th-century vintage house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Before A/C was added, Pearlman says “it was pretty miserable here in the summer” in the big and toasty house, even if it was right by breezy Lake Michigan.
Perlman adds that she’s always amazed at “the beauty of the building, the way the light comes in, and the sounds.”
Pearlman is well aware that the number of young people majoring in history, both nationwide and at nearby Northwestern University, has declined significantly in recent years, in favor of business and computer studies.
But Pearlman, an art history major when she was in school, says she has noticed a “definite increase” in those fascinated with the past, even if they don’t pursue a degree.
But if they do, Pearlman says studying the liberal arts such as history “is the best degree any undergraduate could get, because it teaches you to prepare and think and write.”
Students earning such a degree, Pearlman adds, “can do anything they want to do.”
Pearlman’s successor has yet to be chosen. Once that person is named, they will find a facility that is much better organized and more interesting to visit, thanks to Pearlman and her colleagues.
The staff of 12 (2 full-time, the rest part-time), is three times the size it was when Pearlman became director.
And when Pearlman walks out of Dawes House for the last time as an employee, she’ll say to herself “I was so glad I had this opportunity.”