George and Maude Seymour lived out their
lives in the Western Reserve part of Ohio. They were the epitome of what
Americans were supposed to be in the late 1800’s and the first half of
the 1900’s. They lived the simple values that their country held
supreme. A childhood picture of Maude revealed that she was exquisitely
beautiful. Her father, Herbert T. Sheldon, was a respected sheriff and
was charged with going after a dangerous criminal who had escaped most
law enforcement officers. Sheriff Sheldon caught the man, but it was law
at that time and place that the sheriff had to witness the execution.
Risking his life to go after the criminal was one thing, but watching
the execution was quite another for Sheldon, and he quit law enforcement
Maude married William Reed. Whether Reed
received the respect of the community by his own achievements or from
the esteem in which the Sheldons were held by the town is unknown.
However, the townsmen had some trading they wanted to do in New York
City and trusted the young man, Reed, with their money to conduct the
business. Then, as now, NYC was a perilously sophisticated place with
con men and thieves who could spin an innocent mid-westerner like a top.
William returned with no money, no trade, and with a venereal disease
which he gave to Maude.
The townspeople were irate that a gem so fine as Maude
was damaged, and she was granted a quick divorce at a time when divorce
was rarely allowed.
As a young woman, she was also very talented, creating
watercolors, pastels, and oils. These were signed Maude Reed, so it
appears that she no longer painted after her first marriage ended.
After her divorce, Maude married a local
man, George Seymour. They married on the first of May 1896 when George
was 21 and Maude was 30. However strange that
appears, the two were totally devoted to each other for the rest of
their lives. The marriage was childless, possibly on account of the
disease Maude contracted in her first marriage.
George Seymour owned a general store and knew everyone in
the area and was respected by all. One day, a customer came into the
story with some butter which she had churned and asked Seymour to
exchange her butter for some of the store butter. She said that her cat
had fallen into her butter, and it wouldn’t make any difference to
someone who didn’t know that. Seymour said, “Sure,” and took the butter
into the back room, turned the churner a few times, rewrapped the same
butter and gave it back to the woman who was very happy with the butter
not knowing that it was what her cat had fallen into.
In the early 1900’s George and Maude Seymour took in
needy girls to live with them, usually one at a time, giving them room
and board in exchange for light housework. One of those girls was Elsie
Sanburn, who was described to be from a poor family but was actually a
bastard—something not carrying a stigma now, but was a life sentence at
Maude had status in the community, and
someone she accepted as her charge was safe from gossip and bullying. A
child taken under Maude’s wing would not be denigrated.
Maude kept a diary in which she wrote
every day. The entries were short and were written with the
of a master journalist. One of those entries recorded Elsie
coming into where Maude was visiting with
a neighbor and saying that she had taken something—exactly what is lost
with the diaries, but it was clear that it was either for a fatal
disease or for the purpose of suicide. Elsie died. Maude’s
unvarnished factual recording of the
event is shocking because it is clear that the Seymours loved Elsie
At that time, the deceased were taken
care of by family, and Maude wrote about combing Elsie’s hair and
dressing her for visiting hours in their home for the funeral. George
and Maude bought the plot and stone
for Elsie beside George Seymour’s family
gravesite where, decades later, they, themselves would rest. They loved
Elsie with a depth unsurpassed in human connection, yet the diary
entries contain only bare fact.
George Seymour was the executor of the will of Chauncey
Porter, a local man who died leaving three children. Among them was Adah
Porter whose mother had died of childbed fever when she was born, whose
maternal grandmother died when she was seven, and whose father died when
she was nine.
Life for orphans was precarious because they were often
taken in for the purpose of performing slave labor. There was an orphan
girl at the time who had been slapped on the side of the head because
the woman was displeased with the quality of the child’s work. The girl
was deaf in that ear forever after.
George Seymour was dedicated and determined to do what
was best for the orphans, Adah and her older brothers, whatever the
cost. The boys had families willing to take them in because they could
help with farm work, but Adah was sitting on the back stairs of the
farmhouse, her home that would never again be hers, after everything was
auctioned, so George Seymour told her to come along with him. Elsie,
however, did not feel that she could live with another girl in the home.
In deference to Elsie’s jealousy,
Adah was sent to live elsewhere but returned to the Seymours after Elsie
The girls living with the Seymours were
to make Maude’s breakfast every morning and scrub the kitchen floor
every Saturday. That may seem unfair to some in the 21st
century, but it gave the children confidence in their position in the
home and was more than reasonable in exchange for the security and
stability they received. At the Seymours, Adah
flourished. She excelled in high school, got a Bachelor’s degree from
Ohio State, and then a Master’s degree when few women went that
far in their education. She had a job as a high school teacher during
the Great Depression when many people were jobless. She was devoted to
the Seymours for the rest of their lives.
Amy Anderson had been the best friend of the Porter
children’s mother and had been engaged to their uncle before his
untimely death. Adah’s mother had been a talented small-town
businesswoman who’d left money in Amy’s keeping for the safety of her
mother and children. George Seymour and Amy Anderson were the guardians
of the Porter children’s inheritance.
Anderson was an extremely demanding woman, and she and
Seymour were careful stewards of the funds, desperate to ensure that
they handled it as well as possible for the orphans. Adah recounted a
conversation she’d heard while sitting on the porch while Seymour and an
investor were talking. Seymour was trying to get the children’s funds
professionally managed. The investor demanded, “I want a commission! I
want a commission!”
The guardians did not go with that investor, and when
Adah recounted the incident at the end of her life, she said, “I never
We rise from the ground, walk on the earth for a space,
and sink back into the ground. But those who have lived lives
extraordinary in their common nobility, lives that are set firmly on a
base of honor, integrity, and decency toward their fellow humankind,
should be saluted and remembered. So here it is that we salute George
and Maude Seymour.