The photograph of Harriet Sebring

Last year, I set out in an attempt to pay heed to Women’s History Month by researching the lives of some of the “lesser known” women from Manistee’s past…women whose names were not as locally well-known as people like the Ramsdells or the Filers are today.

Pictured in the photograph is local socialite, Harriet Sebring in 1908. The portrait is cataloged as photo #378 in the “Costume Portraits Collection - Album #9” at the museum.

Pictured in the photograph is local socialite, Harriet Sebring in 1908. The portrait is cataloged as photo #378 in the “Costume Portraits Collection – Album #9” at the museum.

As the museum is filled with photo after photo of people who we really don’t know much about, but are a part of the county’s history, I thought it might be interesting to pick a random album, flip through it and with my index finger land on the first photograph of a woman that it willed and attempt to write an article about that woman employing the museum’s various research resources.

For this second article in the second volume of this series, I picked an album from the museum’s collection titled, “Costume Portraits: Album 9” and landed on the photograph of Harriet Sebring.

The early life of Harriet Sebring is somewhat similar to the subject of last week’s article, Lydia Magnan, in that both of their fathers grew to become pillars of the community. While Lydia’s father held a variety of civic jobs in Manistee, Harriet’s father became one of the city’s early physicians.

Harriet McPherson was born on Jan. 15, 1861 in Hart, Michigan to John B. and Susan McPherson. After John returned from the Civil War, where he served a surgeon, he and his young family settled in Hart where he found work as the area physician. It was there that Harriet and her three brothers grew up and attended school.

In 1882, John and his wife moved to Manistee where he opened up a practice at 410 River St. After settling in Manistee for a few years, he, his wife and Harriet moved into the house located at 388 Third St.

By the late 1880s, Harriet had met insurance salesman, Theron Y. Sebring, a cashier at the National Bank of Kalamazoo and on Oct. 16, 1889, the couple were wed in Manistee. An article published in the Manistee Times-Sentinel on October 18, 1889 describes the affair:

“Dr. J.B. McPherson’s residence, 388 Third St. was brilliantly illuminated Wednesday evening, the occasion being the marriage of Miss Harriet Cornelia, only daughter of Dr. and Mrs. McPherson, with Mr. Theron Y. Sebring, of Kalamazoo. One hundred cards of invitation had been issued, and the numerous guests present, (the ladies richly attired and most of the gentlemen in full dress) demonstrated the fact that but few regrets had been sent in.

“At 8:30 the familiar notes of the wedding march greeted ears of the guests and the bridal party and attendants headed by Rev. C.M. Westlake of the Congregational Church, entered the front parlor form the hall, and took their places under a bower of rose and foliage, with a miniature broom nestling among the roses – the familiar motto, ‘use the brush in sunshine, the handle in the storm.’

“The bride was richly attired in white silk, cut in empire style, the front and basque being brocaded with silver threads, the sides and train of plain silk, the elbow-sleeves and heart-shaped neck trimmed with duchess lace.”

The article goes on to describe Harriet as:

“…a lady of culture, an accomplished pianist, and since her residence here, through a period of seven years, she has occupied a high position in our social circles.”

After their wedding, the couple made their home in Kalamazoo. In 1892, a daughter, Marjorie, was born and in 1895, a son, Jack followed.

The 1900 census lists Harriet and her children living in Manistee with her parents at the Third Street address however, Theron’s name is not included.

Looking at records pertaining to Harriet’s life, the assumption can be made that the early 1900s were a time of deep grief in her life. In 1901, young Jack passed away at the age of five. Roughly one year later, documents show that Harriet divorced Theron on the grounds of desertion.

After the divorce, Harriet continued to reside with her parents at the house on Third Street. In 1903, Dr. McPherson passed away and Harriet continued to take care of her mother until her mother’s passing in 1909.

Shortly after, Harriet moved to the Ann Arbor area and later moved back to Kalamazoo. In 1923, her daughter, Marjorie passed away and was laid to rest in Oak Grove Cemetery next to her grandparents, Dr. and Susan McPherson.

Over the next two plus decades, Harriet continued to make her home in Kalamazoo. Following surgery at the age of 88, she passed away on Sept. 17, 1949. Upon her wishes, her body was brought back to Manistee and laid to rest in Oak Grove Cemetery. Her brief obituary, published in the Manistee News Advocate noted that, “…(she) will be remembered as a Third Street resident and the daughter of a local physician.”

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Posted by Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Musuem. He can be reached at (231) 723-5531 ormanisteemuseum@yahoo.com.

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