Unearthed: McClanahan & McClanahan

It was lilac season, so of course we went to Graceland Cemetery.

My husband knows I’m a sucker for lilacs, and how much I look forward to that moment in spring when the bushes foam over with good-smelling blossoms. Graceland provides a particularly nice array of lilacs in season, so he suggested we take a walk through the cemetery on a Sunday morning this past May.

That’s where I spotted Archie. I was drawn at first to the fragile little flowers scattered on his cool grey stone. I took the photo for that, and because I’ve been trying to take more cemetery pictures of people who lived long lives. They leave more records, which makes my research easier, and they are more likely to die of natural causes, which helps my mood.

I’m also a sucker for father-daughter stories, and as it turns out, he has one.

His life ended in Chicago, but it started about 200 miles away, in Mercer County, IL. Mercer is one of those counties that fringe the Mississippi River, and at that time it was almost entirely farms.

He was born there with the lofty name of Archibald Allen McClanahan, in September 1859. Archie’s father John (JP) McClanahan was a doctor, so the family required a smaller piece of land than most of their neighbors, and one nearer the tiny town of Alexis. (Census, Map)

Map showing Suez Township and the area around Alexis, IL. 1874
Map showing Suez Township and the area around Alexis, IL. John McClanahan’s farm in highlight. 1874

Archie — “Arch” to his college friends — spent his college years alternately attending Monmouth College, in nearby Monmouth, IL, and selling lumber back in Alexis. Passages in the Monmouth college newspaper note that he continued his studies even at a distance. In 1880, he was listed among the school’s “Irregular” students. He seems to have been undecided about which path — lumber or law — he would take. However, by 1882, he had enrolled in law school at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.

Aside from his studies, and lumber sales, he may have had another thing on his mind: fellow Monmouth student Nettie Braiden.

Nettie was no pushover, as two news items from the time indicate.

Monmouth Review; Feb. 21, 1879
Monmouth Review; Feb. 21, 1879
Horrid: Monmouth College Newspaper Courier; April 1, 1879
Monmouth College Courier; April 1, 1879

* * * *

Monmouth College Courier; April 1, 1883
Monmouth College Courier; April 1, 1883

Nettie and Archie were married in Lake County, IL (just north of Northwestern University) in the spring of 1883. Lumber appears to have been the initial plan, but somewhere along the way, plans changed.

In 1885, Archie — now using the more professional-sounding “A.A. McClanahan” — passed the bar. And by Christmas that year, Archie, Nettie, and their new baby Nettie Margaret were settled comfortably in… Omaha, Nebraska. Clearly, the lumber business was not the future after all. He was now a practicing attorney with a series of partners.

Omaha also may have been tenuous. A college newspaper clipping shows that Archie was already looking to move.

Monmouth College Courier; Feb. 1, 1886

Whatever the health scare, the McClanahans stayed put while children continued to arrive: Harry in 1887 and Miles in 1889. Meanwhile, Archie was building his reputation as a corporate and banking lawyer. They were active in the Presbyterian church and started to make friends.

The future may be overrated anyway.

1891 was their first major loss, when little Harry died. Two more children, Alice (1892) and Bayard (1895), kept the house noisy and busy. Aside from their personal ups and downs, the depression of 1893, paired with an extended drought, was making Nebraska a difficult place to earn a living. That may be why, in 1896, the whole brood was packed up and moved back to Illinois.

Illinois Again
By 1898, Archie was the city attorney for the town of Wheaton, IL. He must have been doing very well — that year, he was involved in a lawsuit, attempting to recover $18,000 he had loaned to someone. Another son, Archie Jr, arrived that year as well. 1899 started on a high, with Archie traveling to Europe. But it ended on the lowest of notes, when Archie and Nettie’s one-month-old baby John, their seventh child, died in December.

In 1900, the McClanahans moved again, to Chicago itself, in an area just west of Garfield Park. Nettie and Archie’s last child, Wilhelmina, was born in 1902. Around this time Archie began working for Continental National Bank and teaching at Kent College of Law. He joined the Hamilton Club, and then the Union League. By 1910, they were in the Blue Book. People were taking notice.

Archie's caricature, from a series of lithographs of important Chicagoans.
Archie’s caricature, from a series of lithographs of important Chicagoans.

His work required travel, sometimes as far as Nebraska or Kansas. At their large home on Malden Street, it was left to Nettie and two servants to contain their six rambunctious children, ranging in age from teenagers to infants.

Alice was born fourth, right in the middle of her eight siblings (five of them boys). Among the many things she would do in her life, Alice wrote a memoir in her later years. It provides a touching glimpse of life among the McClanahans.

“Mrs. Sexton was our next-door neighbor, with a husband suffering from a heart condition. We had a large yard and it was used constantly. If it was full of children yelling and batting balls about, or playing croquet, soon the phone would ring and Mrs. Sexton would complain. Mother was always diplomatic. She would say, “I’m afraid we have a very noisy family. We’ll see if it can’t be quieted down.” Then she would come out and call: “Children it’s time for lemonade.” Then we would all troop to the big porch and its pitcher of delectable lemonade, and sit awhile and drink. Perhaps we would not even go back to the croquet ground. And Mr. Sexton’s heart could rest in peace.”

Alice and Archie had a unique relationship. As a child, she was fascinated by her father and his work, and he repaid this attention by taking her with him.

“He took her everywhere—to his office with its shelves of books, to the federal court building to see the murals, to the county building and the recorder’s office. In her eyes, he was a great and distinguished man.”

He even had a nickname for the daughter at his heels: “My partner, Brooks,” he called her.

After high school, Alice followed some of her siblings to the Lewis Institute of Arts and Sciences. Around this same time, Nettie became ill with a long-term illness. To ease the burden, Alice, now about 20, took on responsibility for her younger siblings, Bayard (16), Archie (13), and Willie (11).

“My father said to me: “We must just make comfortable and happy, and never let anything disturb her.” As the weeks went along, I became accustomed to the responsibility but it more or less sobered me. I thought it all over and decided that I wanted to be a lawyer like Father, though I was careful not to say a word to anybody of such a revolutionary decision.”

It was indeed. In 1900, there were fewer than 600 female attorneys in the whole country. Many law schools wouldn’t enroll women at all. Women could also not be admitted to the national bar association.

“In time, I went to my father and told him. He looked at me searchingly. ‘Well, this is something that wants thinking about. It is an important decision. Let’s think about it all this summer, before we decide.’ I thought about it, talked to him about it, and became more and more firm in my decision; Father still temporizing and cautioning delay in decision. However, when I graduated from Lewis Institute, my mind was made up. I wanted to be a lawyer.”

“When there was no more indecision, Father took me to see Dean Burke of the Chicago Kent College of Law, and introduced me. He was a member of the faculty and I therefore was received with probably more than ordinary courtesy. A metamorphosis had taken place since my eleven-year-old days. The brace had straightened my teeth, and been discarded, so I looked quite normal; the freckles had more-or-less disappeared; and my hair, fashioned in a knot at the nape of my neck, was quite satisfactory. All in all ‘my partner, Brooks’ was not at all a bad-looking girl. I registered and then Dean Burke said to me: ‘If you would be willing to act as class secretary of the school, you could earn your tuition.’ I was told what a class secretary had to do— take care of the registrations, check attendance at classes, keep the class records. I was thrilled at the opportunity to earn my way and accepted at once. I remained the class secretary for the three years of my course. It meant a great deal to me that Father did not have to pay a penny for me, and Father, of course, was very proud of me to my great delight. He said: ‘Well, my partner, Brooks, is a very capable person evidently. I need never worry about her.’ Naturally, I was very busy with the house, the school, and the secretarial duties, but they gave me a balance and an understanding…”

Alice graduated from Kent in 1914. It must have been a bittersweet day, as Nettie was too sick to attend the ceremony.

“If I had been a man instead of a woman, I would have taken the bar examination at once, which was the next milestone on my path, but, being a woman, nobody thought of anything except my remaining at home with Mother, and letting law wait.”

Nettie died six weeks later, on Aug. 11, 1914.

Alice took the bar exam, and passed, the following spring. After she was sworn in as a lawyer, the judge who performed the oath took her aside: “Miss McClanahan, are you really going to practice law?” He asked.

Chicago Tribune; March 1, 1915

McClanahan & McClanahan, Esqs.
Alice began her legal career working for a publishing company. It was not ideal. She was only allowed to contact clients via mail — the company didn’t want to upset them with the revelation that their lawyer was a woman. Within a few years, she moved on to United Charities, serving as their chief counsel doing legal aid work.

This work was more fulfilling, but not enough. In 1920, she aachieved her dream, and Archie’s: They went into practice together, and would be partners for the next 20 years.

“I nearly drove him crazy with all the general practice cases I brought into the office,” she recounted. Archie continued to specialize in business law, while Alice’s reach was more general, and included a focus on child custody cases.

But it was still 1920. Even his own daughter presented a risk. According to the Illinois Bar Journal: “Alice [recalled] the public’s negative attitude toward women lawyers. Her father, by making it clear to clients she would be handling their cases as well as he, risked losing many clients, but he believed in women’s suffrage and the equal ability of women.”

The law was Alice’s life, but it couldn’t provide everything. In 1928, at 36 years old, she married Andrew Raithel. His name appears in the yearbooks for the Lewis Institute at the same time as some of her McClanahan siblings, so that may be a clue as to how they met.

Andrew was in the real estate business, and by 1935 he and Alice had moved to Elmhurst, IL. He was involved with an experimental cattle farm in Bureau County, while she and Archie maintained their practice on LaSalle Street. Archie was in his 70s, and he had cut back on teaching, but he still came to the office.

On Sept. 24, 1940, Archie McClanahan died at the age of 80. The boy from western Illinois, turned bank lawyer and world traveler, passed away at his home on Fremont Street in Chicago. Alice closed the LaSalle Street office they had shared for two decades, and opened her own practice at 769 West Monroe Street.

More difficulties awaited. On Christmas Eve 1945, her husband Andrew died suddenly of a heart attack. She focused on her cases, as well as volunteer work for Republican women’s organizations and the bar association. And she continued to rise. Alice performed “trial work in all of the courts, including the Illinois Appellate and Supreme Courts and the Federal Court. She was also admitted to practice in the United States Supreme Court.”

In 1955, Alice closed her private office, but for the best of reasons: She was appointed an assistant United States Attorney.

Oak Park Oak Leaves; May 19, 1955
Oak Park Oak Leaves; May 19, 1955

Her personal life, too, was looking up. In the summer of 1951, Alice remarried, to Alois Malek. Throughout her career, she used her maiden name for professional work.

Alice made her first attempt at writing in 1952, crafting a short play for her Republican women’s group about citizenship. In 1958, wanting to create “a tribute to my wonderfully loyal father,” Alice wrote and published her memoir, “Her Father’s Partner.” It is a loving memorial to the family, and father, who helped her build the career she loved.

Arizona Daily Star; Sept 9, 1959
Arizona Daily Star; Sept 9, 1959

Alice passed away on Oct. 19, 1961, in Oak Park, IL. She was 69 years old. Whatever dreams her parents had for her, she had surpassed them. ☗

Top photo taken by the author.
US Census: 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940
Monmouth College Courier; various dates
Chicago Tribune; June 15, 1959
Arizona Daily Star; Sept 9, 1959
Illinois Bar Journal, Volume 74; Illinois State Bar Association; 1985
Suez Township Map
CA Briggs caricature of A.A. McClanahan
1907 Lewis Institute of Arts and Sciences yearbook
1909 Chicago Street renumbering guide
The Chicago blue book of selected names of Chicago and suburban towns; 1910
Archie obituary: Illinois Bar Journal, Volume 29; Illinois State Bar Association; 1941
“Her father’s partner: the story of a lady lawyer,” by Alice M. McClanahan; 1958
Alice obituary: Chicago Bar Record, Volumes 43-44 Chicago Bar Association Publisher Chicago Bar Association, 1961

Author: Ms. Snoop

ABOUT I was lucky to be born into a family of genealogists, and to be gifted a family tree already bristling with names. Along the way, other names have somehow found me. My job is to listen to their stories.

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