The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
Isadora Duncan was world-renowned as a premiere
classical dancer. She was also a rebel and a
controversial figure flouting the social mores and the
dancing style of the times. She refused to be bound by
the old rules that applied to both female behavior and
She was born May 27, 1878, in San Francisco and in her
biography she claims an Ulster-Scottish ancestry. She
studied ballet as a child but soon decided to dance
purely as natural movement dictated. She looked to
nature for inspiration through what she claimed were its
natural rhythms like ocean waves, for example.
She gave concerts in New York and Chicago before
deciding to go to Europe about 1900. She was a success
in Paris with appearances following in Budapest and
Berlin. She was now giving serious attention to dancing
as an art form.
When Isadora visited Russia in 1905, dance masters there
were profoundly impressed by her style and innovation.
Miss Duncan was one of the first dancers to interpret
symphonic music via the dance. She was deeply influenced
by Gluck, Brahms, Wagner, and Beethoven. More than a
half century ahead of her time, she insisted on dancing
barefoot in a skimpy free-flowing tunic that scandalized
the public. But it did much to emancipate women from
restrictive Victorian clothing.
Unmarried, she bore two children who were drowned in a
tragic accident in 1913. This had a profound adverse
affect on her psyche, but she married the Russian poet
Sergei Esenin and continued her career.
Isadora Duncan died September 14, 1927 at Nice, France
in another fatal accident. The long scarf she was
wearing became entangled in a rear wheel of the open car
in which she was riding. Isadora Duncan is a member of
the Scottish-American Hall of Fame at the Scottish Home
in North Riverside, Illinois.
More information can be found at the Isadora Duncan
Mrs. Joan Chalmers
In October, 1878, Joan Pinkerton, daughter of the late
Allan Pinkerton, married William J. Chalmers. Their
residence was 1100 Lake Shore Drive. She would have two
children, Joan and Thomas Stuart. Her husband was the
son of Thomas Chalmers who founded, along with David R.
Fraser, the Fraser and Chalmers Company. This company
had great shops in Chicago and Erith, near London,
England. Their labor force once numbered 2,000 and was
the largest manufacturer of mining machinery in the
In 1900, the Fraser and Chalmers Company united with the
great Allis Engine Works at Milwaukee, and other plants,
and became the Allis-Chalmers Co. William J. Chalmers
became an officer in the new company.
John Drury in his book “Old Chicago Houses” says:
“...Mrs. Chalmers, daughter of Allan Pinkerton, head of
President Lincoln’s secret service agency during the
Civil War, was known for her engaging personality. She
was to become, like her husband, a philanthropist whose
gifts were widespread and generous.” Mr. And Mrs.
Chalmers were supporters and major contributors to the
building of the Scottish Home.
Blanche Stuart Scott
*Someone You Should Know*
“The tomboy of the air” made her first solo flight
September 5, 1910. “In those days” she recalled a few
years ago, “they didn’t take you up in the air to teach
you. They gave you a bit of preliminary ground training.
They told you this and that. You got in. They kissed you
good-bye, and trusted to luck you’d get back.”
Seated in what she called “an undertaker’s chair” in
front of “a motor that sounded like a whirling bolt in a
dish pan” Mrs. Scott, her bloomers filled with three
petticoats, went aloft by accident. Her instructor,
Glenn H. Curtiss, had governed her plane for “grasscutting”,
taxiing up and down the field without taking off. While
taxiing in her spidery contraption, a sudden gust of
wind lifted her into the sky about 40 feet. “Yes” she
said, “I got down all right. After that, I wasn’t going
to stay on the ground anymore, and I never did.”
“Her aerial intrepidity had its origin in celebrity for
adventures.” Only months before her solo flight, she had
titillated the nation by driving across the country on
mostly unpaved roads, the first woman to do so.
She was an outdoors enthusiast and was educated at the
Misses School for Girls in Rochester, Howard Seminary in
Massachusetts and Fort Edward College in New York.
Blanche was a champion ice skater, and suffered injuries
and wrecked several bicycles trying to become a trick
bicyclist. She was in her own words, “a screwball then.
I was a cocky kid of 18 and the whole thing was a lark.”
Her father, who had a patent medicine business in
Rochester had raised her on the theme “Are you right? If
you’re sure, give ‘em hell.”
As a young adult, she took a job in New York selling
Overland automobiles. She persuaded the Overland Company
to sponsor her on a cross-country drive which she
planned to perform without any male assistance. In May
1910, she and a female passenger started their drive
from New York to San Francisco. The trip covered 6,000
miles. On her sixth-day odyssey across the country,
which was widely publicized at the time, she planned
to drive through Dayton, Ohio, where the Wright brothers were
Soon after Blanche returned east, Mr. Curtiss found
himself explaining the fundamentals of the infant
science of aeronautics to the pert and petite young
woman at his hanger in Hammondsport, N.Y.
She joined a group of barnstormers on the dare-devil
circuit, expressing the hope that her stunts, which
included “3,000-foot death dives,” would simulate more
opportunities for women. For her aerobatics, she
received as much as $5,000 a week. She crashed twice and
explained one of them as “my fault, I was in love.”
After World War I, she gave up stunt flying and wrote
for the movies for several years, became a radio
commentator, an assistant manager of a radio station and
then a special consultant for the Air Force for its
museum at the Wright-Patterson Base, a position she held
until 1956. “The budget dropped and so did I”, she said,
“but I got the museum $1.25 million worth of precious
historical material. I’m one of the world’s best
She is said to have been the first woman to ride in a
jet plane, when she flew in a training version of the
Shooting Star in 1948.
“God in his infinite wisdom,” she was quoted as saying
several years ago, “gave me three husbands, but no
children. If I had a son, he’d probably be a
Pictures and more information can be found at
Williamina Paton Fleming
During her lifetime, Williamina Paton Fleming was
America’s most famous female astronomer. In 1906 she
became the first American to become a member of the
Royal Astronomical Society.
Williamina Paton Stevens was born May 15, 1857 in
Dundee, Scotland. Her father operated a picture framing
business and dabbled in early photography. He died when
she was seven. She married James Orr Fleming in 1877.
The following year, the Flemings emigrated to Boston. In
1879 the marriage foundered and she went to work for
Prof. E. C. Pickering of Harvard, a director of the
college observatory. She soon showed a talent for
astronomy and worked on star classification. She set up
her own system with 10,351 stars listed in a special
catalog. These included 222 stars which she had
discovered herself. The eminent British astronomer, H.
H. Turner, termed Mrs. Fleming’s discoveries “an
achievement bordering on the marvelous.”
Among 28 novae stars known at the time of her death,
Mrs. Fleming had discovered 10 by their spectra. She
also discovered 94 of the 107 Rayet stars known at the
time of her death.
Mrs. Fleming edited all of the publications that issued
from the Harvard Observatory shortly after she started
work there. In 1898 Harvard formally acknowledged the
value of her services by giving her the official
appointment as curator of astronomical photographs. It
was the first such appointment given by Harvard
University to a woman. Later she was placed in charge of
the astrophotographic building.
She worked long hours at her job, her health suffered,
and she became ill of pneumonia in the fall of 1910. She
died in Boston the following spring on May 12, 1911. She
Interesting pictures can be found at the
Harvard University Library. Or see the
Encyclopedia Britannia - 300 women who changed the
Anna Mary Robertson
Perhaps the most remarkable American artist was Anna
Mary Robertson Moses, “Grandma Moses”. She had little
schooling, certainly none in art, and she didn’t really
begin to paint in earnest until she was past 70.
She was born September 7, 1860 in Greenwich, N.Y. Her
paternal great grandfather was Archibald Robertson who
was born in Scotland in 1748 and emigrated to America in
1770. Her maternal great-grandfather, John Shonan, was
also born in Scotland. Her father, Russell, was a farmer
with artistic talent which he suppressed because of the
necessity of farm chores. She was one of ten children
when girls were not expected to spend much time in
She married Thomas S. Moses in 1887 and had 10 children;
five survived. Too busy farming and rearing a family,
she had little time for painting until well past
When she died December 13, 1961, President Kennedy
eulogized her as “a beloved figure in American life.”
She was 101 years of age.
More information can be found at the
U.S. GenWeb Project.
Elizabeth Wiley Corbett, M.D.
An obituary in the New York Times says, “Elizabeth Wiley
Corbett was widely known as the first (American) woman
doctor.” She began practicing medicine when she was
about 22 and continued until her death. Elizabeth Jane
Wiley was born July 10, 1833, on a farm near Kent,
Indiana. She was Scottish on both sides of her family.
Her great grandfather emigrated to Virginia just before
the American Revolution. Her mother was a Maxwell whose
forebears included Weirs and Campbells from southern
Higher education for women was not commonplace in
America during the early 1800s. Elizabeth was expected
to stay home sewing, weaving, cooking and scrubbing
while her brothers attended school. She read their
textbooks and soon was being tutored by her
self-educated father, Preston P. Wiley. When her mother
was stricken with typhoid, she determined at age 14 that
she was going to be a physician to alleviate suffering.
Refused admission to the nearby all-male Hanover College
because she was female, she entered Antioch College in
Ohio. Here she had a chance to meet the famed educator
Horace Mann, the college president. Finishing there, she
enrolled in a small uncertified medical school in New
York. She moved to San Francisco and started her medical
practice. It was not until 1870 that she received her
M.D. degree from the University of Michigan.
She married another physician, Dr. Samuel Corbett, and
spent much of her later life fighting the entrenched
prejudice against women doctors. Much of her time was
devoted to the medical problems of women and children in
gynecology, obstetrics and pediatrics. She died in
Washington, D. C., on June 4, 1916.
A short autobiographical sketch is available at
From the Editor
We have dedicated this issue to Scottish women and their
accomplishments. Several weeks ago, I had lunch with Dr.
and Mrs. Robert Snyder and he was telling me about his
mother and her accomplishments. In 1911, she received a
Masters in Arts and Mathematics from the University of
Illinois. Her thesis was entitled “On the Complete
Residue System of Certain Number Realms.” She not only
“set the curve” for her class, but was the first woman
to graduate from the program. Her thesis helped in the
understanding and development of computers.
Those of us who write the newsletter would like to pay
our respects to all the women of Scottish descent who
have made such great contributions to our country and
its development. If you have other stories about
Scottish women please let us know.
On March 16, I had the privilege of speaking to the
British Interest Group of Wisconsin and Illinois about
Scots who influenced Chicago and the United States. It
was also an opportunity to tell the story of Jessie
Miss Mcdonald was a seamstress from Dundee, Scotland,
who lived in Chicago. A suitcase of her letters and
pictures were found in a Catholic rectory. They were
brought to the Scottish Home by a wonderful man, a
priest, who had become intrigued after reading her
letters. Someday we will tell her story. Several people
are now seeking her burial place. The last letter is
So many of you are writing that it is just impossible to
answer every letter. They are much appreciated and we
hope you will keep writing. This is our ninth
publication and represents our third anniversary. The
material seems endless, but we are always looking for
different and unusual stories.