Tag: William Gerrish Beale

The Legal Ishams


An artist’s “map” of Bennington, Vermont, home of Edward Swift Isham.





By Megan McKinney


Three years after Dr. Ralph Nelson Isham settled in Chicago with a successful medical practice, another Isham arrived. Edward Swift Isham was a lawyer who had been born in Bennington, Vermont in 1836.  He was the eldest son of Pierpont Isham, a justice of the Vermont Supreme Court, and his wife, the former Samantha Swift. Unlike so many “lawyers” of the time who merely sat in a room and read law, Edward Isham had attended and graduated from a fine law school—if not the nation’s finest. Harvard.

The Vermont Ishams descend from John Isham who had come from England, probably by way of Virginia, in the mid-17th century and settled on Cape Cod at Barnstable, Massachusetts. For Classic Chicago readers who remember our recent series on the Swift dynasty, it is interesting to note what close neighbors the many generations of Edward’s family would have been to the five or so who preceded Gustavus Swift in his clan . 

Edward Swift Isham.

After practicing with several Chicago partnerships, Edward had become a prominent lawyer of the city and Republican member of the Illinois House of Representatives, where he served a two-year term, while sitting on the judiciary committee. After his term expired, the Ishams spent two years in Europe before Edward returned to Chicago law practice and a charter membership in the Chicago Club, for which he drafted incorporation papers.

Robert Todd Lincoln.

In February 1872 Isham began building the firm for which the name was to become so illustrious. It was then that he admitted 29 year-old Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s son, to his practice as a junior partner.

Robert Todd Lincoln.

Robert, eldest of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln’s four sons, was their only child to survive to adulthood.  A graduate of Exeter and Harvard, Robert had studied law at Harvard Law School before transferring to the Law School at the old University of Chicago and setting up a practice of his own in the city. The move to Chicago was to accompany his mother, who wished to relocate there a month after the president’s 1865 death.

Robert Todd Lincoln’s house was at 1234 Lake Shore Drive at Scott Street.

Lincoln would serve as Secretary of War under James A. Garfield, and Benjamin Harrison appointed him minister to Great Britain, the post now known as Ambassador of the United States to the Court of St James’s. He later ecame general counsel for the Pullman Palace Car Company in 1893, and succeeded George Pullman as company president at Pullman’s death in1897.

Robert Todd Lincoln’s eldest daughter, Mamie.

When Edward Isham brought the President’s son into his firm he was adding a name of near royalty in 19th century America not only to his firm but soon also to his family. In 1891, while Robert Todd Lincoln was serving in the Court of St. James’s, his 21-year-old daughter, Mamie, fell in love with a cousin of Edward’s, 38-year-old Charles Bradford Isham.

Charles Bradford Isham.

They were married on September 2, 1891 in a small family wedding in the Church of the Holy Trinity near London. Charles, who had been librarian at the New York Historical Society became an official at the American Embassy.  

What could be more classic than this white satin orange blossom-trimmed gown with a voluminous train?

Although they settled in New York, Charles and Mamie also bought a Manchester, Vermont house near her parents’ fabulous estate, Hildene.

The Robert Todd Lincoln summer estate, Hildene.

Lincoln Isham was born to Mamie and Charles Isham in 1892 . He and Mamie are dressed in the fashions of the time. Lincoln like a girl and Mamie in immense puffy sleeves.

Here are the mother and son when Lincoln had reached his teen years.

Marshall Field’s estate benefited greatly from Isham Lincoln & Beale.

.In 1886, when William Gerrish Beale was admitted to the firm, the name became Isham Lincoln & Beale and remained so until it dissolved in 1988. A brilliant trusts and estates lawyer, Beale was author of the famous will that kept Marshall Field’s estate intact until the fifth generation, and he also designed the document that managed to prevent Joseph Medill’s two warring daughters from destroying their Chicago Tribune legacy. However, his greatest contribution to the Tribune was perhaps the strong guidance he provided as one of the three trustees during years when the other two, Medill sons-in-law Robert Patterson and Robert McCormick, wavered for varying reasons.

Marshall Field III, “Richest Boy in the World,” thanks to Isham partner William Gerrish Beale .

Back to firm founder Edward Swift Isham: he and Fannie had four children, Anna Eliza, born 1862; Pierpont, 1865; Edward Swift Jr., 1868 and Frances, 1872.  Frances lived until 1970. Patriarch Edward  died suddenly of heart disease on February 16, 1902 while at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. After a funeral at the Brick Presbyterian Church on Park Avenue, he was buried at Dellwood Cemetery in Manchester, Vermont.

Anne Eliza Isham.

Edward and Fannie Isham’s eldest child, Anne Eliza or “Lizzie,” never married, giving her time and energy to become quite a woman in her own right. She lived most of the first decade of the 20th century in Paris. However, while still in Chicago, Lizzie was active about town, becoming, at age 37, the second president of The Woman’s Board of Northwestern Memorial Hospital–even then a formidable organization–and an active participant in the Friday and Scribbler’s Clubs.

In 1912, she had been living in Paris with her sister, Frances, and Frances’ husband, Henry Tweedy Shelton, for nine years when she decided to spend the summer with their brother Edward in New York. She and her Great Dane boarded RMS Titanic when it stopped at Cherbourg on April 10.

It is believed that during the terror of the early morning hours of April 15 Lizzie and the dog boarded a lifeboat together and would have been safe had she not been asked to give up her pet. She refused and the two left the boat together.

Lizzie was one of only four first class woman passengers lost in the disaster and her body was never found. Also missing that night was Chicagoan Arthur Ryerson, a partner in Isham Lincoln & Beale.

There is a grim postscript that followed. Several days later, a passenger on another ship passing the scene reported seeing a woman’s frozen form floating in the water while clutching the body of a large dog.

The Chicago Tribune of the following June 13 reported that Lizzie left a $440,000, $1000 of it to her late father’s partner William Beale. The remainder went to her sister, Frances.


Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien

Author Photo by Robert F. Carl