Obscure Unitarians: The Franklin family of Palo Alto

The Franklin family of Palo Alto included Edward Curtis Franklin, expert on nitrogen compounds and professor at Stanford Univ.; Effie June Scott Franklin, professor of modern languages at the Univ. of Kansas; and Dr. Anna Comstock Franklin Barnett, physician and professor at Stanford Medical school. They were all affiliated with the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto (1905 to 1934) at one time or another.

Family tree showing two generations of Franklins

FRANKLIN, ANNA COMSTOCK (BARNETT) — A physician and graduate of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto Sunday school, she was born Sept. 12, 1898, in Lawrence, Kansas, daughter of Effie Scott and Edward Curtis Franklin. Her family moved to Palo Alto in 1903.

In 1905, Anna was “one of the first pupils of the Sunday-school” of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto. She was listed in the 1919 parish directory. It is likely that she participated in the life of the church through the intervening years.

Anna received her A.B. from Stanford University in 1920, and her M.D. from Stanford in 1924. On July 12, 1924, she married Dr. George de Forest Barnett; he was a physician and professor of medicine at Stanford. They had two children together, Margaret A. (b. c. 1927) and Edward Franklin (b. c. 1929); but the Unitarian church had mostly ceased operating by the time the children were old enough to attend Sunday school. After the death of her mother in 1931, Anna’s father, Edward, came to live with her.

Anna eventually joined the faculty of Stanford School of Medicine. Her husband, who had also taught at Stanford School of Medicine, died in 1955. Anna continued to live on campus after her retirement.

On Oct. 1, 1968, the Stanford Daily reported:

“The badly decomposed body of Dr. Anna Barnett, a retired Medical School professor, was discovered in the hills behind Stanford Friday morning. The body was found near Stanford’s antenna farm at 7 a.m. by Eleanore Norris, a resident of Palo Alto, who was strolling in the area near Stanford’s antenna farm. Dr. Barnett, despondent over eye trouble and a scheduled eye operation, disappeared September 13. She left a note indicating she was contemplating suicide. A morphine overdose was determined as the cause of death.”

The date of death given on the death certificate was Sept. 27, 1968.

Notes: 1900, 1930 U.S. Census; Christian Register, Dec. 17, 1925, p. 1236; Alumni Directory, Stanford University, 1921, 1931; Stanford Daily, April 30, 1924, p. 1; Stanford Daily, Oct. 1, 1968, p. 4; Carl T. Cox, “Anna Comstock Franklin,” The Orville, Sutherland, Cox Web site: Ancestors, descendants, and Family Information, oscox.org/cgi-bin/igmget.cgi/n=jucox? I17378, accessed May 25, 2017.


FRANKLIN, CHARLES SCOTT — A geologist, he was born c. 1902 in Kansas, son of Effie and Edward Franklin. He acted the part of one of the Wise Men in “King Persifer’s Crown,” a play put on by members of the Sunday school of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto on May 13, 1916. He received his A.B. from Stanford in geology in 1925.

He died in an airplane crash on Feb. 11, 1928.

Notes: 1910, 1920 U.S. Census; Alumni Directory, Stanford University, 1921, 1932.


FRANKLIN, EFFIE JUNE SCOTT — A professor of French and German, she was born Aug. 5, 1871, in on a farm in Carlyle Township, Kansas. Her father, Dr. John W. Scott, came to Kansas in 1857, and was active in the free state fight, serving in the first state legislature; Dr. Scott served in the Civil War as surgeon of the Tenth Kansas, and after that war was president of the company that laid out the town of Iola, Kansas.

Effie’s family family moved to the town of Iola, Kansas, in 1874. She graduated from high school in Iola, Kansas, in 1887. She had two much older brothers: Angelo, the eldest, and Charles, ten years older than Effie, who represented Kansas for several years as a Republican in the U.S. Congress.

After graduating from high school, Effie taught in the Kansas City, Kansas, schools, and then taught high school in Leavenworth, Kansas. She then began studies at the University of Kansas, receiving her A.B. in 1891. Subsequently she pursued graduate study at Cornell and at the University of Berlin. For two years, until her marriage in 1897, she was assistant professor of French and German at the University of Kansas; this was during the time that William Carruth (later president of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto) was professor of German there.

She married Edward Curtis Franklin on July 22, 1897, at Central Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colorado. She and Edward had three children: Anna Comstock (b. Sept., 1898), Charles Scott (b. c. 1902, Kan.), and John Curtis (b. c. 1905, Calif.).

Effie moved to Palo Alto in 1903 when her husband accepted a position as professor at Stanford. Effie’s mother, Maria Protsman Scott, died in 1907 while she was staying with her daughter in Palo Alto.

She joined the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto on Nov. 19, 1905, and was one of the first members of the Women’s Alliance. She made regular financial contributions to the church. In 1915, William Carruth, well-known poet and professor at Stanford, recruited Effie to serve on the Pulpit Committee with him.

She had probably been active in the Unitarian church in Lawrence, Kansas, while she was at the University of Kansas, and she served a delegate from that church to the National Conference of Unitarians in 1911, which was held in Washington, D.C.; the family moved Washington from 1911 to 1913 while Edward worked for the government Hygienic Laboratory.

In 1914, a classmate from the University of Kansas visited the Franklins, as well as former Kansans Jennie and Helen Sutliff and William and Katharine Carruth (all affiliated with the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto). This classmate wrote:

“At Stanford I spent several days with the Sutliffs and Franklins and had a pleasant visit with Dr. and Mrs. Carruth….Dr. Franklin was soon to leave for New Zealand where he was going at the request of the British government, in company with fourteen other American scientists of note. Dr. and Mrs. Franklin have a very handsome big daughter Anna, a high school girl, and two younger boys, Charles and Jack.”

Effie was an accomplished pianist, and she was elected an honorary member of the Stanford Music Club in 1916. Politically, Effie was a progressive who supported woman suffrage.

She died at her home in Palo Alto on March 31, 1931.

Notes: 1900, 1910 U.S. Census; Graduate Magazine of the University of Kansas, 1931, p. 14; William E. Connolley, History of Kansas Newspapers, Topeka: Kansas State Printing Plant, 1916, p. 47; William E. Connelley, A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, vol. 3, Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1919, p. 1360; Iola Register, May 30, 1902; Jan Onofrio, Kansas Biographical Dictionary, St. Clair Shores, Miss.: Somerset Pub., 2000, p. 142; The Arrow of Pi Beta Phi, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Michigan Chapter of Beta, October, 1893, p. 118; Iola Register, July 30, 1897, p. 8; Christian Register, Dec. 17, 1925, p. 1236; John William Leonard, Woman’s Who’s Who of America, 1914-1915, New York: American Commonwealth Co., 1914, p. 305; Christian Register, Oct. 19, 1911, p. 1095; Graduate Magazine of the University of Kansas, March, 1907, p. 224; Stanford Daily, Jan. 25, 1916, p. 2.


FRANKLIN, EDWARD CURTIS — A renowned chemist who grew up in Kansas while it was still part of the frontier, he was born in Geary City, Kansas, on March 1, 1862. He was raised in Doniphan, Kansas, where his father owned a saw mill and grist mill. At the time he was young, that part of Kansas still had the flavor of the frontier, to which some ascribed his later “noticeable impatience with convention.”

As a boy, he enjoyed the outdoors, including hunting, fishing, swimming in the Missouri River, and collecting fossils. This love of the outdoors was to remain with him his whole life, and as an adult he became an active mountain climber who belonged to the Sierra Club, and summited a number of 14,000 foot peaks.

In 1877, when he was 15, he and his brother William, later a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, made their own batteries, set up a two-mile long telegraph line, and made their own telephone in 1877, only a year after A. G. Bell patented his telephone.

After Edward graduated from high school, he worked for a pharmacy in Severance, Kansas, from 1880-1884; then at age 22 entered the University of Kansas. He received his S.B. from the University of Kansas in 1888, studied at the University of Berlin 1890-1891, and received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1894. He was a professor of chemistry at the University of Kansas from 1891 to 1903. He also worked for a gold mining company in Costa Rica for a short time in 1897.

Vernon Kellogg (who was affiliated with the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto) helped convince Edward to move to Stanford. Edward went to Stanford to teach chemistry in 1903. Everett remained at Stanford until his retirement in 1929. As a chemist, he was best known for his work on ammonia and other nitrogen compounds. He was considered an excellent teacher who delivered exceptionally clear lectures.

He married Effie Scott on July 22, 1897, in Denver, Colo., and they had three children: Anna Comstock (b. Sept., 1898), Charles Scott (b. c. 1902), and John Curtis (b. c. 1905).

He was affiliated with the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, though it was his wife who was most active. He once hosted a social gathering of the Unitarian Church, entertaining “the company with some experiments with liquid air.” Theologically, Unitarianism would have been a good fit for Franklin, since from his youth he had been inclined to be a free thinker and agnostic.

After his wife died in 1931, he lived with his daughter, Anna Comstock Franklin Barnett, in Palo Alto. In the last three years of his life, he took long automobile tours of the U.S. and Canada, and died just two months after returning from the last such trip, on Feb. 13, 1937.

Notes: Alexander Findlay, Journal of the Chemical Society, 1938, p. 583; Howard Elsey, Biographical Memoirs, Nat. Academy of Sciences, 1991, pp. 67-75; Stanford Daily, Feb. 15, 1937, p. 1; Jan Onofrio, Kansas Biographical Dictionary, St. Clair Shores, Miss.: Somerset Pub., 2000, pp. 139 ff.; obituary, Stanford Daily, Feb. 15, 1937; John William Leonard, ed., Men of America: A Biographical Dictionary, New York: L. R. Hamersly & Co., 1908; Pacific Unitarian, April, 1909, p. 186.


FRANKLIN, JOHN (JACK) CURTIS — He was born c. 1905 in California, son of Effie and Edward Franklin. He acted the part of one of the Wise Men in “King Persifer’s Crown,” a play put on by members of the Sunday school of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto on May 13, 1916. In 1930, he was living in a boarding house in Los Angeles and working as a radio engineer for an air transport company.

Notes: 1910, 1920, 1930 U.S. Census.

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