Mrs. Martha B. Keighley
By J. Paul Heritage
How many of us can enter the final sleep with over eighty full years of active service to our families, our community and our church? Few will live through such a span and few can qualify on more than one count, even if they live for a long period. Mrs. Martha Keighley, widow of the late Charles Keighley, did all these things in her very full life.
Much has been written and spoken in memory of Mrs. Keighley since her death on Palm Sunday (April 9, 1922) from pneumonia, and all of it is true. Mention will be made here breifly of but three points- (1) Personal Impressions, (2) Her Early Struggles, (3) Her Work in the Community.
As to the first, the writer remembers Mrs. Keihgley at the time when he had long yellow curls and wore knee breeches-a memory of fully thirty years. Those early recollections included the impression of a kindly lady who beamed down on a little chap and made him feel that he was going to be a great man; or at any rate, a good man. Mrs. Keighley was ever solicitous for others, and, while reluctant to speak of herself, was not slow in praising the great causes with which she was associated- Temperance, Reform and the Church. Those same interests she held as her "boys" grew up, and the cares, shall I say, of bringing up a family and attending the great detail in her beautiful gardens were never sufficient for her to lose interest in the boys and girls of the community. It was her great hope that they might work well in the same causes in which she had enlisted, and her great zeal was, without doubt, instrumental in keeping many a lad in the paths where all should tread. The death of her son "Will," in middle life, with whom many of us were associated congenially in choir work for many years, was a great loss to her-and us. The death of six other children in their infancy, or early childhood, were blows enough to destroy many a faith and, indeed, many a life; but her's moved on apparently stronger than before.
The early struggle of Mrs. Keighley reads like a drama. Born in Great Horton, Bradford, England, on October 7, 1841, as the eldest daughter of William P. Bottomley, she soon had opportunity to show or develop her talents, as the later arrival of thirteen children caused the eldest daughter to assume much responsibility of the farm home during those many years. After her marriage to Charles Keighley, a retail shoemaker, she assisted him in the repairing end of the business. Upon coming to America, whence her husband had been for a time, the family, including the children William B. and C Percy, came to Philadelphia, where the father had secured the agency for the Howe Sewing Machine. Mr. Keighley soon became interested in the Vineland boom and came here to live on a sandy farm on the northeast corner of Almond and Orchard Roads, where considerable hardships were endured. Employment was secured in local shoe factories in order to supplement the scanty dividends then to be secured from such soil, and when the proprietor of one factory left owing Mr. Keighley some wages, he took machines instead. This stroke at first was ill luck, but was the foundation of what was soon to be the largest factory in Vineland, a position which Mr. Keighley or his sons held until the recent great prominence of the glass business. Mrs. Keighley helped her husband in this enterprise with characteristic pioneer spirit. She stitched uppers at home after house work was done, both day and evenings. There was no eight-hour day then. Even after the family moved into town, to facilitate matters, the mother helped in the business for several years, frequently taking the boxes of shoes to the freight station in wheelbarrows for shipment.
When out on the farm, Mrs. Keighley went to church with her two children, walking the three miles each way, carrying her children alternately. Her husband was not at that time a member of the church. The spirit of sacrifice, likewise the ability to work, served Mrs. Keighley in good stead during the great activities which she later led in the community.
As a citizen, even before "women's rights" prevailed, this woman found time to engage in at least four particular activities-Temperance work (she was President of the W. C T. U. for over twenty years); church work, both at the First Methodist and Italian Presbyterian Mission; the Board of Lady Visitors at the Training School, and the Historical and Antiquarian Society, of which she was a trustee. Probably the most spectacular of these was her fight against the rum traffic, of which she was the energetic and uncompromising foe. That she lived to see some measure of success to these efforts was something which was greatly pleasing to her. The crowning point of her many benefactions came in the great organ installed at the First Methodist Church at the Xmas season, 1921, and dedicated scarcely three months before her death.
In her early struggles, in her domestic life, in her church, and in her community, the name of Mrs. Martha Keighley stood out with the top list. The fragrance of her life will long survive her.