Monday, March 2, 2015

Three sisters

 by Jerome

Important note: Grateful thanks are due to correspondent Bernhard who supplied some of the information below. Regrettably I am not able to give references in support of some dates, but I have no reason whatsoever to doubt the accuracy of the information.

The title “Three Sisters” may bring to mind a famous play by Anton Chekhov, likely inspired by the three Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne.

However, this article is going to briefly consider three who were classed as sisters within the framework of the ZWT fellowship. They all had something remarkable in common – they all served as directors of Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society (from 1894 the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society) during the time of CTR’s presidency.

If this concept is a surprise to modern readers, there are two facts about those early days that must be recognized. First, women had a much more public role in the Society’s affairs in those days. CTR’s wife, Maria, for example was an associate editor of the Watch Tower for a number of years. (See Proclaimers book footnote, page 645).

And second, it must be realized that the role of directors in those early days was mainly figurative. In A Conspiracy Exposed (pages 55-60) CTR explained that for legal reasons they needed directors, but it was always understood that matters were so arranged to allow him (along with Maria at that time) to retain control. There was no annual meeting, and elections, such as they were, took place on the first Saturday of each New Year. Hence J B Adamson in that same document complained that as a director he never made a decision. Later, Maria in the separation hearing testimony, made a similar comment about her role as secretary-treasurer. Directors would include some of CTR’s contacts in Pittsburgh and Allegheny, and in many cases, those who were on hand by living in or at least working in the Bible House. But they didn’t “direct” – they were just names on paper. As time went on, a number of members of the Pittsburgh Bible House family (and later Brooklyn Bethel family) simply stepped in and filled gaps as directors – often for quite brief times – under the administration of CTR.

So, our three “sisters” who were directors?

The first female director, was of course, Maria Russell herself. Maria Frances Ackley was born in 1850.
She married CTR in 1879 and later that year worked with him as the fledgling ZWT magazine was launched. Her sister Emma married CTR’s father, Joseph, the following year, 1880.

In 1881 Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society was formed with William Conley as president, Joseph L Russell as vice president and CTR as secretary-treasurer. On Monday, December 15, 1884 this society was legally incorporated in Pittsburgh. Maria became a director and an officer of the new incorporated Society – as secretary-treasurer. On paper this meant that she replaced CTR who had previously held that position, but who now became president of the new official arrangement.

Maria remained as secretary-treasurer in name until the annual meeting on January 5, 1895. Although no longer an officer, she remained on the books as a director until February 12, 1900 when she resigned. She was replaced by either Albert E Williamson or Clara Taylor (two new directors were required at this election).

Her subsequent history is quite easy to trace. The contemporary newspaper St Paul Enterprise in its Memorial number when CTR died gives an account of her in the funeral cortege. She later moved to Florida with her sister, Emma, and died in St Petersburg, Florida, in 1938. There is some biographical material for her on the Find a Grave site, under Maria F Ackley Russell.

The second female director was also a Vice-President of the Society for a very short time. This was Rose Ball Henninges. Early census returns list her as Rosa (rather than Rose) J Ball - but no-one seems to know what the J stood for. She and her brother, Charles, came to Pittsburgh. Charles died in March 1889 and Rose became part of the Russell household and then Bible House family. She is included in many group photographs of the day, along with a young man named Ernest Charles Henninges, whom she would marry in 1897. (He too would be a director at one point).

A young Rose Ball sitting in a group photo with her future husband Ernest Henninges in 1893.

Rose became a director on April 11, 1892. Two directors were replaced on that date, William I Mann and Joseph F Smith, so she replaced one of them. On January 7, 1893, Rose became Vice-President for a year, until the next year’s elections on January 6, 1894. After that she remained as a director until she resigned on February 12, 1900 (the same official date as for Maria Russell). As noted above, she was then replaced by either Albert E Williamson or Clara Taylor. 

A few years after her marriage to Ernest Henninges, Rose and Ernest travelled abroad to further the cause. They spent some time in Britain (you can find them in the 1901 UK census) and then Germany, before eventually travelling to Australia. They spent the rest of their lives there. A split occurred between them and CTR over the understanding of “the New Covenant” and they founded their own journal in 1909, which ran until 1953. Charles died in 1939, and Rose in 1950. She was survived by two sisters still living in America, Miss Lilian Ball of Buffalo, NY, and Mrs Daisy Mabee of Paterson, NJ.

As already mentioned in passing, the third female director was Clara Taylor. Clara became a director on February 12, 1900. On this date both Maria F Russell and Rose J Ball (now Henninges) resigned, so Clara replaced one of them. As already noted, the other replacement director appointed that day was Albert E Williamson.

Clara served as a director for less than a year. At the next election on the first Saturday of the New Year, January 5, 1901, she resigned and was replaced by William E Van Amburgh. He would become one of the longest serving directors in the Society's history. (Only Milton Henschel, Lyman Swingle and Frederick Franz would serve for longer).

Clara is featured in some group photographs of the Bible House family in the first decade of the 20th century. Below is a selection from a photograph showing the mailing room c. 1907.

Clara in the Bible House mailing room c. 1907

All we know at present about Clara Taylor comes from the separation hearing Russell v. Russell from 1906.  She was called as a witness to support the testimony of J A Bohnet, and was both examined and cross examined in the case.

Her testimony shows that she was working at Bible House in 1897 before Maria Russell left for Chicago to stay with her brother, Lemuel. CTR had been called away from home and telephoned Ernest Henninges (misspelled Hennings in the transcript) to ask if could arrange for someone to stay over at Bible House so that Maria would not be left on her own. (Most workers lodged outside the building). Clara was asked and agreed, but was then told by Henninges that she no longer needed to do this because Maria had told him via the internal speaking tube that she’d made her own arrangements.  That was the sum of her testimony. But it showed that Clara worked at Bible House in 1897 before Maria left. A passing comment indicated that she had not been there the previous year, 1896. She was also still working there in 1906. And crucially for subsequent attempts to trace her, she was addressed several times as Miss Clara Taylor. So she was single at the time.

When the headquarters moved to Brooklyn in 1909, Clara apparently didn’t go. Or at least, she is not in the census returns from 1910 onwards. Whether that was due to the New Covenant controversy, or just a matter of geography and family, is not known. She may well have married, in which case the surname Taylor would disappear, making tracing her subsequent movements somewhat problematic.

So Clara remains a bit of mystery, even though she spent around ten years working at the headquarters, and was one of the three sisters who became directors of the Society in the CTR era.

More details on the unsuccessful search can be found in the comment trail.


jerome said...

I am putting this here as a comment because it doesn’t really belong in the main article. You could almost call this a new article entitled: In Search of the Elusive Clara.

The name Clara A Taylor was supplied along with her dates as a director from a reliable source. Initially researchers looked at a Clara Arletta Bragonier Taylor (1856-1946). She lived in the State of Pennsylvania, but had a husband who was a railway man and also had children. It seemed strange that this Clara would work in Bible House for so long without mention of other family members. I managed to make contact with descendants of this Clara, some of whom remembered her in person, but had no knowledge whatsoever of any WT connections.

Then I went to the trial transcript for the 1906 divorce/separation hearing. And there was our Clara – as a witness. And she was single. Taylor was not a married name. As the article describes, she worked in the Bible House before Maria left, and she knew Ernest Henninges and others. Crucially, she was there in 1897 but not in 1896, and didn’t live in the Bible House under normal circumstances. She was also still around in 1906 when the hearing took place, and is in group photographs from 1906/07. And they show a much younger person than one would expect for the above mentioned Mrs Clara A B Taylor.

Perhaps our Clara got married? Could that be why the name Taylor disappears from the record? Checking sources from that era, there was a Clara Phillips who wrote in to say that she had taken “The Vow” in the August 15, 1908 WT. No connection could be found. And when they moved to Brooklyn, the 1910 census had a Clara Tomkins working at the new headquarters. However, Menta Sturgeon’s testimony in a 1913 hearing (the “Miracle Wheat” case) showed that this Clara was also single, so again there was no connection.

And there are a great number of Clara Taylors in the records for that time.

The only recourse possibly left that I can think of, is to check the death notices in the Bible Student publications over the decades since then. They tended to record the death of anyone once connected with any branch of Bible Students, including those who stayed with the Watch Tower Society. But life is too short. I wave a white flag and leave that task to others.

But if you know, please do tell!

Griffin said...

The research mantle appears to have been temporarily (?) hoisted upon Jerome's noble shoulders - and it sits well upon him.

As we have come to expect, here we have some exceptional work and no doubt the goddess, Stella Serendipity, will smile on the hunt for Clara.

Semer said...

Thank you for a very interesting article.
While reading, a couple of questions have come to my mind.
You mentioned "A Conspiracy Exposed". I've always wondered if there are any copies of those conspiracy papers (though I suspect I know the answer).
You also mention annual elections. Were they real elections. I'd always thought they begun after CTR's death.
An internal speaking tube? I wonder what that is, it sounds interesting.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

the original "conspiracy" papers seem not to exist. however, the von Zech family have given us family papers that plainly tell what the contents were. Members of the von Zech family have been very kind to our research.

A speaking tube is similar to that found on old ships. It is literally a tube that runs to another room. You blow through it, and then speak.

jerome said...

In addition to Rachael’s comments – if you haven’t done so already, Google “A Conspiracy Exposed and Harvest Siftings” and download it from Internet Archives. It will obviously only give you “one side” but it is quite comprehensive.

You asked did they hold real elections? Well, by law they were required to have elections, so they happened on the first Saturday of each New Year. (It was changed to every three years quite soon into J F Rutherford’s presidency). But they were just a formality – most were directors only in name in the early days, as was clearly explained in A Conspiracy Exposed. This was quite open; everyone understood that CTR made the main decisions at that time. Some didn’t like this, which was part of the difficulty covered in Conspiracy.

And there’s quite a good article on speaking tubes on Wikipedia. The latest thing in 19th century intercoms!