Tag: probate

SWIFT: Heirs and Heiresses





By Megan McKinney


Annie May Swift Hall at Northwestern University


Second generation Swifts reversed the expected gender pattern for higher education. Because the boys began working for the family firm in their teens, there was never a thought of college enrollment for any, other than the youngest son, Harold.

Annie May, Gustavus and Ann Swift’s fourth child and eldest daughter, had no hope of a career in meatpacking, or anywhere else in the world of late19th century women. She was therefore free to enroll in Northwestern University in 1885.

Annie May and Helen, two years apart in age, were dressed alike as children and often operated as a duo. However, when it came to college, Helen preferred to return East and selected Wellesley, which she entered in 1888. By that time, Annie May’s schooling had been truncated through a severe case of typhoid fever, which sent her home with a trained nurse. The previously healthy young woman never really recovered. When Edward and Hortense were married, she was unable to attend the ceremony but came downstairs for the reception in the Emerald Avenue house. It was the last time she would do so.



On a Sunday evening in April 1889, Helen, at Wellesley, “suddenly became panicky; felt that some dreadful catastrophe was hanging over us.” She arranged to have college authorities notified she was leaving for home that night and took the first train out on Monday morning. Telegraph offices had not yet opened and Gustavus did not believe in telephones. She decided she would wire her family in Springfield and left instructions at Wellesley for any message coming to her be forwarded to the train.

“Just as the train was slowing up at Springfield,” she later wrote, “a messenger boy entered the car calling: ’Telegram for Helen Swift! Telegram for Helen Swift!’ With trembling fingers, I opened it.”



                                                    (signed) FATHER


Gustavus contributed money for the construction of Annie May Swift Hall, built at Northwestern in 1895. This lovely building in his daughter’s memory was to become the home of the University’s School of Communication.



If every major dynasty has a bad boy, Bert was it for the Swifts. One can visualize family members cringing while opening the morning newspapers at the breakfast table. What would be reported about Meatpacking Heir Herbert L Swift today?  H. L. Swift in Sanitarium. Packers Son Trying to Conquer His Craving for Liquor was a typical headline. And his occupancy of “The Swift Mansion” at 4500 Michigan Avenue after the departure of Helen and Edward Morris becomes more understandable. Herbert L. Swift needed a house because, according to The New York Times, he was acquiring a wife: CHICAGO HORSE SHOW ROMANCE.; Engagement of Herbert L. Swift and Miss Berenice Jocelyn.


“The Swift Mansion” at 4500 Michigan Avenue passed from Helen to Bert.


The end came early for Bert. He was 36 when he “died suddenly on a train at Milwaukee” on October 19, 1911. Bizarre, you think? Well, so did the authorities.

On the following March 3, The New York Times announced the exhuming of Bert’s body for an autopsy at the Swift family mausoleum in Mount Hope Cemetery, for which Physicians Find No Reason for Believing Death Violent was the headline.

Next, there was SWIFT LEAVES HIS WIDOW ALL: Will Filed for Probate Shows the Value of the Estate Around One Hundred Thousand Dollars

However, there were no headlines when Berenice died in 1912. She too was 36.  There was no clue as to what happened there.


Bird’s eye view of Ruth Swift Maguire’s Southampton estate.


Ruth, born in 1883 and the second generation’s youngest daughter, probably outdid Bert in the newspaper gaffe department when, upon leaving her first husband, Ernest Hammond Eversz, she told The New York Times, “Mr. Eversz and I were I married six years ago, and were perfectly happy, butour personalities were too different to allow a happy married life.” She finished by saying, “I finally concluded that the most logical thing for me to do was to leave my husband.” Within months she married American Steam Pump Company official J. D. Maguire, becoming the second of his four wives.



Ruth’s city residence was a duplex in 990 Fifth Avenue at 80th Street. Designed in 1927 by Rosario Candela, the great architect of New York’s finest 20th century residential buildings, 990 was a 14 story building with only six owners at a time—a classic two-floor duplex for each. The building in the background is the Metropolitan Museum of Art.   

Ruth died in the Brazilian Court Hotel in Palm Beach, below, in March 1945. She had been suffering from a brief illness; however a heart attack was the cause of death. She was 61.



Although his name would make Gustavus Franklin Jr. appear to be the oldest of the Swift children, he was ninth in line when he was born in 1882. Gus began working for his father’s firm in 1900 when he was 17 and rose to be vice president, president and vice chairman.


Photo Credit: Lake Bluff History Museum


The Gustavus Swift Jr. summer house, at 1700 Shore Acres Road, Lake Bluff, was built in 1924. The couple spent winters in town at 1551 Astor and kept anther house in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Gus’ wife was Marie Fitzgerald, daughter of long-time Swift family friends and niece of Edward’s wife, Hortense.

Gustavus and Marie’s daughters were Jane, wife of Richard Moore of Chicago; Geraldine, Mrs. Thomas Taylor: and Marie, Mrs. Robert Spiel, both Geraldine and Marie lived in Lake Forest. Gus and Marie’s only son, Gustavus Swift III, was a Washington resident. Gus died in 1942 at 62.



In March1951 the wire services announced the death of George Hastings Swift in the Ritz Carlton, Boston, where he was then living. He was 73. George had left Chicago for Boston in 1906, when he began managing the firm’s New England interests; he married the former Lucile Darst of Chicago the following year. Their children were George, Jr., and three daughters, who included Lucile Davis of Lake Forest and Mrs. Errett Van Nice of Chicago. Members of the Woman’s Board of Northwestern Memorial Hospital well remember Ruth Van Nice, a president of their board, who was also an active supporter of the Art Institute and the Chicago Symphony. She lived until 1991.


Harold H. Swift

The youngest child of Gustavus and Ann was Harold Higgins Swift, born in 1885. As mentioned earlier, Harold was the only son who did not go directly from high school into the family business. He earned a Ph.B. from the University of Chicago in 1907 and never really left; he became president the board of trustees in 1922 and remained in the job until 1949.  Although he would join Swift & Company, holding the usual Swift offspring offices, Harold’s enduring interest was the U of C, to which he gave and gave–and then gave more, often anonymously. The official history of the Chicago Club’s Room One Hundred, of which Harold was chairman in 1947-48, reported that an acquaintance who expressed surprise at seeing  his Swift friend travel by lower berth on the Twentieth Century, received the reply, “It enables me to contribute a little more to my favorite university.”

When he wasn’t endowing this or that at the old alma mater, he was making certain other family members were doing so. Although the over-all Swift family philanthropy was immense, Harold made certain that large chunks of his mother and siblings’ generosity was directed to the University. 

Harold never married, which may explain why his was a particularly long life for a second generation Swift—nearly 77 years–a good 15 years or so longer than most of the others.


Publisher Megan McKinney’s Classic Chicago Dynasties series on The Swift’s concludes with this segment.

Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien

Author Photo by Robert F. Carl