Thurtell and Related Families
Thurtell and Related Families

Notes for Mary Belle WITHROW

According to the 1926 "History of William Withrow" by Nellie Stanton, Mary Belle Stanton was the youngest child of George and Mary Thurtell Withrow. After George Withrow joined the gold rush to the Klondike in 1896, his wife and daughters left Grant County, Wisconsin, and moved to Chicago. Mary Belle Withrow was 12 at that time. Her sister, Amy Withrow, taught in the Chicago public schools. Her sister Grace became secretary to the postmaster, and Bertha and Mary Belle, the two youngest children, engaged in art work. Bertha attained remarkable success as a portrait artist. Grace died in Phoenix, Arizona, 1903, and Bertha in San Antonio, Texas, 1907.

This history shows that in "June, 1913, George returned from Alaska, and with his wife and two remaining daughters, visited the old home and family and reported his many strange. adventures. On May 31, 1916, he died age sixty-eight years, at the home of his daughter, Mary Belle Spencer, wife of Richard Vance Spencer, M. D., Chicago Heights, Illinois, and is buried at Mt. Zion church, Grant County, Wisconsin. His wife Mary died Nov. 7, 1917, at Kansas City, Missouri, and his daughter Amy died Sept. 25. 1918, at Chicago. Illinois, and is buried In Kansas City, beside her mother. His only living descendants are Mary Belle Spencer, (a lawyer of Chicago, holding the degree of Bachelor of Laws, of the Northwestern University, Class 1918, and office of Public Guardian of Cook County, Illinois, 1918-1922) and her daughters Mary Belle Jr.. born Dec. 14, 1919, and Victoria born Nov. 27, 1921."

Information received in July 1999 from her granddaughter, Kathy Lien, showed that Mary Belle Withrow was born August 9, 1882, in Platteville, Wisconsin, was married to Dr. Richard Vance Spencer on April 6, 1910, and died July 1, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois.

An article in the "Chicago Sunday Tribune," Chicago, Illinois, on August 4, 1918, showed "Public Guardian - Woman Lawyer Appointed by Governor to Cook County Position. The appointnment of Mrs. Mary Belle Spencer, the wife of Dr. Richard V. Spencer of Chicago Heights as public guardian of Cook county was announced by Gov. Lowden yesterday. Mrs. Spencer succeeds Miss Nellie Carlin. She is a lawyer in active practice and for the last twelve years has been identified with social and civic welfare work.

"'As public guardian I shall give Cook county, first of all, a business administration,' said Mrs. Spencer last night. 'The records of my office will be accurately kept and will be at all times open to inspection.

"'A golden opportunity for wartime service is before me. I fully realize that. To the bereaved children of Cook county I shall give the conscientious work the fiduciary relation requires.'

"Mrs. Spencer is a graduate of Northwestern university, with the degree of bachelor of laws. She gained considerable notice some years ago in the work of Americanizing naturalized citizens."

An article in "The Chicago Daily News," Chicago, Illinois, on Thursday, July 2, 1942, showed "Death Ends Turbulent Career of Mrs. Mary Belle Spencer. The turbulent career of Mary Belle Spencer has ended - in the quietness of death. The woman attorney who has been in and out of the news most of her life for scores of different reasons, died late yesterday in a hospital - St. Luke's - an undramatic ending to a tempestuous life.

"Mrs. Spencer was a women's leader from the days when women suffragists were something to be talked about. Her public career started back in 1918 when Gov. Lowden appointed her public guardian for Cook County. Almost immediately she was involved in a suit against her predecessor over custody of the guardianship funds.

"The birth of her daughters, Mary Belle, in 1919, and Victoria in 1921, were the occasions for more publicity - on whether a woman could successfully combine motherhood with a career. In those days it was something of a new question.

"'Do as Please' Girls. Later, the daughters were to figure in more dramatic incidents in the life of Mrs. Spencer and her husband, Dr. Richard Spencer, who died several years ago. The parents were at one time brought to court for not sending the daughters to school but educating them privately at home. The Spencers asserted they could do a better job. They became known as the 'Do As I Please' daughters, as a result of Mrs. Spencers ideas on child raising. There were fist-fights with a theater manager over their dancing careers. Mrs. Spencer sued to annul Mary Belle's marriage after a runaway ceremony at 16.

"Indicted in Fund Suit. The routes of Mrs. Spencer into the limelight seemed endless. She was once indicted for conspiracy in a bank funds case. She sued to prevent entry of the United States into the World Court. In her practice as an attorney she saved two men from the gallows in California. She went to jail on a contempt of court citation.

"In 1934 she came under the eye of federal authorities as a result of a pamphlet, entitled 'Aviator's Baby Was Never Kidnapped or Murdered' which she wrote and sent to members of the venire from which a jury was being chosen for the Lindbergh kidnap trial.

"She was once decorated by the Mexican government for her work among the Mexican colonists here. She was a one-time candidate for Congress.

"Dispute Over Husband's Body. Even at the death of her husband there was a dispute over his body which brought Mrs. Spencer eventually to the Willow Springs police station. But today preparations were going quietly forward with her own funeral. Her daughters, now Mrs. Victoria Hamilton with whom she lived in Crete township, and Mrs. Mary Belle Wright are the only survivors. She was 59 years old.

"Services will be held at 1 p. m. tomorrow in the chapel at 1340 Otto boulevard, Chicago Heights. Burial will be in Evergreen Hill Cemetery."

An article in the "Chicago Heights Star," Chicago Heights, Illinois, on page 1 on July 3, 1942, showed "Mrs. Spencer Is Dead at 59; Burial Today. Funeral services will be held this afternoon for Mrs. Mary Belle Spencer, well known attorney and former public guardian of Cook county, who died early Wednesday at St. Luke's hospital. She was 59 years old.

"A resident of the Chicago Heights community for thirty years, Mrs. Spencer attracted wide attention in legal circles through her flair for unexpected and dramatic actions in criminal court cases. She was a graduate of the University of Illinois Law School.

"Although in failing health for several months, Mrs. Spencer continued to practice at her Chicago office until about five weeks ago when she entered St. Luke's hospital. She had made her home recently with her daughter, Mrs. Victoria Hamilton, in Crete township.

"Surviving also is another daughter, Mrs. Mary Belle Wright, of Chicago Heights, along with three grandchildren. Her husband, Dr. Richard V. Spencer, died four years ago. For many years they made their home in Hilltop subdivision near the west limits of Chicago Heights.

"Friends will pay final respects at funeral services scheduled for one o'clock this afternoon in the West End chapel. The Rev. Clarence E. Showalter, pastor of the First Presbyterian church, will officiate. Burial will be in Evergreen Hill cemetery."

An obituary appearing in the "Chicago Daily Tribune" on Thursday, July 2, 1942, on page 25 showed "Mary B. Spencer, Former Public Guardian, Dies. Mrs. Mary Belle Spencer, 59 years old, who had practiced law in Chicago for many years, died early yesterday in St. Luke's hospital after an illness of several months.

"Mrs. Spencer was at one time public guardian of Cook county, and in this capacity handled many Juvenile court cases. She had also appeared as a trial lawyer in the criminal courts and had as clients several noted criminals. She was once a candidate for congress.

"Surviving are two daughters, Mrs. Victoria Hamilton, with whom she lived in Crete township, and Mrs. Mary Belle Wright. Mrs. Spencer's husband, Dr. Richard Vance Spencer, died several years ago. Funeral services will be held at 1340 Otto boulevard, Chicago Heights, at 1 p.m. tomorrow."

Death notices appeared for Mary Belle Spencer in the "Chicago Daily Tribune" on Thursday, July 2, 1942, on page 25, and on Friday, July 3, 1942, on page 10. These identical notices showed that "Mary Belle Spencer of Crete township, beloved wife of the late Dr. R. V. Spencer of Chicago Heights, fond mother of Mrs. Mary Belle Wright of Chicago Heights and Mrs. Victoria Hamilton of Crete township, loving grandmother of Valoree Hamilton, Barbara Kay, and Richard Vance Wright. Services at funeral home, 1340 Otto boulevard, Chicago Heights, Friday, July 3, at 1 p.m. Internment Evergreen Hill."

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Susan T. Miller
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