Eleanor Robinson Countiss (1887-1931)

Mrs Eleanor (Robinson) Countiss, Whiting

Associated Houses

Countiss Mansion


Harrose Hall

Lake Geneva

She was born to a wealthy family in Chicago and as a girl often travelled in Europe. Her father and her uncle (O.C. Barber, "America's Match King") were the co-founders of the Diamond Match Company, the largest producers of matches in the States. In 1910, she married Frederick Countiss, a partner in the brokerage firm of S.B. Chapin & Co., and who later served as President of the Chicago Board of Trade. They lived at 1524 North Lake Shore Drive which was inspired by Le Petit Trianon at Versailles which she had seen on her travels in France. Today, the house is home to the International Museum of Surgical Science. During World War I, Eleanor galvanized many of Chicago's wealthy young heiresses to work for the Red Cross and was decorated by the Queen of Belgium for her work. Her husband's blood pressure stopped him from taking up arms and instead he used his influence to source provisions for the troops.

Eleanor divorced Countiss in 1923 having fallen in love with Lawrence H. Whiting who she met while she was hostessing the novelist Edna Ferber, then recovering from an operation that she had done to straighten her nose.  The romance between Eleanor and Lawrence (married in 1925) reputedly inspired Ferber’s 1925 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel So Big. Eleanor and Lawrence bought Harrose Hall from Harry Selfridge and founded the American Furniture Markets, now known as the Merchandise Mart. Eleanor had two children from each marriage: (1) Frederick Countiss Jr. (2) Mrs Henrietta (Countiss) Vietta (3) Lawrence Whiting Jr. and (4) Mrs Barbara Eleanor (Whiting) Lee.
Contributed by Mark Meredith on 15/07/2020 and last updated on 19/11/2020.