Obscure Unitarians: Annie Upton Lawrence Corbert

A schoolteacher and supporter of women’s suffrage, Ann Upton Lawrence was born on Nantucket Is., Mass., on Oct., 1840, to Frederic W. Lawrence and Susan Hussey. Since her birth is recorded in the Quaker manner as “10th month” (rather than “October”), perhaps her family were Quakers; a Quaker upbringing could help explain her lifelong support of equal rights for women.

Her life can be traced through the U.S. Census. In 1850, she was living on Nantucket Is. with her father and mother, and younger siblings Amelia and Everett; her father was working as an accountant. By 1860, she was living with her father in San Francisco, and working as a school teacher; her father was working as a clerk, and they shared a house with William H. Lawrence, a mariner, and his wife and child.

Annie married Edward W. Corbert before 1866. In 1870, she and Edward were living in San Francisco, where Edward worked as “Assessor, Int. Rev.”; they had two children, Louise (b. c. 1866, Calif.), and Sadie (b. c. 1869, Calif.). In 1880, she and Edward were living in Martinez with Louise, Sadie, and Anita Lawrence (b. June, 1874, Calif.). By 1900, Annie was widowed and living with Anita in Palo Alto; Anita was working as a teacher. And in 1910, Annie was still living with Anita, as well as with her son-in-law, John Byxbee; John was the Palo Alto city engineer for whom Byxbee Park is named.

Annie supported women’s suffrage. She was president of the Santa Clara County Equal Suffrage Assoc. in 1900, and said in her presidential address of that year, “We are simply waiting and watching, and working to strengthen our forces and our cause, so that at the golden moment we may be ready to spring into place.” She continued working for equal suffrage through the successful campaign in 1911 which gained California women the right to vote: “Mrs. John F. Byxbee, Mrs. George Rosebrook and Mrs. Annie L. Corbert entertained at a suffrage tea Thursday afternoon at the Byxbee home in Alma Street.”

Her civic activities were not limited to equal suffrage. She also found time to support the schools and the public library, and she belonged to the Palo Alto Woman’s Club, the Civic League, the Peace Society, and the Historical Society.

She was active in the early days of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, and was one of the early members of the Women’s Alliance. She helped run the Unitarian “Post Office Mission” in Palo Alto. She sang in the church choir, and her “clear true alto” voice was “always a power in quartette singing, even to the time of her last illness.” She divided her time between San Francisco and Palo Alto, and was also an officer for the San Francisco branch of the Women’s Alliance.

Her obituary in the Pacific Unitarian gave three samples of her religious philosophy, things she said not long before she died:

“As a church we should ask ourselves, continually, What is the church for—are we doing something worthy, or are we marking time.”

“I have found that we must not judge people. Minds are different, and we must not condemn as unworthy that which does not suit our own ideas.”

“The human soul is a lonely thing. It must stand by itself at the last.”

Notes: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910 U.S. Census; Vital Records of Nantucket, Massachusetts, to 1850, vol. II—Births (G-Z), Boston: New England Historical Genealogical Society, 1926, p. 235; Gayle Gullett, Becoming Citizens: The Emergence and Development of the California Women’s Movement, 1880-1911, Univ. of Illinois Press, p. 109; San Francisco Call, Aug. 20, 1911; Pacific Unitarian, Aug., 1916, p. 262; Pacific Unitarian, March, 1915, p. 137.
N.B.: In the printed record, her married name is often spelled “Corbett,” but when she signed her name she wrote “Corbert”; furthermore, she signed her first name “Annie,” not “Ann.”

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