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New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, N.B., 1994.10.11

Katherine Diller Matthew, 1907 (detail)

(click to enlarge)


The goal we are all aiming at

– Perfection."



Katherine Diller Matthew





Heralded as the Mother of the Ladies' Auxiliary of New Brunswick's Natural History Society (NHS), Brooklyn-born and private-school-educated Katherine Matthew served as its President for nearly 20 years. Her vision of the Society as a resource for higher education and a foundation for personal and community growth found expression in her rousing Society addresses and public lectures. "Our object as a branch of the Natural History Society," she declared in 1914, "is surely first to develop our own powers and to help others in the formation of what has been called an 'all round' character, the character which will be ours for time and eternity." Mrs. Matthew carefully guarded the educational mandate of the Ladies' Auxiliary of the NHS, disapproving of any ties with philanthropic organizations that might dilute the Society’s intellectual goals. As she worked to build and care for the growing museum collections, Katherine Matthew's aim was to throw open the doors of the Museum and make scientific knowledge accessible to all New Brunswickers. She believed that such knowledge would carry not only intellectual, but also social and spiritual benefits:


"[W]e are doing our part in a real missionary work for our city and province. Fill the cup with good and there will be no room for the evil, and for our young people especially, both boys and girls, to inspire them with a love of nature and natural objects, and to give them the chance to study the laws that govern all they see in God's out of doors, is as truly missionary work as to send a teacher to China or India to teach the people there to be wiser and better and more holy."


A dedicated member of the Church of England, Katherine blended scholarly achievement, scientific progress and religious uplift in her "vision on earth of the City Beautiful."

Katherine Matthew was also the mother of Saint John’s First Family of Natural History. Her husband, George Frederick Matthew, who helped to establish the NHS in 1862, was a widely published palaeontologist and geologist, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and early Curator of the NHS Museum. Katherine and George raised a family of eight children. Daughters Eliza and Bessie were active members of the NHS Ladies' Auxiliary, and son William Diller Matthew carried on his father's scientific pursuits, achieving fame at age six as the discoverer of a giant trilobite, and in later life as a renowned vertebrate palaeontologist at the American Museum of Natural History. Three other sons pursued business, one took up teaching and one lost his life in Ypres, France, after seven weeks of service in the Great War.


Katherine and George seemed to have shared a close and affectionate relationship, connected by their playful senses of humour and their mutual interest in natural history and the literary arts. In the 54th year of their marriage, a fellow member of the Eclectic Reading Club (of which Katherine was Vice President) portrayed the couple as two "quaint figures" walking arm in arm in the city:


"Had one slipped up beside them, the chances are ten to one that the conversation overheard would be about the upper Silurian strata of the River St. John, - it might be in Greek or German, and very probably was a dissertation on dinosaurs."

Over the course of her involvement with the NHS, Katherine Matthew donated or loaned over 150 items to the Museum, including 108 coins from France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey, Switzerland, Austria-Hungary, Greece, Great Britain, India, Denmark, Tunisia and the Early Roman Empire. While residing in New Brunswick, Katherine remained in touch with museums and institutes in her home state of New York, acquiring photos and materials from those institutions to supplement her lectures and augment the NHS collections. In 1917, she presented the Natural History Society with an oil painting of Brooklyn – her place of birth. 


Katherine Matthew died on the third of June 1923, at her son William’s home in New York, just two months after her husband’s passing. Their ashes were interred near the Matthew home in Gondola Point, New Brunswick.





Bulletins of the Natural History Society, 1882-1920.


Miller, Randall F. "George Frederic Matthew." Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.  http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=42079&query=


Matthew Fonds, New Brunswick Museum Archives and Research Library. S104, F 34-37; S105, F 66-68.


Natural History Society of New Brunswick Fonds, New Brunswick Museum Archives and Research Library. S127-8, F3-13; F104-5; F105; F11-5.


New Brunswick Museum, Archives and Research Library online database.


New Brunswick Natural History Society Minute Book,1912-20. New Brunswick Museum Archives and Research Library. S127, F42.


Saint John Daily Telegraph. 15 October 1907, 5 December 1912.

Saint John Globe. 19 March 1907, 14 October 1907.

Telegraph Journal, 1 Oct 1913.


U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, http://www.moneyfactory.gov/document.cfm/5/44/102



From Her Collection