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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Maria F. Russell (1850 - 1938)

It will be recalled that in the 1870’s C. T. Russell disassociated himself from N. H. Barbour, publisher of The Herald of the Morning. This he did because Barbour denied the Scriptural doctrine of the ransom, which Russell staunchly upheld. Then in the early 1890’s certain prominent persons in the organization unscrupulously tried to seize control of the Watch Tower Society. The conspirators planned to explode veritable “bombs” designed to end Russell’s popularity and bring about his finish as the Society’s president. After brewing for nearly two years, the conspiracy erupted in 1894. Mainly, the grievances and false charges centered around alleged dishonesty in business on the part of C. T. Russell. Indeed, some of the charges were very petty and betrayed the accusers’ basic intention—the defamation of C. T. Russell. Impartial fellow believers investigated matters and found Russell to be in the right. Hence, the conspirators’ plan to “blow Mr. Russell and his work sky-high” was a complete failure. Like the apostle Paul, Brother Russell had experienced trouble owing to “false brothers,” but this trial was recognized as a design of Satan, and the conspirators henceforth were viewed as unfit to enjoy Christian fellowship.—2 Cor. 11:26.

This, of course, was not the end of C. T. Russell’s trials and difficulties. He was yet to be touched in a very personal way, by circumstances arising in his own household. During the trouble in 1894, Mrs. C. T. Russell (the former Maria Frances Ackley, whom Russell had married in 1879) undertook a tour from New York to Chicago, meeting with Bible Students along the way and speaking in her husband’s behalf. Being an educated, intelligent woman, she was well received when visiting the congregations at that time.

Mrs. Russell was a director of the Watch Tower Society and served as its secretary and treasurer for some years. She also was a regular contributor to the columns of Zion’s Watch Tower and for a time was an associate editor of the journal. Eventually, she sought a stronger voice in what should be published in the Watch Tower. Such ambition was comparable to that of Moses’ sister Miriam, who rose up against her brother as leader of Israel under God and tried to make herself prominent—a course that met with divine disapproval.—Num. 12:1-15.

What had contributed to this attitude on Mrs. Russell’s part? “I was not aware of it at the time,” wrote C. T. Russell in 1906, “but learned subsequently that the conspirators endeavored to sow seeds of discord in my wife’s heart by flattery, ‘woman’s rights’ arguments, etc. However, when the shock came [in 1894], in the Lord’s providence I was spared the humiliation of seeing my wife amongst those conspirators. . . . As matters began to settle down, the ‘woman’s rights’ ideas and personal ambition began again to come to the top, and I perceived that Mrs. Russell’s active campaign in my defense, and the very cordial reception given her by the dear friends at that time throughout a journey . . . had done her injury by increasing her self-appreciation. . . . Gradually she seemed to reach the conclusion that nothing was just proper for the WATCH TOWER columns except what she had written, and I was continually harassed with suggestions of alterations of my writings. I was pained to note this growing disposition so foreign to the humble mind which characterized her for the first thirteen happy years.”

Mrs. Russell became very uncooperative, and strained relations continued. But early in 1897 she became ill and her husband gave her much attention. This he gave cheerfully and he felt that his kind care would touch her heart and restore it to its former loving and tender condition. When she recovered, however, Mrs. Russell called a committee and met with her husband “specially with the object of having the brethren instruct me that she had an equal right with myself in the WATCH TOWER columns, and that I was doing her wrong in not according her the liberties she desired,” wrote C. T. Russell. As matters turned out, though, she was told by the committee that neither they nor other persons had the right to interfere with her husband’s management of the Watch Tower. Mrs. Russell said, in substance, that though unable to agree with the committee, she would try to look at matters from their standpoint. Russell further reported: “I then asked her in their presence if she would shake hands. She hesitated, but finally gave me her hand. I then said, ‘Now, will you kiss me, dear, as a token of the degree of change of mind which you have indicated?’ Again she hesitated, but finally did kiss me and otherwise manifested a renewal of affection in the presence of her Committee.”

So the Russell’s ‘kissed and made up.’ Later, at Mrs. Russell’s request, her husband arranged for a weekly meeting of “The Sisters of the Allegheny Church,” with her as its leader. This led to further trouble—the circulating of slanderous remarks about C. T. Russell. However, this difficulty also was settled.

Eventually, though, growing resentment led Mrs. Russell to sever her relationship with the Watch Tower Society and with her husband. Without notice, she separated from him in 1897, after nearly eighteen years of marriage. For almost seven years she lived separately, C. T. Russell providing a separate home for her and also making financial provision for her support. In June 1903 Mrs. Russell filed in the Court of Common Pleas at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a suit for legal separation. During April 1906 the case came up for trial before Justice Collier and a jury. Nearly two years later, on March 4, 1908, a decree was issued that was styled “In Divorce.” The language of the decree is: “It is now ordered, adjudged and decreed that Maria F. Russell, the Libellant; and Charles T. Russell, the Respondent, be separated from bed and board.” “Separated from bed and board” is the language of both the decree and the docket entries made by the clerk of the court. This was a legalized separation and there never was an absolute divorce, as some erroneously have held. Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (Banks-Baldwin Law Publishing Company, 1940) defines the action as “A partial or qualified divorce, by which the parties are separated and forbidden to live or cohabit together, without affecting the marriage itself. 1 Bl. Com. 440.” (Page 314) On page 312 it says that it “may more properly be termed a legal separation.”

C. T. Russell himself fully understood that the court did not grant an absolute divorce, but that this was a legalized separation. At Dublin, during a 1911 tour of Ireland, he was asked: “Is it true that you are divorced from your wife?” Of his answer, Russell wrote: “‘I am not divorced from my wife. The decree of the court was not divorce, but separation, granted by a sympathetic jury, which declared that we would both be happier separated. My wife’s charge was cruelty, but the only cruelty put in evidence was my refusal on one occasion to give her a kiss when she had requested it.’ I assured my audience that I disputed the charge of cruelty and believed that no woman was ever better treated by a husband. The applause showed that the audience believed my statements.”

What took place at C. T. Russell’s funeral at Pittsburgh in 1916 also is significant along these lines. Anna K. Gardner, whose recollections are similar to those of others present, tells us this: “An incident occurred just before the services at Carnegie Hall that refuted lies told in the paper about Brother Russell. The hall was filled long before the time for the services to begin and it was very quiet, and then a veiled figure was seen to walk up the aisle to the casket and to lay something on it. Up front one could see what it was—a bunch of lilies of the valley, Brother Russell’s favorite flower. There was a ribbon attached, saying, ‘To My Beloved Husband.’ It was Mrs. Russell. They had never been divorced and this was a public acknowledgment.”

- 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, Published by the WTB&TS

In 1879, Charles Taze Russell married Maria Frances Ackley. They had a good relationship for 13 years. Then flattery of Maria and appeals to pride on her part by others began to undermine that relationship; but when their objective became clear, she seemed to regain her balance. After a former associate had spread falsehoods about Brother Russell, she even asked her husband’s permission to visit a number of congregations to answer the charges, since it had been alleged that he mistreated her. However, the fine reception she was given on that trip in 1894 evidently contributed to a gradual change in her opinion of herself. She sought to secure for herself a stronger voice in directing what would appear in the Watch Tower. When she realized that nothing that she wrote would be published unless her husband, the editor of the magazine, agreed with its contents (on the basis of its consistency with the Scriptures), she became greatly disturbed. He put forth earnest effort to help her, but in November 1897 she left him. Nevertheless, he provided her with a place to live and means of maintenance. Years later, after court proceedings that had been initiated by her in 1903, she was awarded, in 1908, a judgment, not of absolute divorce, but of divorce from bed and board, with alimony.

Having failed to force her husband to acquiesce to her demands, she put forth great effort after she left him to bring his name into disrepute. In 1903 she published a tract filled, not with Scriptural truths, but with gross misrepresentations of Brother Russell. She sought to enlist ministers of various denominations to distribute them where the Bible Students were holding special meetings. To their credit not many at that time were willing to be used in that way. However, other clergymen since then have shown a different spirit.

Earlier, Maria Russell had condemned, verbally and in writing, those who charged Brother Russell with the sort of misconduct that she herself now alleged. Using certain unsubstantiated statements made during court proceedings in 1906 (and which statements were struck from the record by order of the court), some religious opposers of Brother Russell have published charges designed to make it appear that he was an immoral man and hence unfit to be a minister of God. However, the court record is clear that such charges are false. Her own lawyer asked Mrs. Russell whether she believed her husband was guilty of adultery. She answered: “No.” It is also noteworthy that when a committee of Christian elders listened to Mrs. Russell’s charges against her husband in 1897, she made no mention of the things that she later stated in court in order to persuade the jury that a divorce should be granted, though these alleged incidents occurred prior to that meeting.

Nine years after Mrs. Russell first brought the case to court, Judge James Macfarlane wrote a letter of reply to a man who was seeking a copy of the court record so that one of his associates could expose Russell. The judge frankly told him that what he wanted would be a waste of time and money. His letter stated: “The ground for her application and of the decree entered upon the verdict of the jury was ‘indignities’ and not adultery and the testimony, as I understand, does not show that Russell was living ‘an adulterous life with a co-respondent.’ In fact there was no co-respondent.”

Maria Russell’s own belated acknowledgment came at the time of Brother Russell’s funeral at Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh in 1916. Wearing a veil, she walked down the aisle to the casket and laid there a bunch of lilies of the valley. Attached to them was a ribbon bearing the words, “To My Beloved Husband.”

- Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, 1993 WTB&TS

I thought it may be of interest to some to note that Maria Frances Russell's (1850-1938) obituary in the St. Petersburg Times, Tuesday March 15, 1938 states, "MRS. MARIA F. RUSSELL Funeral services for Mrs. Maria F. Russell, well-known religious worker who died Saturday night, will be held this morning at 10:30 o'clock at the John S. Rhodes funeral chapel with the Rev. E.R. Barnard officiating. Burial will be in Royal Palm Cemetery." Upon researching the name "E.R. Barnard" at the St. Petersburg library it was also discovered that he was the Pastor of the "West Central Presb. Church, 2627 1st ave. N. Also discovered was the home in which Maria Russell lived, 516 14th ave. N. She did, in fact, live with her niece Mabel Packard (deceased 1961 or 1962) who kept the same residence till her death and evidently had no children or other relatives known in the area. Also sharing the home residence was Mabel's husband Richard Packard (deceased in 1950's) and Emma Russell (1855 - 1929) who was Maria's fleshly sister and the widow of Joseph L. Russell, C.T. Russells father. The four are buried on a "family" plot at the cemetery mentioned in the obit. The plot was purchased in 1923 by Maria and Emma indicating that they made their way to the St. Peterburg area in, at least, the early 1920's. A May 1888 Watchtower prints a letter from C.T. Russells father Joseph from "Manitee Co., Fla" which is the St. Petersburg area. Emma Russell, J.L. Russell's wife, would then naturally have been familiar with this very beautiful Florida area. The home at 516 14th ave. N. does presently value between 500-600,000 dollars and is less than 2000 sq. feet. It is in a beautifully maintained historic area in St. Pete literally within direct sight from the bay area. I hope this information is helpful. - Research and photos by Christopher Gross, 10/20/2007

Mabel R. Packard the daughter of Joseph L. Russell, and the half sister of Charles T. Russell appears to have died on November 17, 1961. Her death was recorded in a Bible Student Paper; THE HERALD of Christ's Kingdom, VOL. XLV January/February 1962 No. 1. Recently Deceased: Sr. Mabel R. Packard, St. Petersburg, Fla.­ (Nov.). - Photo by Christopher Gross, 10/20/2007


The family of Maria F. (Ackley) Russell

Mahlon Foster ACKLEY was born about 1807 in New Jersey. He died on 13 Dec 1873. And was buried on 14 Dec 1873 in Union Dale Cemetery, Plot 3, Allegany, Pennsylvania. Mahlon Foster ACKLEY and Selena Ann HAMMOND were married. Selena Ann HAMMOND was born on 18 Dec 1815 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She died of pneumonia on 3 Oct 1901 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania at the residence of her daughter Mrs. Charles T. Russell, of Allegheny. She was buried on 5 Oct 1901 in Union Dale Cemetery, plot 4, Allegany, Pennsylvania. Mrs. Ackley was born in Philadelphia and spent her childhood in Baltimore, Md. She journeyed by stage and canal with her mother to Johnstown, Pa, where she was married to the late Mahlon F. Ackley of Allegheny, who was employed on the Pennsylvania railroad, which was then in process of construction. Early in the 1840's she came to Allegheny with her husband and had resided there ever since. She saw the city grow from a straggling village to a metropolis. Mrs. Ackley was for many years a member of the North Avenue Methodist Episcopal church, and before the formation of that church was, with her late husband, connected with the Arch Street church of the same denomination. She was the mother of seven children, of whom five are now living - Mrs. Laura J. Raynor, Mrs. Selena A. Barto, Mrs. Maria F. Russell and Mrs. Emma H. Russell of Allegheny and L. M. Ackley of Chicago. Eight grandchildren also survive. ALSO SEE: