Mary Clara Ware Kirby

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MARY CLARA WARE KIRBY.—The Ware family, to which Mrs. Kirby belongs, has been represented in Massachusetts nearly two hundred and fifty years. Its founder in this country was Robert Ware, who came from Devon, England, in 1664. He was given a grant of land in Dedham, and two years later was made “freeman.” A man of importance in the community, the second largest tax-payer in the town, and a member of the artillery company, he was a good neighbor, a kind husband and father. He died in 1698. His will, drawn the year previous, shows more than usual justice and thoughtfulness toward the wife he was leaving to the care of his children. The breadth of vision and mental strength of this their first American ancestor seem to have been transmitted in large degree to his descendants. In 1775 Joseph Ware, a great-grandson of the immigrant, was one of the soldiers in Arnold’s famous expedition against Quebec, and won promotion for his bravery. His Journal of the Expedition (published in 1884 by Joseph Ware, of Needham, a great-grandson) is historically valuable, containing among other data a complete list of the Americans killed, wounded, and taken prisoners on the fateful day of December 31, 1775.

Unitarian for generations in their religious preferences, the Wares have numbered in their ranks many distinguished clergymen and scholars. Ralph Ware, a great-grandson of the Revolutionary hero and the father of the subject of this sketch, was of the liberal school of thought, and when he married Mary Jordan, the daughter of an English Universalist clergyman, it is small wonder that in their home all matters of advanced thought and scientific research should have been given impartial consideration.

There were nine children, seven living to attain their majority, yet the mother could always find time to help a neighbor or friend in illness or distress, and her house was at all times a place of refuge for the troubled and weary. She finished her work here, as her well-rounded life, patterned after that of Him who “went about doing good,” came to an earthly close late in the year of 1893; but its influence can never be calculated, nor will it ever cease to be.

Of such parentage was born Mary Clara Ware in Dorchester, Mass. As the eldest of four sisters, she was always ready to give assistance to the younger, and at school the unfortunate found in her a friend quick to sympathize, with a judgment far beyond her years. The timid little ones sought her hand for protection, the slow ones brought the problems they could not solve, and the friendless looked toward her, sure of a smile. So even and true was she, and still is, that some one who has known Mrs. Kirby all her life said recently: ‘Oh, well! It is no effort for her to be affable and kind. She never seemed to want to be any other way.’  But, since no life is free from its trials, and as every heart knoweth its own bitterness, some credit is surely due this woman who never seemed to want to be anything but agreeable.

The spirit of humanitarianism grew with her growth, fostered by the home training, and kept with her when she entered more actively into the joys and cares of life. Ambition ruled strongly, and the pride of self-respect prompted her to do everything well. Possessed of more than ordinary business ability, she has used that masculine quality most successfully, planning with the'”brain of a man and the intuition of a woman.’ From the gratification of self in the enjoyments of social life, which claimed her attention, she gradually turned to the higher pleasure of giving her time and energies for the good of others.

With a thirst for wisdom, desirous of learning the reason of things and finding a more excellent way of life, she has devoted much time and thought to psychic and mystic studies, and through such research she feels confident that she has come nearer to the needs of human beings. Her eyes have been opened to see God’s children as they are, and yet to feel that it is possible for them to become in truth His image and likeness. It has taught her to see the ‘good in everything save sin’ and to love the sinner, while condemning and rebuking the transgression. The pure and literal interpretation of the Christ principle has become her simple but comprehensive creed, and the commandment, ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens,’ a daily precept.

On August 2, 1886, she was married to Daniel Henry Kirby, of Boston. Mr. Kirby, until his death (May 4, 1901) was a ready sympathizer and a helper in all her work for others. His only solicitude was lest enthusiasm should be in excess of bodily endurance, the willing spirit make too serious demand upon the flesh, and cut short a life useful to others and dear to him.

In the fall of 1894, on her return home, after a summer, spent rather idly for her, in the country, where the daily changes were an object lesson of God in nature and a continual proof of a divine hand that brought in turn seedtime and harvest, Mrs. Kirby with others helped to organize and form the Procopeia Club. As is the meaning of the name, the object of the club was to provide for the needy of all classes and conditions just the mental, moral, physical, and spiritual help each might need —a tremendous undertaking, and not entered into lightly nor with any spirit of rivalry toward the already established charities, either public or private, but to reach by the personal aid of a loving hand and devoted attention those who were repelled by the idea of almstaking.

The society’s rooms were on St. Botolph Street, Boston, and there every day in the week from eleven A.M. until three P.M. Mrs. Kirby might be found, giving a willing ear and thoughtful attention to all sorts of people asking all sorts of aid. All this time and thought were given freely on her part, but with what a cost to her sympathies and nerve tissue, to say nothing of the whole body physical! None were ever turned away unhelped, though many were not given exactly what they asked for; for the plan of the society was to study the individual and prescribe for his need rather than to his wants. Many a poor creature, discouraged and heart-sick, as well as miserably poor of this world’s goods, could testify to the ministration to both bodily and spiritual needs; and scores in want of employment or perhaps unfitted to their present employment could tell of a changed burden, that from its lightness and because it better fitted their shoulders seemed no burden at all. To bring the mind of man in accord with God’s great plans for the human race, and thus bring the universe in concord with the Creator, is the tremendous aim of those who planned the Procopeia Club.

In 1895 Mrs. Helen Van Anderson, seeking to establish a new and unsectarian church, afterward named by Professor Trine the Church of the Higher Life, came to Mrs. Kirby for the executive aid she felt that lady was capable of giving. It was incorporated the same year, with Mrs. Kirby as its president. Later a service was held in Allen Hall, ordaining and installing with impressive ceremony Mrs. Van Anderson as its minister, among the clergymen to officiate being the Rev. Minot J. Savage, the Rev. Antoinette Blackwell, and others of note.

With all this public work Mrs. Kirby still found time to attend to social duties, to be at home to her friends, and to put her thoughts on paper in the form of essays and poems. These, published as the result of her experiences in philanthropic work, brought to her a huge correspondence in the shape of questions and requests for spiritual aid, and entailed an impossible amount of writing. This also proved even more conclusively, if that were necessary, that a great number of people were reaching out for a strength and hope they longed for, but did not know how to obtain. Under each question, beneath every inquiry, was the spirit of unrest—a lack of communion and understanding of God’s plans for his creatures. How was that cry to be answered, and those needs, how were they to be met?

The Faith and Hope Fund, planned by Mrs. Kirby, was a step in the right direction. It accomplished enough to lead to the present Faith and Hope Association, formed in September, 1896, and incorporated in October of the same year. The present home of the association is at the new Boylston Chambers, Boylston Street, Boston. Mrs. Kirby is its president, assisted by a board of directors.

Perhaps no better idea of the work can be given than in the words of the president herself, dedicated to the association and issued Christmas, 1901 :—

‘Love thoughts on angels’ wings do fly
Forever through the azure sky.
With Faith they touch the hearts of all.
While Hope awakens at their call.

‘Love will redeem and set aside
All prejudice, thus open wide
The door of sunshine and of peace,
To bid unrest forever cease.

‘For Love, which is Life’s golden key,
Helps to unlock all mystery;
While Truth will ever point the way.
If Love we have as guest alway.

“Faith, Hope, and Love will guide us on,
Until the victory we have won.
Discouraged thoughts we’ll bid away,
That happier ones may come to stay.

‘So let us all in love unite
Through harmony, with music bright.
We’ll lift the souls now sick and sad,
And many weary hearts make glad.’

The motto of the society is, “Love conquers the world,” and the organizers of the Faith and Hope Association are putting heart and soul into the work of such branches as have already been established. They do not “beg” for their charities, but state the case, and feel confident that the case will recommend itself.

Sin and want are the foes they propose to fight and conquer—sin of any kind, and want in whatever nature it manifests itself. It is often want of proper knowledge that plunges the soul over its first moral precipice. Ignorance of the laws of nature is sin to the third and fourth generation.

Like the Procopeia Club, the Faith and Hope Association endeavors to fit the needy to the need. The rooms of the association at Christmas time resemble nothing so much as the home of a Santa Claus determined to giveevery one some useful and desirable present; and, though the number reaches up into the hundreds, more could and would be given, were there more to give. Besides this, hospitals, prisons, and reformatory institutions are remembered with boxes, and on holidays bands of singers and entertainers are sent to bring behind the gates of these places a share of the joy that pervades the outside world. At the Easter season, also, the message of the resurrection, borne by beautiful flowers, is carried into hospitals and homes.

The association, knowing that the affairs of city and State will some day be in the hands of the boys now being brought up, and some of them under wrong influences, are going out into the highways and hedges to find the neglected and those under vicious and unhealthy moral conditions, and are trying by means of pleasant allurements of boyish sports and healthy games to secure their attention and win them to ways of virtue.

A flourishing sewing society is maintained in connection with the association, and hundreds of warm garments are made each year and distributed. Homes have been found in institutions for those having moral or physical needs, and judicious loans have been made to meet pressing demands. All this work, however, has been made subservient to spiritual needs, and the chief aim has been to show that a right use of spiritual gifts will preclude much of the physical suffering of the world. All the officers of the association, it may here be said, are working for the love of doing good, there being no salaries.

No pen portrait of Mrs. Kirby could convey to those unacquainted with her any idea of the personality that wins and keeps her many friends.

The Spanish have a maxim that he who eats fruit, and does not plant the seed, is ungrateful to the generation before him, and deals unjustly toward those who follow. In the great garden of God’s world some sow, never expecting to reap; and, judged by the standard of the Spanish maxim, a sower like Mrs. Kirby is fulfilling her duty to both the generation before and to those who follow her.

John H. Guttterson”
Source:  Representative Women of New England, by Julia Ward Howe and Mary Hannah Graves, New England Historical Publishing Co., Boston, 1922, pages 273-76


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