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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why did Pastor Russell's wife leave him?

Additional Reading:

Is it proper for a married woman to leave her husband if they cannot get along well? Why did the wife of the first president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, C. T. Russell, leave him?—U.S.A.

The Bible does not encourage divorce or separation simply because a husband and his wife are not getting along well. Under inspiration the apostle Paul wrote: “To the married people I give instructions, yet not I but the Lord, that a wife should not depart from her husband; but if she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband; and a husband should not leave his wife.”—1 Cor. 7:10, 11.

So rather than resort to separation when difficulties arise in the marriage, a Christian woman ought to do everything that she can to work toward a better, more loving relationship with her husband. Appreciating marriage as God’s institution and gift to mankind, she should want to make her marriage work out to the praise and honor of the Giver, Jehovah God. She should be careful never to give her husband any reason to want to leave, for the unbeliever should be able to see that true Christianity is responsible for making his marriage mate a more loving, kind, considerate and understanding wife. This would be in harmony with the counsel given by the apostle Peter: “In like manner, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, in order that, if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of your chaste conduct together with deep respect.”—1 Pet. 3:1, 2.

At times, however, despite the fine conduct of his Christian wife, an unbeliever insists on leaving her. In that case, should the believing wife strive to prevent her husband from departing? Or should a Christian husband hinder an unbelieving wife from leaving him? No. The Bible tells us: “If the unbelieving one proceeds to depart, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not in servitude under such circumstances, but God has called you to peace.”—1 Cor. 7:15.

At times it may happen that a wife who claims to be a Christian leaves her believing husband. The husband may keenly regret the separation and may rightly hope for a reconciliation. But what if the wife’s departure is over the issue of husbandly headship or a disagreement over some other Biblical principle?

In that case the Christian husband recognizes that he cannot compromise his position as family head or make any concession that would be contrary to the Scriptures in order to bring about a reconciliation. A Christian husband is under divine command to reflect God’s glory. For him to abandon his position of headship would mean shaming the head of the Christian congregation, Jesus Christ, and dishonoring Jehovah God.—Compare 1 Corinthians 11:3-7.

C. T. Russell appreciated his Scriptural position as husband, as is evident from his handling of matters in connection with his wife. In a letter to a personal friend in England, dated December 27, 1899, he explained why his wife had departed and also expressed his feelings about it, saying:

“Our dear Sister Russell became afflicted with the same malady which has smitten others—notably those mentioned in the pamphlet, ‘A Conspiracy Exposed.’ Their difficulty was the same as that of the great Adversary in the beginning—ambition, and a desire to subvert matters in order to gratify that ambition.

“It is over twenty years since we were married, and for thirteen of those years Sister Russell was all that could be asked of a loving, noble, true helpmate, and at the time of the conspiracy she was still in this attitude to such an extent that she voluntarily made a trip through several states on the track of S. D. Rogers, correcting his slanderous statements. But the ambitious spirit which already had begun to work was fanned quite to a flame by the very warm reception which was accorded to our dear sister on the occasion above mentioned. She seemed to forget that she was received, not merely for herself, but also as a representative of the Lord’s work, and as the representative of her husband.

“She returned from that trip very self-conscious, and in that respect very different from what she had been previously—especially for the first ten years of our married life. This spirit seemed to grow stronger instead of less, until about four years ago, when she began to ‘strike’ for the gratification of her ambition. You will remember that it is nearly four years since at her request her name was dropped, as associate editor, and thereafter attached to any articles which she might write in the WATCH TOWER. The next move was to insist upon more space, and upon liberty to write what she pleased, which should not have any correction or criticism. This lasted awhile, until I told her, kindly but plainly, that I could not think it to be the Lord’s will to encourage her to take any part in the work so long as she manifested so ambitious a spirit. From that date nothing was published from her pen.

“Her next move was to seek to compel me to give her space, etc., or what she termed her proper liberties to use her talents. To this end she called two brethren to meet me, after the manner of Matt. 18:15. She was wholly disappointed in the results, for the brethren told her plainly that to their understanding the question she raised was entirely outside their jurisdiction, or that of any others; that so far as her judgment would guide them the Lord had not erred in putting matters into the hands of Brother Russell, and if he at any time saw fit to change the arrangements he was abundantly able to do so, and that they could only advise her to the contrary of her wishes, much as they regretted this disappointment of her exaltation.

“The next step of Sister Russell and her (natural) sisters was to organize a women’s crusade against me in the Allegheny congregation. The result was a considerable stirring up of slander and misrepresentation, for of course it would not serve their purposes to tell the plain unvarnished truth, that Sister Russell was ambitious, etc. You can readily understand my position; as a man I would be at a disadvantage, and the slanders proceeded without my being able to do anything to counteract them, and as you well know my desire was not to say a word against the companion of my choice, whom I dearly loved, and whom I still dearly love.

“Briefly, then, this female conspiracy came to a head, and resulted in a little sifting, the majority, under the Lord’s providence, being recovered from the snare, and only about six or eight of our company of two hundred, injured by it. Sister Russell’s next move was to give color to the slanders that had been started, by leaving me—she hoping that I would go after her and make any concession to have her back. But in this she was mistaken, and when she desired to come back I totally refused, except upon a promise that she should make reasonable acknowledgement of the wrong course she had been pursuing for a year, and give some assurance of being a friend and not an enemy. I esteemed that I had been delivered of the Lord, and that to put myself again into her power without reasonable guarantees would be wrong on my part. This is two years ago now. She is living in the city with her mother and sisters, and holds a little religious meeting, which her coterie of friends attend. I see her frequently, treat her kindly, and never have anything but the very best of wishes respecting her present and eternal welfare.”

In summing up the matter respecting his wife, C. T. Russell wrote: “Sister Russell became afflicted with the spirit of ambition, as others have been, and in the Lord’s providence it seemed best three years ago now that she should not be further identified with the publications [of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society], until such time as she might show a thorough change of heart in this matter.”

Manifestly C. T. Russell acted rightly in doing what he could to be kind and considerate to his wife. But Scripturally he could not abandon his position as head to bring about a reconciliation.

- Questions from Readers, 1972 Watchtower, 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.


Also See:

The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Gazette, March 14, 1879: “RUSSELL-ACKLEY - on Thursday evening, March 13, 1879, at the residence of the bride’s mother, by Eld. J. H. Paton of Almont, Michigan. Mr. C. T. Russell to Miss Maria Ackley of Allegheny City. No cards.” - Watch Tower History Blog, by B. W. Schulz