Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Elizabeth Bethune Campbell - Socialite, Minister's Wife and Legal Pioneer

St John's Rectory, Alveston street.

Twenty-four Alveston street is a rather architecturally busy, if not particularly notable house on Jamaica Plain’s Sumner hill. It was not present in 1884, but shows up on an 1896 property map. It was apparently built as, and today remains, the rectory of St John’s Episcopal church, which sits around the corner at the intersection of Roanoke avenue and Revere and Elm streets. While the ministers who lived in the parsonage over the years may be the subject of future articles, this on will focus on one minister’s wife - Mrs. Elizabeth Bethune Campbell.

Elizabeth Bethune Campbell - wedding picture.

Elizabeth Louisa Bethune was born in Toronto in 1880. Elizabeth’s father was a successful politician and barrister, and her mother was a popular society hostess. When Elizabeth was just four years old, her father suddenly died, leaving her mother an estate of between $40,000 and $60,000. This the widow Bethune left to the management of her brother-in-law, lawyer William Drummond Hogg. Mrs. Bethune later remarried and separated, but her inherited property was kept in trust through this temporary relationship.

Reverend Thomas Campbell - in military Chaplain's uniform.

Young Elizabeth traveled through Europe, spent time in a French convent school, and was introduced, as befitted her social standing, as a “debutante” in her late teens. After receiving the attentions of William Lyon Mackenzie King, a future prime minister of Canada, Elizabeth married Reverend Thomas Clyman Campbell, an American Episcopalian minister, in 1907. After the Toronto society wedding, the couple moved to the United States, where Reverend Campbell took a position at St John’s church in Jamaica Plain. The Campbells lived in the rectory on Alveston street for the next thirty years, raising two children, James Bethune and Elizabeth Thomasine.

At right - the Campbell children --->

During the First World War, Reverend Campbell served as a chaplain in England. The children were sent to exclusive boarding schools, with parishioner Susan Revere Chapin (great grand-daughter of Paul Revere) apparently contributing towards their tuition. James went on to earn a medical degree from Harvard, and Thomasine (as she was known) attended Barnard College and studied in Vienna.

Described as a tall, striking figure, Mrs. Campbell did not take part in the affairs of the parish, nor did she join in the local women’s clubs of the time. She spent much time in Toronto and London, England, and that brings us to her claim to fame.

In 1922, at age eighty-two, Elizabeth’s mother had deteriorated sufficiently that control of her estate was put in the hands of the Toronto General Trusts Corporation, with Elizabeth’s two older sisters appointed “committee” - guardians of a sort. When she died two years later, Elizabeth’s mother’s estate was valued at $17,450, much less than Elizabeth believed proper.

Here, Elizabeth Campbell began a long, dramatic battle to learn what had happened to her mother’s estate. Out of it came a book, Where Angels Fear to Tread, her story of her travails, and of the people she dealt with along the way. She was represented my multiple lawyers. At the time, this meant travel across the Atlantic to London, as Canada had not yet made its peaceful break with the United Kingdom as a subject state and join the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Mrs. Campbell’s two main opponents were William Drummond Hogg, her uncle and the manager of her mother’s estate following her father’s death, and the Toronto General Trusts Corporation. Hogg was a major figure in the legal world of Ontario - a world in which it seems social and familial connections lent an almost aristocratic air. Toronto General Trusts Corporation was founded by men of similar social and professional standing, pillars of the establishment of the time.

So far, we have the story of a woman of moneyed background and born into social position battling men taken from that same class. What makes Mrs. Campbell notable is that in 1930, she went before the Privy Court in London to argue her own case, and she won. Without being a barrister, and without even attending college, Mrs. Campbell became the first woman to argue a case before the Privy Court.

So Jamaica Plain has still another trailblazing woman to claim. Her trail took her out of Jamaica Plain, and indeed clear out of the United States, but she seems like a remarkable woman in any case. Whether she was uncovering and battling an injustice, or a money-driven monomaniac, is impossible to tell, but she was a trailblazer nonetheless. And all the while, her husband continued tending his flock at St. John‘s. Which just goes to show that not all the fascinating stories on Sumner Hill are found in the most architecturally impressive houses.


Backhouse, Constance. "The Heiress versus the Establishment: The First Female Litigator Before the Privy Council."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

William D. Ticknor - Publisher

Offices of Ticknor and Fields (Old Corner Book Store).

William D. Ticknor was born in Lebanon New Hampshire August 6, 1810 on the family farm. In 1827 he left for Boston to work in the brokerage house of his uncle Benjamin. By 1832, he had partnered with John Allen to form the publishing company Allen and Ticknor, which was housed in the now-famous Old Corner Book Store building.

As partners came and went, the company named changed, with Ticknor and Fields being perhaps the best remembered. From the Old Corner Book Store, they published many of the leading literary lights of New England, such as Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., as well as Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Horatio Alger. At a time when international copyright was not upheld, in 1842 they paid Alfred, Lord Tennyson a royalty for publishing his work, an early act of fair play in a business in which pirating of books was a common complaint on both sides of the Atlantic. While at the Old Corner Book Store, they also published the Atlantic Monthly. (For an extra credit nugget, I found a single sentence 1841 newspaper advertisement for De Quincey's Confessions of an Opium Addict). Eventually, the outgrew the location and moved to Tremont street. Over time, partners and name changes came and went, and the company eventually became part of Houghton, Osgood and Company, which later became Houghton Mifflin.

Burroughs street, 1874.

Ticknor house, Burroughs street.

In 1854, Ticknor bought land between Pond and Burroughs streets in Jamaica Plain, and built a house on the Burroughs street side. We can imagine friends like Hawthorne traveling out of the city and visiting the Ticknor home over the next decade. When Dickens came to America for a speaking tour, Ticknor was his host, and perhaps he might have visited Burroughs street as well.

[Note: I've just learned that Caroline Ticknor related a story of Dickens visiting the Ticknor house in Jamaica Plain. After the great man left the house, a shy relative followed him outside, and made a copy of the impression his foot left in the soft gravel.]

In 1862, William Ticknor journeyed south to Washington D.C. with his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, where they met President Lincoln. In March of 1864, they set out to Washington again, in hopes that the milder weather would aid Hawthorne’s poor health. During the trip, it was Ticknor’s health that took a turn for the worse, and he died at the Continental Hotel in Philadelphia with his friend by his side. Hawthorne returned to Concord, but in a month he would be dead as well.

Ticknor and his wife, Emeline Staniford Holt had five surviving children, including three sons who went to Harvard. Howard Malcolm, Benjamin Holt and Thomas Baldwin Ticknor all went into the business. Before joining the firm, Benjamin first enlisted in the army during the Civil war, and at one time was in charge of recruiting at the Readville training camp.

Howard Ticknor lived in the family house through at least the 1880s . The 1874 map above shows the house still owned by the estate of William D. Ticknor. Son Benjamin stayed in Jamaica Plain as well, buying a lot on Harris avenue from Captain Charles Brewer. The 1874 map shows Benjamin H. Ticknor at 13 Harris avenue. Unlike his father’s house, Benjamin’s home still stands today as number 15. The small, twentieth century house that sits to the right of it was added to the same property, and now carries the address 13A.

Harris avenue, 1874.

Benjamin’s household was in interesting one. The 1880 census lists his wife, Caroline daughters Caroline, aged 13, and Edith, aged 11, as well has sister Elinor, aged 35 and brother Thomas, aged 30. To that, we can add four female domestics and one coachman. Although only two of five servants were Irish-born, two others had Irish parents, the other woman being from Newfoundland. So four women to care for six people, including the woman of the house. I think we can say that the Irish were nineteenth-century Jamaica Plain’s version of labor-saving devices.

Benjamin's daughter Caroline went on to have a career as a writer and editor. She wrote Hawthorne and His Friend (the friend being her grandfather William D. Ticknor), May Alcott, A Memoir, and Glimpses of Authors (cited above), and edited Holmes's Boston, with Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and numerous books. In 1925, Caroline and sister Edith were still living at the house on Harris avenue.