One of my favorite people in Chicago history is Joan Pinkerton. When she married William J. Chalmers in 1878, five hundred invitations to the wedding were mailed and 3,000 young people arrived at the church in horse drawn carriages. (Talk about a traffic jam.) Mr. & Mrs. Chalmers were both first generation American Scots. Her husband became the president of Allis-Chalmers which was the largest maker of mining machinery in the world. They were generous contributors to the Illinois Saint Andrew Society, especially in 1910 when the first Scottish Home was built. They continued their support for the next 25 years.
Joan Pinkerton Chalmers was highly educated, attractive, popular and with a temper inherited from her detective father. She was described as “a striking brunette.” She also had this Scottish motivation that caused her to look at the greater needs of her community and beyond. In 1911, she established the County Home for Convalescent Crippled Children. It was located on a working farm of some 180 acres in DuPage County, near Wheaton, Illinois. The facility was available to any crippled child who needed their help. She involved the prominent people of Chicago including: Mrs. Lolita Armour, Mitchell Wilder, James A. Patton, Laura Shedd Schweppe, Mrs. Anna M. Raymond and others. It was a very successful venture with a dairy in full operation. In 1927, the home became a part of the University of Chicago clinic who later moved the operation to Chicago. The land was then sold to Wheaton College who now operates a school on the property. The Chalmer’s house is still in existence at 315 Ashland Blvd., just north of the Eisenhower. Her wedding dress is preserved at the Chicago History Museum. In 2006, on our tour of Graceland cemetery, we paid our respects.
If I could replay my historical research for the last 15 years, I would make several lists. One of those lists would include all of the Scottish people who gave their valuable possessions to the various institutions in Chicago. The Art Institute, the Newberry Library and the Field Museum received many of these gifts. For instance, Mrs. & Mrs. Chalmers gave a valuable collection of war medals to the Art Institute. Included in the will of Mrs. Chalmers were bequests totaling $150,000. The Field Museum and University of Chicago each received $50,000 in cash. The Art Institute received her valuable collection of paintings and etchings. Why would people give their valuable collections and money away to institutions? There can be just one reason - a desire to serve the greater community. Is that a Scottish trait? It may just be.
We will conclude our celebration of Tartan Week tomorrow.