Though Elizabeth Morse Genius, the first child and only
daughter of Charles Hosmer Morse, grew up in luxury, she inherited
not only great wealth but a profound family tradition of industry
Her father's life was a 19th-century rags-to-riches tale of
American success. Charles Hosmer Morse began his career in his
native state of Vermont in 1850 as a $50-a-year apprentice for a
manufacturer of the scales so essential to all forms of commerce in
the rapidly growing American economy. His rise was rapid: In 1855
he was transferred to New York as a clerk and salesman. Two years
later he was sent to Chicago to assist in establishing the firm
Fairbanks & Greenleaf, in which he became a partner in 1862. In
1866, he founded Fairbanks, Morse & Company in Cincinnati, and
in 1869, Morse returned to Chicago to take over from Mr. Greenleaf,
whose health was failing. When the great fire broke out there on a
Sunday evening in 1871, the firm's offices were burned to the
ground. But by Tuesday, using charred books and papers rescued from
the office safe, Fairbanks, Morse & Company was up and running.
As Chicago prospered in the decades after the fire, so did Morse's
company, which expanded into the manufacture and sale of products
from engines to windmills to warehouse trucks and coffee mills --
and, always, scales.
In his later years, Charles Hosmer Morse began to spend his
winters in Florida, becoming one of the pillars of Winter Park,
where he quietly established a style of philanthropy that would be
followed by his daughter and his grandson Richard M. Genius, Jr. He
gave Winter Park its first town hall -- on the condition that his
gift remain anonymous during his lifetime -- and donated land for
its Central Park -- with the stipulation that it remain parkland
forever. When he died in 1921, a friend wrote to Elizabeth, "He had
a character that will be an inspiration to his children, his
grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren for years to come."
Regardless of where he lived, Charles Hosmer Morse remained
loyal to Chicago. He retained Edwin M. Ashcraft's Chicago law firm
for his business and personal affairs. This relationship has lasted
until the present day. Ashcraft's son Raymond represented Elizabeth
Morse Genius and her son Richard M. Genius, Jr. Raymond's
son-in-law William H. Alexander continued that representation, and
became The Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust's first
individual co-trustee. James L. Alexander, William's son, took on
that role in 1997, upon his father's death.
Loyalty was a hallmark of the Morse and Genius families. Both
had long-standing relationships with two Chicago banks --
Continental Illinois Bank & Trust Company (which became Bank of
America, N.A.) and First National Bank of Chicago (which became
JPMorgan Chase Bank, N..A.). In fact, as a young man, Richard M. Genius, Jr.,
worked as a clerk in First National Bank's service unit. Bank of
America, N.A. continues to serve as the corporate co-trustee of The
Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust.
Though she spent time in Florida, Elizabeth Morse's life was
rooted in Chicago, where she was born in 1872. Her family lived in
Kenwood, on Chicago's then-fashionable south side. Their 20-room
mansion, built by a prominent architect in cutting-edge
Richardsonian Romanesque style, was filled with custom-made arts
and crafts furniture, Tiffany glass, and paintings by artists
ranging from Albert Bierstadt to American impressionists such as
Edward Duffner, Guy Wiggins, and John Carlson.
After graduating from a private girl's school, where she studied
music and painting and became a competent amateur painter,
Elizabeth spent a year in Europe. She followed this with two years
at Wellesley College, from which she received a degree in art.
Always close to her father, she continued to live at home, and
became his hostess after her mother's death in 1903. When she
married Dr. Richard M. Genius in 1905, the Chicago mansion was
Charles Hosmer Morse's wedding present to the newlyweds.
The Geniuses had two children, Richard, born in 1908, and
Jeannette, born 1909. The children spent summers on a Vermont farm,
where their simple pleasures included long walks and horseback
rides through the countryside. Winters found them in Florida, but
Chicago remained home.
Family was central to Elizabeth Morse Genius, and motherhood was
all-important to her. When her daughter was taken ill with
influenza in March 1928, Elizabeth became literally sick with
worry. It was pneumonia that caused Elizabeth's death, but her
obituary suggested that worry about her daughter's health was "one
of the factors that prevented Mrs. Genius' recovery."
For Richard, a young man of 20, his mother's death was a
devastating blow. Her spirit and memory guided him throughout his
life, laying the foundation for his personal commitment to high
principle and integrity. When he died in 1992, his legacy was
dedicated to the mother he had loved so much and who had had such a
strong influence on his life. The Elizabeth Morse Charitable
Trust is the result of that love and influence.
* Researched and written by Nancy Ethiel for The Trust's