Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Marguerite Warren Springer: Mean Girl in a Privileged World

Caption reads: Mrs. Warren Springer, a well-to-do society woman of Chicago,
visiting in the "Ghetto." Mrs. Springer is one of the many noble-hearted women
of our country that devote their time and money to the assistance of the deserving poor.

It’s an old story: a newcomer who wants desperately to be accepted by the elite. Usually, the way it goes is that the blue bloods give her a hard time.

The latecomer Mrs. Springer gave it right back, no pretty-please for her.  

The daughter of Irish immigrants, Maggie Maginness was born in 1870 in Newark, Ohio, about 30 miles east of Columbus. She always claimed that her family came from old Scotch-Presbyterian stock, yet inexplicably she lived in a Franciscan Sisters convent in Lexington, KY, between the ages of 10 and 20.

When Maggie left the convent, gossips said, she worked as a shop girl in Chicago. Presumably, that’s how she met the real estate and manufacturing mogul, Warren Springer, whom she married sometime during the 1880s. Daughter Frances came along in 1893; Warren’s son from his first marriage, William, was estranged.

And now Marguerite Warren Springer – she took her millionaire husband’s first name for her middle name, so there would be no confusion as to which Mr. Springer she was married – prepared to enter Chicago society with Gilded Age flourish.

There she is, volunteering with Chicago’s Visitation and Aid Society, patting a howling baby with her gloved hand.

Then she’s basking in attention, having pledged to provide land at Van Buren & Green Streets on which an Industrial Arts School would be built.

Next she’s telling the Cook County League of Women’s Clubs that the Chicago Public Library is a “trysting place for tramps.”

Now she’s starting an Illinois chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution after the Illinois chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution has turned down her application for membership.

Later, the D.A.R. regent, Mrs. Alice Bradford Wiles, stated that she “didn’t like what she knew about Mrs. Springer.”

What Mrs. Wiles knew was that in July 1894 Warren Springer posted $10,000 bail for his wife after she was indicted by a grand jury for attempting to bribe a juror in the case of Metropolitan Elevated Railway Co. vs. Warren Springer.

Mr. Springer had sued the company for damages to buildings that he owned. Marguerite approached the wife of a juror (or two jurors, or their mothers, depending on the newspaper report), who told the judge.

Hence a dramatic courtroom scene where Marguerite was identified as the briber. Indicted twice, she never served time.

Evidently, though, the feud between the D.A.R. and the Daughters of the Revolution went on and on. The two organizations sparred for primacy. Chicago’s society women had no choice but to take sides.

A “struggle for social supremacy,” as one reporter characterized it. By 1904, Marguerite had had enough.

That year, she once again attempted to influence her husband’s business dealings. An attorney named Julius Coleman was involved in litigation against Warren Springer. Marguerite wanted to get Coleman off the case.

She admitted that she started digging around and turned up a juicy story about Mr. Coleman. In 1881, he was arrested on a charge of perjury while practicing law in Indiana. He escaped from prison, fled to Mexico, and eventually returned to Indiana where the governor pardoned him.

Marguerite went to the newspapers with this information. The State of Illinois promptly started proceedings to disbar Coleman, who protested that he had told the truth when he applied for the Illinois bar. This created quite a stir.

And on top of everything, none other than Mrs. Julius Coleman was the regent of the Illinois chapter of the D.A.R.

The story broke while Mrs. Springer, Mrs. Coleman, and hundreds of other women were gathered in St. Louis for the annual convention of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. The D.A.R. faction declared its loyalty to Mrs. Coleman and denounced Marguerite Warren Springer. The following day, a front page headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune stated:
  
Will Ostracize Mrs. Springer;
Club Women Plan to Punish Chicagoan for Attacking Julius A. Coleman

Social ostracism for Mrs. Warren Springer is the plan decided upon by the club friends of Mrs. Julius A. Coleman, whose husband Mr. and Mrs. Springer are seeking to have disbarred because of an offense forgotten for 23 years. Mrs. Springer has admitted that she personally brought to light the old conviction of the lawyer, and Mrs. Coleman’s friends assert that she will be made to pay for this “spite work.”

The story closed with a quote from a Coleman ally:

Mrs. Springer has been trying by resorting to every method to get to the front in Chicago. This last attempt on her part to cause two hearts to ache as they have not ached for 20 years will not raise her any in the estimation of Chicago women.

Newspaper sketch of Marguerite Warren Springer, 1904

In 1912, Warren Springer died. Soon after, his widow contacted an architect to design a charity hospital for women which would be built on property on Harrison Street, Chicago.

The hospital would be six stories with an “elegant fa├žade,” a lighted crystal fountain, and a goldfish pool. There would be a private dining room and bedroom for Mrs. Springer. She asked the architect to create the Springer Coat of Arms, which “dated from the time of Charlemagne,” she told him, in gold on vellum.

As a physician “with a special certificate in gynecology and abdominal surgery,” she would practice in the hospital. Yikes!

Then it turned out that there would be just “eight small booths” for charity patients. Those women would enter the hospital through an alleyway, the architect said later.

He finished the plans and sent a bill to Marguerite Springer. She would not pay it so he sued her. Then he discovered that she didn’t own any property on Harrison Street.

Do you want to hear about Marguerite and the car raffle embezzlement incident?

See also June 15, May 4, April 6, March 6 + 10, 2016 posts.

2 comments:

  1. I don't get "And now Marguerite Warren Springer – she took her millionaire husband’s first name for her middle name, so there would be no confusion" - confusion with what?
    I don't know if you have seen "The Knick" but you mus! It is all about this world!
    The claim to being a surgeon is head-spinning! What a fascinating life.

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  2. That is confusing. I will rewrite it. I just meant that she wanted to make clear that she was married to Warren Springer!

    The extent to which people make claims about the wars they fought in, the credentials they hold, the places they lived, etc. has always astonished me. But in those days it happened all the time and was, of course, hard to catch or challenge.

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