Ordinary Unitarians: Martha Ziegler

As the years go by, I find I’m less interested in how famous or “important” Unitarian Universalists live their lives, and increasingly interested in the lives of ordinary Unitarians and Universalists. Maybe this is because I don’t know any important or famous Unitarian Universalists, but I’ve known lots of ordinary Unitarian Universalists. With that in mind, here’s a brief biography of Martha Clara Elizabeth Ziegler Greenlaw [a.k.a. Reynolds, Seymour, and Fancher], a member of the old Unitarian Church of Palo Alto:

A housewife and mother who experienced more than her share of domestic challenges and tragedies, Martha Clara Elizabeth Ziegler was born Feb. 27, 1894, in Chicago. In 1900, she was living in Hyde Park Township (which became part of Chicago). She lived with her father Gustav, a machinist’s helper, who had been born in Denmark; her mother Ida, who had been born in Germany; and her younger brother Charles.

When she was 17 years old, on Aug. 1, 1911, she married Charles Greenlaw (q.v.) in Chicago, Ill. Charles worked for American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) installing new phone systems in communities across the country, and his job required him to relocate every few months. His wife and a growing number of children had to move with him, and some of their moves can be traced from the birthplaces of their four children: Arnold Ziegler (q.v.) was born July 12, 1912, in Chicago; Colin Torrey was born March 27, 1914, in Baltimore, Md. (q.v.); Morrison Bronk was born Aug. 3, 1918, in San Francisco; and Margery Ellen was born Nov. 3, 1920, in Chicago. All these moves put strain on the family.

To try to reduce some of the strain on the family, from about 1918 to 1920 they spent significant amounts of time in a cabin Charles owned in Willits, Calif. But soon they had to move again, and in January, 1920, they were living in Detroit, Mich. And by 1923, the family had moved to 523 Webster St. in Palo Alto.

Martha joined the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto in 1923. The names of her two oldest children, Arnold and Colin, were noted as having excellent attendance records in 1924. After her second marriage, she was listed in the 1926 “List of Resident Members” of the church as “Mrs. James E. Reynolds.”

Charles and Martha’s marriage came apart around 1923, and they probably divorced in 1924. By late 1924, Martha was living without Charles at 523 Webster St., and she was working as a stenographer. She was a single mother and caring for a four year old daughter; Charles had custody of the three older boys.

Soon after her divorce, on Dec. 22, 1924, Martha married James Edward Reynolds, and Rev. Elmo Arnold Robinson of the Unitarian Church officiated at the wedding. She and James had one child together, James E., Jr. (b. c. 1927, Calif.), and she of course also had custody of Margery. However, James and Martha’s marriage only lasted about five years because James developed tuberculosis and died around 1929. Once again, Martha was single, this time with two children under the age of ten.

Once again, Martha quickly remarried, this time to Fred Wesley Seymour (b. c. 1887, Ill.), who was known at various times as both Fred and Wesley. By 1930, they were living in Redwood City with Margery Greenlaw and James E. Reynolds Jr., now known as Edward. At some point between 1930 and 1934, Fred Wesley adopted James, Jr., who then became known as Peter Owen Seymour.

Martha’s third marriage also ended quickly, and again because her husband died. Fred Wesley worked for as a yardman in a railroad yard, and around 1934 he died in an accident on the Southern Pacific Railroad. By 1935, Martha had moved back to Palo Alto to live with Marjorie and Peter, who were now in their early teens.

Around 1940, Martha married for the fourth time, this time to Earl Fancher (b. c. 1883, N.Y.). In 1940, she was living with Earl in Fremont Township, Santa Clara County, along with her daughter Margery and her son Peter. However, this marriage, too, only lasted a few years, though this time the marriage ended with her death.

She died March 19, 1946, in Glendale, Calif. In her short 52 year life, she had had five children and lived through a stressful first marriage which ended in divorce, and she had buried two other husbands. I’d like to imagine that the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto provided some support to her during her divorce and remarriage, and it seems unfortunate that the church had mostly ceased existence during her second husband’s final illness and death, a time when a church could have been a real support.

Notes: 1900, 1920, 1930, 1940 U.S. Census; Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920; Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920; Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates for Arnold Ziegler Greenlaw, Marjorie Ellen Greenlaw; Calif. Birth Index, Calif. Death Index, and U.S. Social Security Death Index for Morrison Bronk Greenlaw; Russ Greenlaw, “Martha Clara Elizabeth Fancher formerly Ziegler aka Greenlaw, Reynolds, Seymour,” from “Family records and recollections of Alberta Seymour,” Wikitree Web site www.wikitree.com/wiki/Ziegler-463 accessed Aug. 1, 2020; Directory of Palo Alto, Mayfield, Stanford University, Ravenswood, and East Palo Alto, Palo Alto: Willis Hall, 1924, 1925 [Martha is listed as living alone at 523 Webster St. in the 1925 Directory, which was after she had married James Reynolds; but the information for the directory was probably collected in 1924]. Genealogical information from familysearch.org except where noted.

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