Susan Hely was born in Ireland in 1834 (see notes below). She was the daughter of Hilliard and Mary Vowell Hely of Johnstown, Ireland. Hilliard Hely was a professional portrait painter who pursued his early artistic studies in Paris and graduated from Trinity College with a Bachelor of Arts. Historical records indicate that Hilliard Hely emigrated to the U.S. in 1837, settling in Racine County, Wisconsin. Hely encouraged his daughter to paint and tutored her in portraiture. Hilliard Hely passed away in 1858.
In 1859, Susan Hely was married to Josephus St. John, a native of Vermont. In the early years of their marriage, the couple resided in Chicago. Josephus St. John studied medicine at Ru
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