Contesting Her Father's Will
Articles about Alice B. Chittenden's daughter's, Miriam Overton Sprague, suit to contest her father, Charles P. Overton, will from the San Francisco Examiner in 1917.
San Francisco Examiner, January 30, 1917, p.6,c.1
Never Saw Father, Sues for Wealth
Daughter 27, Whose Conception Was Cause for Parents Parting, Wants Share in Big Estate
Did Not Want Children
Opposition to Parenthood Resulted in Fish Company Head Cutting Off Only Child, Claim
Miriam Overton Sprague, who never saw her father, Charles P. Overton, vice-president of the Western Fish Company, notwithstanding they lived in the same city for twenty-seven years, yesterday began a contest of his will.
In the contest which is being tried before a jury in Judge Deasy’s court, Mrs. Sprague charges undue influence upon the part of her father’s second wife and widow, Mrs. Daisy Bell Overton, 2770 Jackson Street.
Overton, who died two years ago, bequeathed his estate equally to Mrs. Overton and an adopted daughter, Daisybel Overton, now seventeen years old. The estate was appraised at $164,000. He specifically disinherited his first wife, Mrs. Alice B. Chittenden, and her daughter Mrs. Sprague.
Wed Fish Man in 1886
Mrs. Chittenden is an artist and lives at 2201 California Street. Mrs. Sprague, who was formerly the wife of an employee of the gas company, but who secured a divorce three years ago, lives with her mother.
After the jury was secured late yesterday afternoon, Stanley Moore, representing the contestant, placed Mrs. Chittenden on the stand. She testified that she was married to Overton in November, 1886.
They went to live with his father, mother and two brothers at 1414 Geary Street. A few months after the marriage, she said, she told her husband that she was to become a mother. He did not want children, she said, and neither, did his mother.
Part Over Unborn Child
She said that she had so many quarrels with her husband and his mother over the unborn child that they finally had to separate from her husband in March 1887. Less than five months after their marriage. Her child was born in September, six months later.
All her live since then, she said, she has lived in San Francisco, as has her daughter, but the father and daughter never knowingly saw each other. Charles S. Wheeler, attorney for the widow, said that Overton had always acknowledged the paternity of Mrs. Sprague.
Mrs. Sprague avers that her father’s second wife so influenced him that he conferred upon an adopted child the love which rightly belonged to her and that this adopted child received her patrimony. The case will be continued today.
San Francisco Examiner, January 31, 1917, p.7,c.2
Mrs. Overton Put On Stand
Lawyer Seeks to Show She Adopted Child to Wean Husband from Own Daughter
Mrs. Daisy Bell Overton, 2770 Jackson Street, widow of the late Charles P. Overton, vice president of the Western Fish Company, was on the witness stand all of yesterday in Judge Deasy’s court giving the details of the adoption of six-year-old Daisybel Overton.
Overton’s will is being contested by his daughter, Mrs. Miriam Overton Sprague, who never saw her father notwithstanding they lived in the same city for twenty-seven years. Overton bequeathed his estate, valued at several hundred thousand dollars to his widow and adopted daughter.
Mrs. Overton was placed upon the stand by Attorney Stanley Moore, representing the contestant. He sought to prove that Mrs. Overton adopted a child so her husband’s thoughts would be taken from his own daughter and that the adoption was planned and almost carried out without the knowledge of Overton.
The adopted child is the daughter of Gwyneth Gerber. Mrs. Gerber is a daughter of Mrs. Mabel C. Muchmore, formerly of Sausalito, but now of Los Angeles. Gwyneth Gerber, when 17, married Gerber, a news agent on the Sausalito boats. A few months after her child was born she left her husband and secured a divorce. The baby was given to Mrs. Muchmore, a friend of Mrs. Overton’s.
In September, 1911, Overton went to Seattle. Muchmore went to Los Angeles on a visit and Mrs. Overton kept the child. She suddenly conceived the idea that she would adopt the child. Mrs. Muchmore consented.
An attorney told Mrs. Overton it would be necessary to get her husband’s consent. She wrote to him. His answer was introduced into evidence yesterday by Attorney Moore. In this answer he said he “felt aggrieved because she had awaited his departure to take this step” and that he did not “like these things that look like a trick.”
However, Overton sent his wife his written consent.
San Francisco Examiner, February 1, 1917, p.5,c.2
Child Center of Will Fight
Overton Letters in Evidence
Golden-Haired Babe in Court
Daisybel Overton, six year-old adopted daughter of the late Charles P. Overton, vice president of the Union Fish Company, has become the center of interest in the contest of Overton’s will now being prosecuted before a jury in Judge Deasy’s court.
Mrs. Miriam Overton Sprague, daughter of Overton, claims that she would have inherited a large part of her father’s estate valued at several hundreds of thousands of dollars if Mrs. Daisy Bell Overton, her father’s second wife, had not brought a child into the father’s home to take the place which rightfully belonged to his daughter.
Yesterday Charles S. Wheeler read into the record numerous letters written by Overton to his wife following the adoption of little Daisybel, in which he expresses his love for both his wife and the child. As these letters were read Mrs. Overton, who was on the witness stand, could not restrain her tears.
Stanley Moore, attorney for Mrs. Sprague, read into the record a letter which was enclosed with Overton’s will and found among his papers, following his death. The letter was written at the same time as the will, which was dated June 2, 1914. This was a few days before the Overtons sailed upon their fourth trip to Europe.
Letter in Evidence
It was the contention of Moore that this letter proved that Mrs. Overton had discussed with her husband the making of a will and had dictated its provisions. Mrs. Overton denied this. She said that she had called her husband’s attention to the sinking of the Titanic, which had occurred a short time previously, and told him, as they were about to submit to the perils of the sea, some provision should be made for their child.
A few days later, she said, he told her he had arranged for the child’s future, but did not say in what manner. The letter was as follows:
My Dearest Daisy: I trust this will is to your liking …
I hope you will train the baby to do good to those not so fortunate in life as herself. Do not encourage her to habits of spending. Let her be as saving and thrifty as she will. I wish you your self would get the habit of spending your money after you get it instead of before as you have heretofore done. It will conduce greatly to your peace of mind and is really the only safe way when you have to look out for yourself as you will now …
Do not feel that any loyalty to me or my memory should prevent your remarriage if you feel it will surely add to your happiness or comfort. A widow with a moderate income is pretty well off and you and the baby, if congenial, could have a god time, so do not fall a prey to someone looking for an easy living or one who would not make you happier than before. With much love to you and the little one
The adopted child is a daughter of Gwyneth Gerber, former pupil of a fashionable private school of this city who, when 17 years old, married a ferryboat news agent. The wedding took place without the consent of her mother, Mrs. Mable C. Muchmore, formerly of Sausalito.
Mrs. Muchmore and Mrs. Overton have been friends for many years and Mrs. Overton has known the baby since its birth. The child’s mother left her husband and obtained a divorce a year and a half after the marriage. Her mother kept the baby until it was adopted by Mrs. Overton when it was eighteen months old.
Mrs. Sprague, who is a daughter of Mrs. Alice Chittenden, local artist, was born following the separation of her mother and Overton and she never knowingly saw her father and he never saw her.
Mrs. Overton in her home last evening exhibited many pictures of her husband and the baby taken together. As she talked the golden-haired child sat upon her lap and caressed her.
The case will be continued to-day.
San Francisco Examiner, February 2, 1917, p.5,c.6
Overton Will Suit Dismissed
“Will is Cruel and Unjust,” Says Judge Deasy, “but Absolutely Legal.”
The contest by Mrs. Miriam Overton Sprague of the will of her late father, Charles P. Overton, vice president of the Union Fish Company, was dismissed by Judge Deasy yesterday because of the insufficiency of the evidence:
Judge Deasy said:
The will is a cruel and unjust one. However, Overton was admittedly of sound mind, and there is not sufficient evidence to support either a charge of fraud or undue influence. Therefore the court has no recourse but to dismiss the contest.
Mrs. Daisy Bell Overton, who, with her six-year-old adopted daughter, Daisybel, was bequeathed the entire estate, valued at several hundred thousand dollars, was the only witness called yesterday. When she left the stand just before the noon adjournment Charles S. Wheeler, her attorney, made a motion of nonsuit.
All afternoon Stanley Moore, representing Mrs. Sprague,, and Wheeler argued this motion to the court, the jury having been excused from attendance during the argument. At 5:45 last evening Judge Deasy decided that Mrs. Sprague is not entitled to share in her father’s estate.
Mrs. Overton yesterday morning reiterated her previous declarations that she had in no way influenced her husband in making a will disinheriting his daughter. She said she know nothing of legal lore, and could not have assisted him in drawing such a document, notwithstanding she is a daughter of Attorney Horace Bell of Los Angeles, and frequently did her father’s typing.
In his argument Attorney Wheeler first took up the question of unsoundness of mind. Attorney Moore conceded that Overton was of sound mind when he made his will. He then took up the question of fraud and declared there was not the slightest evidence to substantiate the assertion that Mrs. Overton or any other person had ever suggested to Overton that Mrs. Sprague was not his daughter.
Wheeler then took up the undue influence charge and declared that even though it might be contend the will was harsh, cruel and unjust as far as it concerned Mrs. Sprague, yet there was not a bit of evidence to prove that anyone had influenced Overton in the drawing of it, and under the law a testator of sound mind has the right to make any disposition of his property that he wishes.
Moore, in answering this, called attention to the fact that Mrs. Overton is more than twenty years younger than her late husband, and that she was so sure of her influence over him that she even made all plans to adopt a child without his knowledge and would have carried the adoption through without telling him if the law had not required his consent.
Mrs. Sprague is the daughter of Mrs. Alice Chittenden, local artist, who was Overton’s first wife. They separated three months before the birth of Mrs. Sprague, and notwithstanding father and daughter lived in this city for twenty-seven years they never knowingly saw each other.
Mrs. Chittenden claims she separated from her husband because of his objections to her having children.
Source: San Francisco Main Library