Countiss Family Biographies

Twice married, Eleanor Robinson Countiss Whiting was the mistress of 1524 North Lake Shore Drive.  She had two children with both of her husbands:  Frederick Countiss and Lawrence Whiting.  She also employed a number of servants to maintain her home and to care for her children.

Eleanor Robinson Countiss Whiting

Born into a life of privilege, Eleanor Robinson Countiss (1887-1931) was known throughout Chicago and the world for her philanthropic work and her entrepreneurial ventures.  She organized Chicago’s elite women as Red Cross workers during World War I and was decorated by the Queen of Belgium for her war work.  She and her second husband, Lawrence Whiting, founded the American Furniture Markets, now known as the Merchandise Mart.

As the daughter of J.K. Robinson, an executive at the Diamond Match Company (the largest American match manufacturer at the end of the 19th century), Eleanor traveled throughout Europe and found the eventual inspiration for 1524 North Lake Shore Drive:  Marie Antoinette’s Le Petit Trianon palace in Versailles.  She married her first husband, Frederick Countiss, in 1910.  The Countiss had two children:  Frederick Countiss, Jr. and Henrietta Countiss Vietta.  They later divorced in 1923.  Eleanor married again in 1925 to Lawrence Whiting.  The Whitings also had two children:  Lawrence Whiting, Jr. and Barbara Eleanor Whiting.

Frederick Countiss

Described by his daughter Henrietta as a “quiet man, conscientious … he never raised his voice or refused his help”, Frederick Countiss (1872 -1926) was the Chicago partner of S.B. Chapin and Company, a brokerage firm, and became the President of the Chicago Board of Trade.  Like Eleanor, Frederick also helped the World War I effort.  Unable to fight in the war due to high blood pressure, Frederick helped find food to feed the troops.

Lawrence Whiting

Lawrence Whiting (1890-19xx) was Eleanor’s second husband.  They met when Eleanor was hostessing Edna Ferber, the novelist, who was recovering from a nose straightening operation.  The romance between Eleanor and Lawrence was said to have inspired Ferber’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel So Big.

Whiting was born in Peru, Indiana and came to Chicago in 1912 to attend the University of Chicago.  Whiting was a star on the University of Chicago’s football team.  He served in World War I and was the Assistant Commissioner of Finance at the Paris Peace Conference.

Frederick Countiss, Jr.

Frederick Countiss, Jr. (1914-1996) inspired a poignant moment at Eleanor’s wedding to Lawrence Whiting in 1925.  Young Frederick walked his mother down the aisle.  Frederick later became a commercial photographer, owning his studio for over 40 years; he took multiple pictures of 1524 North Lake Shore Drive.

Henrietta Countiss Vieta

Henrietta Countiss Vieta (1912-2000) was an active steward of the home and her mother’s fortune, after Eleanor’s early death.  In 1937, she sued her stepfather, Lawrence Whiting, for mismanaging her mother’s estate and indulging “in [an] extravagant and lavish manner of living.”  The lawsuit continued into 1938 with Lawrence Whiting accusing Henrietta of removing valuables from the home.

Lawrence Whiting, Jr.

Lawrence Whiting, Jr. (1928 – 1998) was only 2 when his mother died.  He was drafted in World War II.  In the late 1950s, he moved to  Wisconsin and founded an air courier business, which later evolved into a crop-dusting equipment manufacturing company.

Barbara Eleanor Whiting Lee

Barbara Whiting (1931 – xxxx) was too young to remember her mother, yet Barbara was able to feel her mother’s presence by living at 1524 North Lake Shore Drive in her formative years.

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