Marie Brockway Pond (1862-1957)

Marie Brockway Pond (1862-1957):

Marie Pond was a companion to Margaret Harper Sibley, who was  Emily Sibley Watson’s sister-in-law and the wife of Hiram W. Sibley. She lived with the Sibley family in New York City and in Rochester at the corner of East Avenue and Alexander Street, and she accompanied them to Europe on a number of trips. Miss Pond, as she was most commonly referred to by Sibley family members, was the daughter of Colonel Nathan Patchen Pond (1832-1921), co-publisher of the Democrat & Chronicle newspaper in Rochester, and Cornelia Brockway Pond. Not for her the domestic life of the late nineteenth century woman. In 1887, she opened a gymnasium with Miss Antoinette Carter in the Wisner Building at 75 State Street, at the corner of Church Street. An 1889 letter from Elizabeth Sibley to Emily Sibley Watson (then Emily Sibley Averill) mentions that the gymnasium was still operating, but the streetcar strike was making it difficult for Miss Pond’s students to get to class [George Eastman Museum Moving Image Archive Box C338 Letters to Emily Sibley Watson August 1871-July 1891]. Four years later, she was still teaching gymnastics under the auspices of the Far and Near Club, headquartered at 214 East Main Street. The club was intended to be a “pleasant and profitable place at which working girls may pass their evenings.” [Democrat & Chronicle November 9, 1893] Miss Pond’s employee/close friend, Mrs. Hiram W. Sibley, was president of the club. One of Miss Pond’s early students, Harriet Ballintine, who became the director of physical training at Vassar College, recalled that Miss Pond’s gymnasium for women and children was “one of the first of its kind in the country.” [Democrat & Chronicle May 21, 1930]. It is unclear where she received training for this work; she took courses at Wells College, but did not graduate. Her obituary claims that she graduated from Elmira College, but the college archivist has no record of her attendance.

The close friendship between Margaret Harper Sibley (Mrs. Hiram W. Sibley) and Miss Pond raised some eyebrows; it is unclear when and how the friendship began. In an 1889 letter from Elizabeth Sibley to her daughter Emily Sibley Averell in Atlantic City, Elizabeth commented on her daughter-in-law: “I have just received a message from Hiram saying they arrived comfortably, they were quite well, but how Maggie will live without Miss Pond is more than I can understand, she kept her day, and night, they were at nearly all of the [church] Services, In fact were always together.” [GEM April 9, 1889, The Dr. James Sibley Watson, Jr. Paper Collection, Box C 375], Miss Pond would soon join the Sibley family inner circle. In September, 1890, she wrote Emily in Santa Barbara Santa Barbara, who was establishing residency prior to divorcing Isaac Averell: “It seems she is to live at Hiram’s, I supposed it would turn out that way, I know a good many people think it rather strange, that there should be such a strong friendship existing between the two.” [George Eastman Museum Moving Image Archive 9/27/1890, The Dr. James Sibley Watson, Jr. Paper Collection, Box C 375,] In October of that year, she reported to Emily “Miss Pond & Maggie hold hands as usual and talk low when together.” [George Eastman Museum Moving Image Archive 10/28/1890, The Dr. James Sibley Watson, Jr. Paper Collection, Box C 375,] Margaret suffered from depression, anxiety, or a combination of the two. In a letter from her husband in 1883, he encouraged her to hope for a cure by recounting a conversation that he had had with Cornell School of Engineering’s Professor Thurston, who was similarly afflicted. [University of Rochester, River Campus Libraries, Rare Books Special Collections & Preservation D.226 12:7 Sibley Papers Addition Sibley, Hiram Watson Sibley to Margaret Harper Sibley 1876, 1880s] Miss Pond may have provided Maggie, an only child, with comforting and therapeutic companionship. For Miss Pond, whose mother died when she was nine, Margaret Sibley may have been a maternal figure. Whatever the bond that cemented Miss Pond and Margaret Harper Sibley’s mutual affection, their friendship lasted through Margaret Harper Sibley’s death in 1939, around fifty years.

By the time of Emily’s marriage to James Sibley Watson in 1891, Miss Pond was very nearly a member of the family, and her name was included with all the others in affectionate sign-offs in correspondence. On a Sibley family trip to Europe in 1891, Elizabeth Sibley wrote from Dresden to honeymooning Emily Sibley Watson in Granada, “I think Miss Pond is enjoying herself, she is not very demonstrative at any time, I am glad she is with us.” [George Eastman Museum Moving Image Archive Box C 338 Letters to Mrs. James S. Watson 5/13/1891 - 11/11/1891, circa May 1891]. By the 1892 New York State census, she was included in the household on East Avenue, and in the 1900 census her occupation was “Companion”; her address remained with the Sibley family on East Avenue through Margaret Sibley’s death, when she appeared to have moved away from Rochester.

In December, 1917, Marie Pond set off to France with the American Red Cross, where she was assigned to duty in the canteens that provided support to American soldiers by giving them refreshment, rest, and recreation amidst the horror of the First World War. She remained in the service of the American Red Cross through June 1919. Pond’s time in World War I is documented in a scrapbook that is in the Sophia Smith Archives at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. Other members of the Sibley and Watson families who volunteered in the Great War were James Sibley Watson, Jr., by then the sole surviving child of Emily Sibley Watson, and Louise Atkinson Smith, great-granddaughter of Hiram and Elizabeth Sibley.

Over the course of Miss Pond’s connection with the Sibley family, she had entrée to the uppermost strata of Rochester society and the institutions with which the Sibleys were associated, including the Hochstein School, where she was an honorary director, and the Memorial Art Gallery. Following Margaret Harper’s death, when $15,000 was settled on Miss Pond in the terms of the will,  Moss Pond seemed less and less involved with Rochester. She resided primarily in New York City, where she continued her philanthropic and musical involvement, her name appearing in newspapers alongside women of the prominent Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and Flagler families. Miss Pond continued her relationship with the Sibley family at least through 1940, when she was a guest at a reception at Museum of Modern Art for Mexican guests invited to New York for the opening of the museum’s summer exhibition, Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art. Pond’s connection was through Mrs. O’Donnell Iselin (the former Margaret Urling Harper, daughter of Hiram W. Sibley and Margaret Harper Sibley), who was chair of the committee of twenty hostesses for the reception [].

Marie Pond’s social position in Rochester was somewhat enigmatic and we are left with more questions than answers. Absent a journal or letters, it is only possible to piece together the essentials of her life in relationship to others, with the exception of her independent efforts to establish a gymnasium for women. Her financial situation is also unclear: was her room and board provided in exchange for her companionship to Margaret Sibley? On the other hand, a classified advertisement in the Democrat & Chronicle included her as one of the owners of the newspaper, which had been founded by her father, and which may, perhaps, have provided her enough income to live independently. The Sibley family seemed to have accepted her presence among them for decades, but that may have been a tradeoff for her loyalty, her support of Margaret Sibley, and her availability to help with Margaret’s children and grandchildren. Hiram W. Sibley may have had more freedom and flexibility to travel on business because of Miss Pond’s steadfast presence, although having a third person in close proximity to a marital relationship could also be a source of tension.

For many families, the unmarried gentlewoman, spinster aunt, or widowed friend or relative was a welcome and sometimes a necessary addition to the family circle. The symbiotic relationship, whereby the lone woman found security and family and the family unit could rely on a trusted quasi-relative, gave benefits to each. Within this tight-knit and affluent family circle, Marie Pond maintained an upper class social status without seeming to trade her personal autonomy.