Obscure Unitarians: Mabel and Louise Mead

Mabel Mead lived in Palo Alto for less than a year, but her life story is interesting enough to recount in some detail. A schoolteacher for many years, she was born Dec. 30, 1870, in Ledger, New York to Louise and Alexander Mead (Greeley Daily Tribune, May 12, 1961).

She received her B.S. from Cornell in 1898 (Fifteenth Annual Register, 1905-06, Stanford University); her sister Mildred was at Cornell at the same time she was (Cornell Era, April 21, 1900, class notes, p. 257). By 1900, at the age of 29, she was a schoolteacher, living with her parents in Greeley, Colo. (1900 U.S. Census).

A short digression to tell something of her mother, Louise Mead:

Louise was born Mar., 1851, in New York. She married Alexander Mead c. 1870 in New York state. In 1880, Louise and Alexander were living in Greeley, Colo., where Alexander was an agricultural implements dealer. By 1900, Louise and Alexander were running a rooming house in Greeley, with seven children: Mabel (b. Dec., 1870, N.Y.); Edgar (b. Sept., 1872, N.Y.); Ella (Jul., 1874, N.Y.); Mildred (b. Jul., 1875, N.Y.); Worthen (b. Sept., 1880, Colo.); Alexandra (b. July, 1884, Colo.); and Wilhemina (b. Sept., 1889, Colo.) (U.S. Census, 1880, 1900; in the 1900 Census her name is misspelled Luiese). The family Moved to Greeley sometime between 1875 and 1880. Alexander Mead was a Trustee for the city of Greeley for the year 1883. A Unitarian church had formed in Greeley, Colorado, in 1880; perhaps the Meads were members. (David Boyd, A History: Greeley and the Union Colony of Colorado, Greeley Tribune Press, 1890).

The Cornell Alumni News, vol. 7, Dec. 21, 1904 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University), ran the following notice: ” ’98 B.S. The marriage of Miss Mabel Mead to R. J. Wright was celebrated at Greeley, Col., this fall. Mrs. Wright is now connected with the social settlement work in the Italian District of Denver. She has charge of the North Side neighborhood house, the centre of settlement work in the northern part of the city.” But I found no other mention of R. J. Wright, and Mabel had resumed the name Mead by 1905. Perhaps this mysterious event precipitated her removal to Stanford for a year of study?

In any case, by autumn, 1905 she was a student at Stanford, living with her mother Louise at 742 and later 750 Bryant St. (Directory of Palo Alto, Mayfield, Stanford University, Jan., 1906; Cornell Alumni News, vol. 3, no. 25, March 28, 1906). She studied Romanic Languages (Fifteenth Annual Register, 1905-06, Stanford University); however, her name does not appear in later alumni directories.

She lived in Palo Alto for less than twelve months. While living in Palo Alto, she and her mother Louise were two of the early members of the Women’s Alliance of the newly formed Unitarian church (Women’s Alliance records).

By fall, 1906, she was teaching German, Spanish, and “physical culture” at a high school in Orange, Calif. (Cornell Alumni News, Oct. 3, 1906). She married Tracy C. Marsh before 1917; they had one son, Alexander Mead Marsh who was born c. 1913 (1920 U.S. Census). After her husband died in Nevada, she moved to Sutler, Calif., where she taught school until her retirement sometime before 1935; then she moved back to Greeley, where she was “prominent in civic and club work” (Greeley Daily Tribune, May 12, 1961). Back in Greeley, she lived with Edgar, Ella, and her son (1940 U.S. Census). In 1961, at age 90, she moved to Aberdeen, Md., to live with her son (Greeley Daily Tribune, May 12, 1961). She died in Annadale, Va., Feb. 2, 1975 (Cornell Alumni News, May, 1975, p. 80).

Further research might uncover additional information about Mabel Mead Marsh. It would, for instance, be interesting to search the membership records of the Greeley Unitarian church to see if the Mead family had been members there. It might also be possible to track down records of the Denver settlement house where she worked. However, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever find out what happened with R. J. Wright, and why she decided to attend Stanford at the age of 36.

Mabel Mead Marsh

Above: Detail from a photograph in the collection of the Denver Public Library (call. no. Z-7616) showing Mabel Mead Marsh in a horse-drawn coach in Greeley, Colo., between 1890 and 1900; Mabel is at the back, right of center.

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