ELBRIDGE G. KEITH

Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 53-55.

ELBRIDGE GERRY KEITH is not only conspicuous as a financier, but he has come to be one of the best known among Chicago's many prominent reformers and philanthropists.  While displaying the sagacity and tenacity of purpose so essential to a successful business career, he has simultaneously been identified with so many movements of a public nature, that the modern history of Chicago would be but incompletely told without some allusion to his character and deeds.  Though he has exerted no small influence in shaping measures of public policy, and in placing capable and trustworthy men in positions of profit and honor, he has scrupulously avoided any personal connection with places of political preferment, and has given no one an opportunity to traduce his motives or question the sincerity of his purposes.

Mr. Keith is the youngest son of Martin Keith and Betsey French, extended mention of whom is made elsewhere in this volume.  He was born at Barre, Washington County, Vermont, July 16, 1840, and enjoyed excellent educational advantages.  After a course at Newbury Seminary he attended Barre Academy, which was then under the charge of Dr. J. S. Spaulding, one of the leading educators of his day.  At an early age he began to display a marked tendency for literary and political pursuits, but these proclivities were somewhat obscured by the commercial surroundings in which he was placed.  Upon leaving school, at the age of sixteen years, he began his business career in the capacity of clerk in a country store, and later, in 1857, he came to Chicago, whither his brothers, Edson and O. R. Keith, had preceded him.  He at once became connected with the house of Keith Brothers & Faxon, and upon the retirement of Mr. Faxon in 1865, he became a partner in the firm of Keith Brothers, wholesale dealers and jobbers in hats, caps, furs and millinery.  This firm is still known as one of the foremost in its line.

In 1884 Mr. Keith helped to organize the Metropolitan National Bank, and was immediately elected its President, a position which he has continuously filled to the present time.  Under his thorough and capable management this corporation has come to be recognized as one of the most substantial banking institutions in the West.  It now occupies the magnificent banking floor of the Temple, at La Salle and Monroe Streets, and employs about fifty people in the regular transaction of its immense business.

Mr. Keith has ever been an earnest advocate of the cause of education, and served seven years as a member of the Board of Education of Chicago.  The Keith School, at the corner of Thirty-fourth and Dearborn Streets, was so named in recognition of his able and disinterested services in behalf of the youth of the city.  He is also a Trustee of Beloit College, one of the foremost institutions of higher education in the West.

At an early date Mr. Keith began to ally himself with social, benevolent, literary and commercial organizations, for the number and character of which Chicago is famous.  Among those in whose work he has been most conspicuous may be mentioned the Union League, Commercial and Bankers' Clubs, each of which has honored him with the position of President.   He is also identified with the Chicago, Literary and Twentieth Century Clubs.  He has served as presiding officer of the Young Men's Christian Association and the Chicago Orphan Asylum.

When the Civic Federation was formed for the purpose of introducing much-needed reforms into the social and municipal conduct of the city, he became one of its most earnest and influential members, and as one of its Directors is doing much to forward the good work inaugurated by this beneficent organization.  As a Director of the World's Columbian Exposition, he was active and potent in securing its location in Chicago and its unprecedented success.

In December, 1860, Mr. Keith was married to Miss Harriet S. Hall, of Dayton, La Salle County, Illinois, and a daughter of Joseph Hall, one of the pioneers of this state.  The family of Mr. and Mrs. Keith comprised four sons and two daughters until the twenty-eighth day of November, 1891, when they were called upon to mourn the death of the first-born daughter, Susie, an accomplished young woman.  The names of the others are: Elbridge B., Carl, Stanley, Harold H. and Bessie.

For over twenty years Mr. Keith has been identified with Christ Reformed Episcopal Church, of which Bishop Cheney is pastor.  At the age of fourteen years he walked twelve miles in order to attend the first Republican State Convention in Vermont, and has ever since been an interested participant in the councils of that party.  He has seen and been a factor in its accomplishment of the emancipation of the slave, the establishment of a sound financial system, and the promotion and development of the arts of peace.  He has frequently served as a delegate in state conventions, and was a member of the National Convention which nominated James A. Garfield for the presidency.  Throughout all these years, however, he has consistently refused to allow the use of his name as a candidate for any political office.  By this steadfast course, he is pointing out to his fellow-citizens the way to true civil-service reform, which can never be fully accomplished without the active participation in political affairs of those who are not themselves office-seekers.

                                -- Submitted on 9/18/99 by Sherri Hessick ( slhessick@crosswinds.net )