Monday, November 28, 2011

Joan Pinkerton and William Chalmers, Part II

I have written several articles about Joan Pinkerton. She is one of the more memorable personalities in Chicago history. I wish there was more information but perhaps I don’t know where to look. Joan Pinkerton, was born on July 22, 1855 to Alan Pinkerton and his wife. She was their only living daughter. (The name Joan is carried through many generations in this family.)

Joan Pinkerton was described as being beautiful, well-educated, and extremely popular. I couldn’t find a reference as to her schooling except that she was sent "back East." She loved music, and she loved to dance which may explain the ballroom on the third floor of their Ashland home. In the society pages of the Chicago Daily Tribune, you can see the name Joan Pinkerton and William Chalmers attending weddings, club dances and other social events. She was described as “a leader in the city’s social and charitable life for more than four decades."

Joan and William were very popular young people in Chicago. When their wedding was scheduled, October 21, 1878, they sent out 500 invitations. Some 3,000 young people arrived at the Third Presbyterian Church. The Chicago Tribune reported that “the galleries, the seats, and the floor – every available space was taken. A large number stood upon the seats, much to the disgust of the church trustees.” Outside the streets were jammed with horses and carriages for blocks around. "There was never such a wedding in Chicago.”

Outside of the social scene, Mrs. Chalmers became interested in crippled children because her sister Isabel was a crippled child who died in 1863. In Chicago at the corner of Polina and Park Avenue, was a home for crippled children. Its official name was The Home for Destitute and Crippled Children. Joan Chalmers became interested in these children and wanted them to have a place in the country once they were able to leave the facility on Park Avenue. She was instrumental in the purchase of 68 acres valued at $12,000 along the Aurora & Elgin Electric Line, some 3 miles west of Wheaton, Illinois. There is much more to this story and it will be reserved for another blog in the future.

I don’t know how much they traveled, but on June 5, 1898 they sailed for Europe on the Cunard steamship Lucania. Also on board were Mr. And Mrs. Lambert Tree. This note appeared on March 5, 1902 . “Mrs. W. J. Chalmers and Miss. Joan Chalmers are going abroad.  They will leave town on Saturday and sail from New York on March 15, going directly to Paris. Their stay abroad will not be a prolonged one, as Mrs. Chalmers expects to be back in time to open her country house at Lake Geneva early in June. At some time on this trip they were joined by Norman Williams, Jr. of Chicago and all three returned on the steamship Pennsylvania. They were met in New York by Mr. Chalmers and shortly thereafter a statement was issued that Miss Joan Chalmers was engaged to be married to Norman Williams, Jr.

Mr. & Mrs. Chalmers were in Europe when World War I started and they returned home immediately and began to raise money for the Belgian children caught in war. They returned to Europe in 1921 and brought home a collection of war medals which was later given to the Art Institute. One of the medals was dated May 5, 1915 which shows “death” booking a passage on the Lusitania. The ship was sunk May 7, 1915. Mrs. Chalmers believed that this was clear evidence that Germany intended to sink the ship. Does the Art Institute still have the medals on display?

During her lifetime she was: President of the West End Woman’s Club; member of the Saddle and Cycle; the Fortnightly and the Woman’s Athletic Club. Mrs. Chalmers also once taught a Sunday school class at the Third Presbyterian Church. She believed that if one remained young at heart they would never grow old.

Mrs. Chalmers died on January 25, 1940. Her funeral was held in St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church, 1424 North Dearborn street. Burial was private in Graceland cemetery. Two grandchildren survived: Mrs. F. Hamilton Merrill of New York and Norman Williams, Jr. of Woodstock, VT.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew's Society

The next meeting of the Scottish-American History Club will be January 7, 2012.

Donations to the History Club may be made through the Illinois St. Andrew's Society.

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