Bio: Putnam, Jane (1832 - 1907)
Poster:: Crysal Wendt
Surnames: Putnam, Eliot, Balcom, Stark, Hunniwell, Wordsworth
----Source: History of Eau Claire County, Wisconsin (1914) pages 834-839
Mrs. Henry Cleaveland Putnam.
"A woman mixed of such tine elements.
That were all virtue and religion dead.
She'd make them newly, being what she was."
No truer tribute to the character of Mrs. Henry C. Putnam could be written than the above lines from the gifted pen of George Eliot. Mrs. Putnam possessed one of those perfectly rounded characters which could stand the closest scrutiny, so that those who knew her best admired her most. Though a quiet, home-loving woman, her intellect and character were so strong and her love for humanity so great that she was easily the best beloved and foremost woman of her city.
Possessing a strongly sympathetic nature she intuitively interested herself in the welfare of all who needed her assistance. During the fifty years she lived in Eau Claire her life was filled with good deeds and kind words, and at her death it was truly said that "She held a place in the affections of the people of this community such as is held by no other person." No stronger evidence of the usefulness of her life and the enduring place she still holds in the affections of the people of this city can be given than this incident, which came under the observation of the writer years after Mrs. Putnam's death. A simple country woman, whom she had many times befriended, in deep distress and with apparently no one to help her, in despair
burst into tears, exclaiming, "Oh, if Mrs. Putnam were only here, she would help me, she always did." Numerous incidents like this attest the fact that Mrs. Putnam was truly beloved in the community she loved so well, and that her truest monument will always be found in the heart and memory of its people.
Mrs. Putnam's maiden name was Jane E. Balcom. She was the daughter of Henry Balcom, of Oxford, Chenango county, New York, who was descended from a long line of worthy ancestors in America. He was the sixth in descent from Henry Balcom, who was born in Balcombe, Sussex county, England, in 1630, and who was the first of the family to settle in America. In 1665 he was a resident of Charleston, S. C, where the records show he was a large property owner. Henry Balcom, the fourth, was born in Sudbury, Mass., in 1740, and was a revolutionary soldier. At the outbreak of that war he and his wife patriotically melted their pewter plates into bullets, and he acted as scout for General Stark in the battle of Bennington, August 16, 1777. Henry Balcom, the sixth, was born in Oxford, N. Y., in 1798. He became prominent in public affairs, was a member of the state legislature and took great interest in the construction of the Chenango canal. He was a man of fine sensibilities, purity of motives and exalted character—traits transmitted to his daughter, the subject of this biographical sketch. He married Mary Hunniwell, daughter of Lyman and Dorcas (Lynn) Hunniwell.
The Balcom arms has a crest emblematic of the name and bears the motto: "The Righteous are Bold as a Lion."
Jane E. Balcom was born in Oxford, Chenango county, New York, in 1832. In 1857 she came to Eau Claire, where she met Mr. Henry C. Putnam. They were married in 1858, and here she lived her quiet, beautiful life for fifty years, the only breaks being a visit to Europe and several winters spent in Washington, D. C. In Eau Claire she reared her children, maintained an ideal home and showered blessings from her bountiful hands.
The marvel of it is that she sought no public recognition, never appeared before a public audience, and yet she won the confidence, respect and affection of all classes to a remarkable degree. While gentle and self-effacing, her attitude toward the world was broadly sympathetic and the inherent strength and honesty of her moral nature made a strong impression upon all who came within the radius of her influence. Her unobtrusive charity won her the love of a wide circle of people who looked to her for comfort and aid in their hour of need, and her advice and counsel, no less than her benefactions, were sought by many.
Her beneficences were never heralded, yet the wide scope of her sympathies is revealed in the history of a single day of her life, which her daughter confided to a friend. On that day a young man who was about to begin his business career came to her for advice and encouragement. Later a man who was in business difficulties came to her for suggestions and assistance. In the afternoon came an unfortunate girl to tell of her shame and desertion, and to cry her grief out in the presence of her comprehending heart. All classes came to her and all hearts were lightened by her presence. Many felt honored and were made happy by her smile of recognition and she was called "Rich in experience that angels might covet."
For fifty years she was to Eau Claire a devoted and efficient promoter of the welfare of the city and its people. She started the first library in Eau Claire and the present library building and its architectural beauty were largely due to her initiative and fine taste. The mortuary chapel in the Forest Hill cemetery was built by her heirs at her request and dedicated to the use of her townsfolk.
Perhaps the clearest light upon the character of this strongly gentle woman may be revealed by what she herself wrote in the front of her Bible: "If you would increase your happiness and prolong your life, forget your neighbor's faults. Remember their temptations. Forget fault-finding and give a little thought to the cause that provoked it. Forget the slander you have heard. Forget all personal quarrels and histories. Obliterate everything disagreeable from yesterday; start with a clear sheet today
and write upon it, for sweet memory's sake, only those things which are lovely and lovable."
Gentle as she was the strength of her character left its impress upon whomsoever she met and was an influence for permanent good. As the record of a single day in her life shows the wonderful trust and confidence of diverse people in this remarkable woman, so one instance out of the numberless reveals the deep and lasting impression she made upon all. This touching instance is supplied by a letter and beautiful poem sent to her in 1897:
My Dear Mrs. Putnam: I have looked for years to find something in print that would express my feeling towards you. These verses seem to have been written especially for you. My sincere wish is that you may live long and enjoy everything that is good and beautiful in this world, and may God's richest blessing be with you and your loved ones, is the wish of
Softly, softly, the years have swept by thee,
Touching thee lightly with tenderest care;
Sorrow and death they have often brought nigh thee,
Yet they have left thee but beauty to wear.
Growing old gracefully,
Far from the storms that are lashing the ocean,
Nearer each day to the pleasant home light;
Far from the waves that are big with commotion,
Under full sail and the harbor in sight.
Growing old gracefully,
Cheerful and bright.
Past all the winds that were adverse and chilling,
Past all the islands that lured thee to rest,
Past all the currents that lured thee unwilling
Far from any course to the land of the blest.
Growing 'old gracefully,
Peaceful and blest.
Never a feeling of envy or sorrow
When the bright faces of children are seen;
Never a year from the young wouldst thou borrow —
Thou dost remember what lieth between;
Growing old willingly
Rich in experience that angels might covet,
Rich in a faith that hath grown with the years.
Rich in a love that grew from and above it,
Soothing thy sorrows and hushing thy fears.
Growing old wealthily.
Loving and dear.
Hearts at the sound of thy coming are lightened.
Ready and willing thy hand to relieve;
Many a face at thy kind word has brightened,
"It is more blessed to give than receive."
Growing old happily.
Ceasing to grieve.
Eyes that grow dim to earth and its glory
Have a sweet recompense youth cannot know;
Ears that grow dull to the world and its glory.
Drink in the songs that from Paradise flow.
Growing old graciously,
Purer than snow.
In her early life Mrs. Putnam was an influential member of the Presbyterian church. She was one of the first in Eau Claire to become interested in Christian Science and was instrumental in inaugurating the movement which has since resulted in the establishment of the Christian Science church in this city. The reality of her religion was made manifest by her love of humanity as expressed in her devotion to good works.
She died June 6, 1907, lamented even as she was beloved and in its issue of June 12 the Eau Claire Leader published this tribute to her from an unknown author:
Tribute to Mrs. H. C. Putnam.
(By one who loved her.)
Like the unfolding flower, reaching up
To the heavens, blue and far away.
She blossomed; the beauty-tints, her thoughts and grace —
Not fading, but the things that stay.
Like the nectar, sweet, because 'tis breath from
God's own lips — the incense of His love —
So she, in fragrance of life perfumed.
Wrought deeds — true nectar — wafted from above.
Unfolding sweetly like "the smile of God," —
Blessed rose, whose beauty all may know —
She reflected form, fragrance, and the unseen tints,
Which in God's garden of purity doth grow.
The rose, "the smile of God," may droop and fade
To mortal sense — a sense all bathed in tears —
But she, a blossom in the garden-spot of God,
Can never fade through centuries of love-made years.
We see the garden, but where the flower?
'Tis there: But "having eyes ye see it not,"
For in the larger thought of God she lives.
Still unfolding, beautiful, and ne'er to be forgot.
The radiance of Mrs. Putnam's personality was diffused beyond her own fireside, beyond her own circle of friends, out into the highways and byways of life, cheering, encouraging, blessing. Such a type of woman Wordsworth surely had in mind when he wrote these lines:
"The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength and skill,
A perfect woman, nobly planned,
To warm, to comfort and command."
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