Sandburg's Hometown

November 18, 2013

Mary Sandburg Johnson

Mary Sandburg Johnson

By Barbara Schock

Mary was the first child of August and Clara Sandburg. She was born May 20, 1875, in a three-room cottage close to the railroad tracks in Galesburg, Illinois. (It is now the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site.) Her brother Carl was born about 2 ½ years later in the same house. There followed five more children, three boys and two girls, in the years to come.

Mary Sandburg was a bright child who did well in school in spite of the cramped household and poverty. She learned several hundred Swedish words while growing up, as well as being proficient in English.

After graduating from high school, she taught at several country schools. She was paid $30 per month ( more than $800 in today’s money.) Her earnings contributed a great deal to the family’s well-being. She also helped Carl financially while he was attending Lombard University from 1998-1900.

Mary also shared her high school textbooks with Carl. He was always seeking to learn about the world. She practiced teaching techniques with him as her first student. In a way, it was part payment for her chance to attend high school and Carl being forced to go to work to help support the family after he finished eighth grade. Mary had better grades than Carl so the parents had decided she would have the opportunity to go to high school. When she had gotten a teaching position, Mary could contribute to the household expenses.

Mary taught at Bishop Hill, Illinois, from 1900 to 1904. She had the lead role in a locally produced play. A local newspaper reviewed the production and was very complimentary of Mary’s acting and singing. For the next two years she taught music at a school in Rockville, Indiana. Then, she helped to care of her brother Mart’s son who had been very ill. The attending physician suggested she become a nurse because of the excellent care she had given her nephew.

She graduated from Galesburg Cottage Hospital School of Nursing in 1907. She worked for Dr. J.F. Percy, who sent her to the Mayo Clinic to learn anesthesiology. She was the first nurse in Knox County trained in the work. She was able to make all the preparations necessary for emergency operations in the homes of patients. She worked for several other doctors who thought highly of her ability.

In 1916 Mary became the wife of Allie C. Johnson. She was 41 and he was 26. They adopted a son, Eric. Allie Johnson died February 18, 1923. Mrs. Johnson continued to work as a visiting nurse and lived in their home at 1324 North Kellogg Street. In 1945, she moved to California to be near her son and his family.

Throughout her life Mary Sandburg Johnson was close to her brother Carl. They exchanged letters giving one another advice and support. Carl entrusted his early writings to Mary for safekeeping. She and younger sister Esther were the only family members present when Carl married Lilian Steichen in Milwaukee in 1908.

Mary had a severe stroke in 1950. Carl paid thousands of dollars for her care. She died in July 1958. She was buried next to her husband in Linwood Cemetery.

Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
November 18, 2013  Mary Sandburg Johnson
November 11, 2013 Carl Sandburg's Bicycle
November 4, 2013  Lace Curtains 
October 28, 2013 The Front Room
October 21, 2013 A Warm Breakfast
October 14, 2013 Marion D. Shutter
October 7, 2013 Cigars and Consumption
September 30, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke & August Sandburg
September 16, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke, Mayor
September 9, 2013 Dusty Streets
September 2, 2013 Typhoid Fever
August 26, 2013 Coffee and Water
August 19, 2013 A Horse! A Horse!
August 12, 2013 Gaddial Scott
August 5, 2013 The Racetrack
July 29, 2013 John Peter Algeld - Part II
July 22, 2013 John Peter Altgeld - Part I
July 15, 2013 Tramps, Tramps, Tramps
July 8, 2013 Lady Liberty
July 1, 2013 Galesburg's Fourth
June 24, 2013 John H. Finley
June 17, 2013 The World's Columbian Exhibition
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity