Eliza (Elsie) Katherine Matthew
The eldest daughter of Natural History Society (NHS) co-founder George F. Matthew, and NHS Ladies' Auxiliary President Katherine Matthew, Eliza (or Elsie, as she was usually called) was herself an active Auxiliary Member of the Natural History Society in the early decades of the twentieth century. In the 1920s she worked as assistant curator in the NHS Museum, and from a young age she helped to enliven the many teas, themed lecture evenings (complete with appropriate costumes), conversazioni, and educational events of the Ladies' Auxiliary. For instance, when her mother lectured on the subject of Engelbert Humperdinck's opera Hansel and Gretel, the songs were "charmingly sung" by Elsie and three other ladies.
Elsie also made regular donations to the Museum, including many items that formerly belonged to her mother, Katherine. Some of her gifts and bequests she made expressly to memorialize her family members, such as the three blue and white tiles obtained from the ruins of Ypres Cathedral by her brother, Lieutenant Robert T. Matthew, shortly before he was killed in action in the Great War. Among Elsie's other gifts were nineteenth-century Chinese porcelain bowls, American coins, a solid silver vase, a Navajo basket and a map of her father's geological surveys of the eastern coast of Newfoundland.
We might know more about Elsie Matthew's inner world, had her father not used one of her diaries as a collections notebook, removing most of its original contents to make way for specimen lists. From other sources we learn that Elsie assumed a role typical of many dutiful Victorian daughters: She looked after her family, first moving to New York to keep house for her brothers William and George as they studied, then returning to care for her aging parents. At the elder Matthews' 50th anniversary in 1918, Elsie and her seven siblings each recited a short biographical verse. Forty-nine-year-old Elsie described her vocation this way:
"Mine is the dearest privilege
And nearest of all to your heart –
To keep the home fires burning
I have taken the daughter's part."
Curiously, there is no hint in the verse of Elsie's work as a trained nurse in hospitals at Newport Rhode Island, New York City, and Germantown, Pennsylvania; her work with the Red Cross during the First World War; or her extensive contribution of time and skills to the Natural History Society Museum.
Elsie Matthew never married. She lived in Clifton, New Brunswick following the death of her parents in 1923 and spent the last few of her 82 years at the Old Ladies' Home in Saint John.