It was 1926, the midpoint of America’s Roaring Twenties, a prosperous and tumultuous era. “Silent Cal”
Coolidge was the president of the United States and the most hotly debated issue was Prohibition. It
was the year that saw the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series, and Sinclair Lewis win – and then
decline – a Pulitzer Prize for Arrowsmith. People were singing “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “When the Red, Red
Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobin’ Along, “ and “Gimme a Little Kiss, Will ‘Ya’ Huh.” Thirty thousand
Americans flocked to the funeral of Rudolph Valentino, the silent movie matinee idol and passionate
screen lover; and on March 7th, at as hospital in Milford, Massachusetts, a baby girl was born. She was
named Mary Jean.
Mary Jean’s life was marked by a lovely symmetry. She was to live for fifty-nine years, and during those
almost six decades, she lived almost every day within the same twenty-four mile radius. The first twenty-
three years were spent in Hopedale, a small town outside of Worcester, and for the last twenty-seven
years in Medford, a bedroom suburb of Boston. Born in the month of March, she died in the month of
March. Springtime. Yet her favorite time of year was the fall, and especially the month of October, with its
brisk air, cloudless blue skies, and with the harvest safely gathered in. If springtime set the calendar
definitions of birth and death, it was fall that set the tone to the living of her days.
Although she was born in a Milford hospital, Mary Jean’s first official residence was Hopedale, 5 Lake
Street, where her parents rented half a duplex from the Draper Corporation, for whom her father worked
as traffic manager. The first settlers had arrived in Hopedale in the 1660s when it was still a part of
Mendon. Later it was a part of Milford, but in 1886 it was made an independent town of five square
miles, divided by the Mill River. The river was dammed to make a pond, and Mary Jean, and then her
children, used to swim there on many summer days. Its population when Mary Jean was living there
was under four thousand.
The real beginning to Hopedale’s history started when Adin Ballou, a Universalist minister, established
his Utopian community there in 1842. Known as the Hopedale Community, its purpose was to create a
“Human Society based upon the sublime ideas of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of Man
as taught and illustrated in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Within a few years the idealistic experiment
failed, as most did, and the community was taken over by its largest shareholders, the Draper brothers.
They then built their textile machinery and supply company, and Hopedale became a benevolent
company town. The Drapers owned everything and ran the business, social, cultural, and religious life
of the town for the next several decades. It was feudalism at its best, and people could say that
Hopedale was a nice place to live and work and have their children. At least, Mr. Newhall thought so. But
Ballou’s greater legacy to Hopedale’s people was his commitment to pacifism, the abolition of slavery,
and women’s rights, ideals that Mary Jean came to cherish and affirm. Indeed, the last phone call she
ever took in her life, the night before she entered the hospital, when she was very ill and knew she was
close to death, was from a fund raiser for the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy. She made a large
pledge to their educational work, saying to her husband wistfully, “I didn’t do enough for peace.”
Eugene Simmons Newhall had been born and raised in Lynn, Massachusetts, and as a young man at
the turn of the century had come to Hopedale to work as a secretary for Draper. It was there that he met
his future wife, Helen Irene Sadler, a schoolteacher. Her father had selected that profession for her, and
she did as he wished, but she was not a good teacher and never really cared for the occupation. Many
years later one of her granddaughters was to chose teaching for her career, and to love it. The Sadler
and Newhall family roots went back to the American Revolution. This made Mary Jean eligible to join the
Daughters of the American Revolution, but she did not care much for organizations, and least of all
patriotic ones. Yet she worked for community in her own way, and at the end of her life, when working at
the Winchester Public Library, she was one of the staff who tried hard, if in vain, to unionize the Library.
In later life, Mary Jean remembered pulling her red wagon through the neighborhood to sell the apples
her grandfather Sadler had harvested from the little cluster of apple trees that grew back of the house he
had built at 108 Dutcher Street. One or two of these trees survived into the `60s, preserving the memory,
though if the truth were known, she did not much care for the task at the time, but always laughed about
it in later years. One childhood event she did love, and which she often mentioned, was the “Our Gang”
circus and parade held one Saturday in June 1937. The characters were based on the popular movie
series of that decade. Because as a young girl, Mary Jean was overweight, she was elected to be the
circus Fat Lady. When she reached early teens, she determined to disqualify herself for the role by
going on a strict diet. Never again was she going to be anyone’s Fat Lady! When she was married she
weighed about 105 pounds and when she died about thirty years later she weighed only 121 pounds.
Mary Jean was an only child, and a late baby at that. Her parents were in their early forties when she
was born. But if the Newhalls had no other children, Mary Jean did have a “brother.” He was a near
neighbor on Lake Street, and his name was Stewart Stringfellow. Mary Jean and Stewart were “pals
from day one,” and for eighteen years. When they were babies, their mothers gave them their baths
together and naps together, and Stewart recalled after her death, they “even exchanged Cod Liver Oil if
either missed the daily dose at his or her own home.” He remembered, too, that Mary Jean came down
with Scarlet Fever the day after they had been put in the same bed for their afternoon naps. They went to
public school, Sunday School, Church and dancing lessons as “a pair” or “in tandem.” It was a happy
childhood that they shared.
Mary Jean made her public school debut on September 8, 1931. There were never more than thirty
youngsters in her class, and for the most part, the friends she made in first grade were the friends she
lined up with at High School graduation. Two especially close school friends were Virginia Creighton
[Ginnie Burnham] and Mary Allarie. A photograph taken in the sixth grade showed the three young
women posing for the camera after they had had “finger waves.” Virginia, nicknamed “Crate,” proved to
be a life-long friend. In June 1940, Mary Jean graduated from Junior High School, and at the evening
program she spoke on the “Evolution of Ocean Travel.” It must have been a fascinating talk! An excellent
student from the start, Mary Jean graduated from High School on June 14, 1944 as class Valedictorian.
At the evening exercises, she received the Washington and Franklin Medal for excellence in the study of
United States History from the Massachusetts Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. Her
attachment to both her native town and to her experience of growing up there is shown by her becoming,
just a few years before her death, a Life Member of the Hopedale High School Alumni Association.
The Newhalls were Protestants, and Hopedale had but two Protestant churches: the Union church,
which was conservative in its theology, and the liberal Unitarian church. The Unitarian church had been
established by Adin Ballou after his Community had failed. The Drapers who ran the only real business
in town, were Unitarians. Since Mr. Newhall worked for the Drapers, Mary Jean attended the Hopedale
Unitarian Parish. It was a good choice for all the Newhalls – her parents were active churchgoers, and
her father for many years served as the church treasurer – but it was and especially good choice for
Mary Jean. The liberalism of Unitarianism fitter her growing spirit and mind. She was raised in the
parish Sunday School, won books and pins for perfect attendance, and when older, taught Sunday
School classes for a few years. The minister for almost all her Hopedale years was a fine, southern
bred gentleman, JB Hollis Tegarden. If he was not a widely celebrated minister, he was a beloved and
influential minister among his fold. Among the few papers she thought worth keeping, at the time of her
death, Mary Jean had one of his sermons, “Purpose in Life,” in which he said, “To have a great purpose
in living; to have some distant end toward which to be working, achieving, struggling, makes life so rich
for us. Set your face steadfastly to go to some distant Jerusalem, and see the wonderful results it has
for you in your life.” Mary Jean found this ideal so compelling that she made it her approach to life.
Indeed, the same spirit ignited by this ideal was a part of her family heritage and of the town in which
she had spent her childhood.
Church had its fun side too. Mary Jean was a “snowflake” in a pageant in 1932, and the next year was
one of the attendants for the Queen of Summer. In addition to these church activities, Mary Jean was a
Campfire Girl, and it was through that organization that she began writing to a young girl of her age in
England. This correspondence lasted until the day she died, and indeed, one of the last letters she ever
wrote was to this very friend, Vonnie (later Mrs. Stephen Waddington). One of the highlights of her life,
was a visit to Vonnie and her family in Yorkshire in the spring of 1958. The middle name of her daughter
Carolyn Joy was shared by one of Vonnie’s daughters. Her summers were spent at camps, first at
Whispering Willows at Dennisport on Cape Cod and then at Camp Hickory in New Hampshire. Her
parents felt that because she was an only child she needed the experience of daily living and learning
with other young people. She loved the experience, especially the summers on the Cape. Here she
learned swimming, archery, and horseback riding, and after she was married she sometimes went
riding with her sister-in-law.
When she was fourteen her father wrote her a letter which said in part, “I have watched you grow in
spirit and mind; have enjoyed your company at Church, at camp and sporting events; have taken special
note of your acts in the presence of older people; and you measure up to my idea of what a proper
young person should be, at the same time having ‘young ideas’, and I am proud of you. My prayer for
you is that your may continue to grow spiritually and mentally, and become a very worthwhile person in
this world, --even if it is in a small sphere.” In 1967, just a few years before his death, he wrote on his
copy of this letter: “I feel the same.”
Since this concludes the Hopedale years of Jean’s life, I’ll summarize the rest of the booklet.
After high school graduation in 1944, Jean went to Tufts College, where she majored in economics.
After graduation, she worked for an insurance company in Hartford for a while, but returned to Hopedale
after a year, to assist her mother who was having health problems. During this time, she worked part
time at the Framingham Library, and after her mother’s death in 1951, she studied for a year at the
Syracuse University School of Library Science. She received an M.S. in library science and in 1953 went
to work at the Schenectady Public Library.
After a year in Schenectady, Jean moved on to become cataloger at the library at Tufts. While there, she
met Alan Seaburg, who was studying to become a Universalist minister at the university’s Crane
Theological School. Alan worked at the library at a desk near Jean’s. They courted for a year and were
married in Hopedale on December 17, 1955. (“It was an ironic fact that the young man her father hired
to drive her to church that day was the older man who prepared the plot for her ashes the day she was
interred in the Hopedale Village Cemetery, twenty-nine years later.”)
In 1957 Jean began working for the Universalist Historical Society Library, located on the Tufts campus.
In 1969 she took a part-time job at the Winchester Public Library and remained in it until her death.
Beginning in 1964 she also did book indexing on a free-lance basis. She did work for the University of
Illinois Press, Indiana University Press, the University of Chicago Press, Iowa State University Press
and Texas A & M University Press.
The final paragraph of the booklet: “Her death from cancer of the liver was a quick as it was
unexpected. It is clear that the first signs appeared in the fall of 1984, but she kept these signs to
herself. As she handled her own living, she handled her own dying, and worked at the library and at
home until just a few days before her death. She was not looking for death. A few weeks before it took
place she was writing her English pen-pal, “I’m still working at the public library part-time, we are in the
midst of automating, first for circulating materials, eventually will dump the card catalog. So I have
learned data entry, it was very exciting at first but gets boring if done too long at a time. Computers will
eliminate for libraries a lot of tedious jobs tho; filing, counting statistics, etc. I keep thinking I’ll leave and
do more on my home indexing business after Ann graduates, but I think I will miss going out and
seeing people.” She entered the local hospital at the end of March 1986 and died within a few days, on
the 26th. Her memorial service was held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford four days later
with her friends conducting the service. For the first time in her adult life she had kept a little diary during
the last two visits she made to Green River, [Green River,Vermont, where Jean and Alan had a summer
home.] in August and October of 1984, just months before her death. The last sentence in October entry
reads, “Am going to pick some purple asters to take home.”
Jean's father's 1910 trip to the White Mountains "Our Gang" parades of 1936 and 1937
Memories Menu HOME
Jean and Alan, Yorkshire, 1958.
Jean with the girls at the Hopedale town park.
Carolyn and Ann, February 1986.
In a Small Sphere
The Living of
Mary Jean Newhall Seaburg