Acknowledgement is given to Rachael and Miquel who supplied information that has been incorporated into this article, and also to Find a Grave contributor Beverly, who gave permission for her photograph of Ophelia’s gravestone to be reproduced.
Ophelia Adams has an interesting history. For a while her name and writings featured regularly in the pages of ZWT. She wrote in support of CTR when he had his problems with S D Rogers. She actually wrote a poem called The Divine Plan of the Ages that was published in ZWT. She organized a Dawn Circle, giving chart lectures on the Divine Plan, and was praised by CTR for so doing, when there were no men prepared to help. And yet within ten years of these events, she was to get married to one of CTR’s theological opponents, Arthur Prince Adams.
At the head of this article is her gravestone. Ophelia is buried near her two husbands. The pillar in memory of her second husband, Arthur Prince Adams, is next to her; but while this is in very good condition her stone is covered in moss, and its location under a tree has not helped its preservation. The inscription reads Ophelia Browning Adams, 1856-1946, and then there is a scriptural reference at the bottom – from Ruth 1:16,17 which reads (in the King James Version):
|‘And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.’|
According to her death certificate, Ophelia was born on 21 February 1856, and died in April 1946.
Outside her Bible Student connections, Ophelia’s main claim to fame was that she was a prolific writer of religious poetry in her day, and some hymnals today still contain her work. She first started publishing under her maiden name Browning. A brief biography was given in the magazine Bible Training School (A Monthly Journal Devoted to the Interests of House to House Bible Work) in its issue of March 1911. Reprinting her poem Sometime, Somewhere (sometimes named after its first line: Unanswered Yet) it stated:
This poem has attracted much attention in America, and frequent inquiries have been made as to its authorship and origin. It has occasionally been ascribed to Robert Browning. It was written in May, 1880, by Ophelia G. Browning, the daughter of an American Methodist minister. In 1884 she was married to Thomas E. Burroughs, of Poughkeepsie, N. Y., since whose death a few years ago she has been married again, her present husband being the Rev. Arthur P. Adams, Beverly, Mass.
The Bible Training School magazine (which interestingly included the expression “House to House” in its by-line) was not connected with the Bible Students but was a Seventh Day Adventist publication. To be pedantic, the poem was actually written in 1879 and then first published in May 1880, in The Christian Standard, a magazine linked to the Barton Stone-Campbell movement and its subsequent offshoots. This was Ophelia’s earliest known published work. It was immediately copied in another magazine The Christian Advance and there misattributed to Robert Browning. Next, The Methodist Review wrote an elaborate article on Robert Browning and used Ophelia’s poem as evidence of his ripening spirituality! The misunderstanding eventually got sorted out.
Sometime, Somewhere aka Unanswered Yet, was also later published in the pages of ZWT in the issue for January 1, 1895. It was now entitled Pray Without Ceasing and credited to Mrs F G Burroughs. It also appeared in some editions of Poems of Dawn, when that volume was issued separately from Hymns of Millennial Dawn.
The hymnary.org website lists the history of nearly 100 of Ophelia’s lyrics from the 1880s until quite recent times. While re-titling is rife, it seems that some of her ZWT contributions are not included, so were not republished elsewhere. Some of her published poems in ZWT include Father Glorify Your Name (reprints page 1467),Faithful Over Few (page 1625), Behold the Bridegroom (1636), Pray Without Ceasing aka Unanswered Yet (1753), The Plan of the Ages (1901), and Cumbered with Much Serving (2184).
When the special musical Tower was published on February 1, 1896 with its selection of new hymns, four of them had Ophelia’s lyrics as set to M L McPhail’s music. The new hymnal entitled Zion’s Glad songs was republished and expanded on several occasions. The largest edition produced while McPhail was still an associate of CTR came out in 1908 and Ophelia’s share had now increased to a dozen hymns, lyrics by F G Burroughs, music by M L McPhail.
During her writing career she used at least five names. She seems to have started as Ophelia G Browning, then F G Browning, then on her marriage to Thomas E Burroughs as Mrs T E Burroughs, and then back to her own initials with (Mrs) F G Burroughs, and finally Ophelia Adams or Ophelia G Adams.
Not many poems were published as Browning. She married dry goods merchant, Thomas E Burroughs, in 1884. Her wedding ceremony was conducted by her father, Methodist minister, William Garritson Browning.
Once married, the name she generally used for her most prolific period was (Mrs) F G Burroughs. The F may have been a diminutive of Ophelia. According to information supplied by Ophelia’s daughter for the death certificate, the G stood – not for the family name Garritson – but Guyon. Maybe it was a nod towards the French mystic and poet Madam Guyon. Or maybe not.
At some point she came in contact with the writings of CTR and ZWT doctrine. As well as the aforementioned poems and hymns printed in ZWT between 1892 and 1897, she also wrote letters.
In the June 11, 1894 special extra issue of ZWT, page 203 (but omitted in reprints), Ophelia was one of many writing in support after the schism involving S D Rogers and others. Her letter reads:
CTR’s following remarks praised her for her initiative. He commented: “If a sister has preeminent talents, by all means use them. You did well, too, in starting the class with a chart exposition.” He also published her poem The Divine Plan of the Ages in the same ZWT issue.
How long she remained in association is not known. The regular run of her poems in ZWT stopped in mid-1897, leaving the field open to Gertrude Seibert and Rose Ball Henninges. Since Ophelia was a forceful enough character for that era to start up a Dawn Circle without the assistance of men, it may be that she was sympathetic to Maria in the Russells’ marital problems. However, that is pure speculation. What it does show is that her first husband, Thomas Burroughs, was not actively involved in her religion.
Husband Thomas died in 1904 and as the cutting below from the Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle for March 2, 1904 shows, he left her well provided for.
Just over a year later, on 5 April 1905 she married Arthur Prince Adams. He was 57 and she was 49. The wedding was conducted by the Rev. A H Evans of New York. Arthur gave his occupation as minister, and Ophelia was a housekeeper. She had probably been keeping house for her elderly father.
Some poems, old and new, were now published and re-published under her new married name, Ophelia Adams. And in 1909 the WT re-published two of her poems but under the old name of F G Burroughs (see reprints pages 4390 and 4407). ZWT transferred to New York that year. Whether that was the reason, or whether it was connected with her new life with Adams, or whether it was just coincidence is not known.
In the 1910 census her elderly father was living with them. He died later that year. Her husband, Arthur, is listed as a publisher, but Ophelia has no occupation.
Arthur P then died in 1920. Ophelia lived on until 1946. She was survived by her one daughter, Grace T Burroughs, who was then in her 50s and unmarried, and who had lived with her mother for decades. When Ophelia died I have not been able to find an obituary anywhere.
I would have liked to have interviewed her about her experiences, but alas, am nearly 70 years too late.