The 21st Show

The contrasting history of Robert and John Gregg Allerton


University of Illinois Archives

Robert Allerton was born to one of the preeminent families of Gilded Age Chicago. He embarked on a career as an artist, living and studying in Berlin and Paris before settling in downstate Illinois, near Monticello, on a piece of property known as “The Farms.” 

From the 1920s until Gregg’s death in 1986, Robert and John referred to each other as father and son, they even made it legally official, with Robert’s adoption of John in 1960, a few years before the elder man’s death. But their relationship  was not confined to those traditional bounds. It was, in fact, visibly queer at a time when the perception and reception of homosexuality in American society were undergoing a transformation.

All of this is explored in the book ​​An Open Secret: The Family Story of Robert and John Gregg Allerton, which was published last year. 


Nicholas Syrett

Professor, chair, and director of graduate studies in the women, gender, and sexuality at the Department at the University of Kansas | author, An Open Secret: The Family Story of Robert and John Gregg Allerton