Madge Tompkins Seaver

Date of Birth

July 8th, 1908

Date of Death

May 5th, 2007

Memorial Meeting

Palo Alto Friends Meeting


Madge Tompkins Seaver died peacefully on May 5th, 2007 just weeks short of her 99th birthday. She was born on July 8, 1908, the middle of the three Tompkins children, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. After her father’s death in 1914, her mother, a nurse, moved the family back to New Brunswick, Canada, where she had come from before leaving for Boston to study nursing. The family returned to Pittsfield in 1920 and in 1926 Madge was admitted to Barnard College in New York where she spent four happy years, majoring in English. It was while in New York that she met Benjamin Seaver. They were married shortly after her graduation and moved to Philadelphia where Ben worked as a textile designer in a shirt firm. Their twin sons, David and Paul, were born in 1932, and shortly thereafter Madge began her career as a teacher of English at South Philadelphia Girls High School. She continued to teach there until 1953 when she and Ben moved to San Francisco, a move occasioned by Stephen Thierman’s invitation to Ben to become Peace Education Secretary in the San Francisco office of the AFSC.

Madge had been raised a Unitarian and Ben a secular Jew, but neither had any religious affiliation during the 1930s, although they were active in the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Their lives changed with the onset of World War II. Both Madge and Ben were committed pacifists, and when Ben’s firm received a large shirt order from the Marine Corps in 1941, Ben resigned, spent a semester at Penn State, and leased a small dairy farm in eastern Pennsylvania. Seeking fellowship with like-minded people, they began to attend Gwynedd Friends Meeting. For Madge silent worship and the community of Friends came as a revelation and a joyous sense of having found a spiritual home. She became a member of the Religious Society of Friends in 1945 and subsequently served as clerk of Gwynedd Meeting. Their sons left for Haverford College in the autumn of 1950, interrupted by an eighteen-month sentence to the Federal Prison in Danbury for refusing to register for the draft; they were paroled after six and a half months. In 1953 after the move to San Francisco Madge served as a part-time receptionist at the AFSC office and transferred her membership to San Francisco Friends Meeting; Ben became a member in 1954. Madge was active in the Quarter and Yearly Meeting and served as clerk of San Francisco Monthly Meeting and of Pacific Yearly Meeting. Ben retired from the AFSC in 1970; Madge and Ben subsequently served as Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Friends in the Orient in Hong Kong and then as the resident couple in the Friends Center in Auckland, New Zealand. They also spent a semester at Woodbrooke. In 1979-80 they served as Brinton Visitors, visiting 35 meetings in the West. In 1985 they moved to Stevenson House in Palo Alto just weeks before Ben died. Madge was active in Palo Alto Friends Meeting until well into her nineties, serving as clerk in 1987-88.

Although Madge had a lifetime love of poetry and nineteenth century novels, she became a diligent student of the Bible and of Christian and Quaker history. Some years ago she wrote: “A member of my Meeting described Friends Meeting as a ‘fellowship of liberal-minded persons who want to do good works’. Our Meetings are shallow. We don’t know where we came from and therefore have no vision of where we are going or could be going, to say nothing of a search for our message to the world. ...I do not equate religion and faith. Rather our religion -- which binds us together -- is Quaker, but our faith is in the grace of God by which we live. Our Quaker religion depends on our participation and service in our Meetings, but our very lives depend upon our faith.”