Elisha S. Converse

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Elisha S. Converse

Elisha Slade Converse (July 28, 1820 – 1904) was the first mayor of Malden, Massachusetts, a businessman, founder and president of Boston Rubber Shoe Company, a representative and senator in the state legislature and a philanthropist.

Family history[edit]

His ancestor, Deacon Edward Conyers (Edward Convers) immigrated to the New World together with future governor John Winthrop in 1630, and later became the founder of Woburn, Massachusetts. Conyers was the descendant of one of the trusted chieftains of William the Conqueror - Roger de Coignieres, from Navarre, France. De Coignieres established his family residence in England after the invasion.

Many members of the French branch of this family, including Admiral Coligny, were Huguenots (French Protestants) and were killed in 1572 in the St. Bartholomew massacre. Some of them survived and escaped to England.

Over the centuries, the family name changed: first - to Conyers, then – to Convers, and in the colonies - to Converse.

Early years[edit]

Elisha Slade Converse, the third son of Elisha and Betsey (Wheaton) Converse, was born in Needham, Massachusetts, on July 28, 1820.[1][2] When he was four years old, his parents moved to Woodstock, Connecticut. Spending his childhood there, he acquired professional and basic educational skills and, at thirteen years of age, began to work on a farm.

Business achievements[edit]

From the age of sixteen he learned the trade of a clothier. At nineteen, he began his own business in the village of Thompson and continued in it until he was 24 years old.

In 1844 he returned to Boston where he opened a wholesale shoe and leather company. The business was new to him but he soon familiarized himself with its details and during his connection with it, the reputation and success of the firm became well established.

In 1847 he moved to Stoneham, Massachusetts, and in 1850 to Malden, where he lived until his death in 1904. There, in 1851, he became one of the founders and directors of Malden Bank, which was reorganized as the First National Bank of Malden in 1864, and he served as its president for over 30 years, beginning in 1856.[2]

Converse became the president, director, and trustee of other companies and institutions including the Boston Belting Company, Rubber Manufacturers' Mutual Insurance Company, Revere Rubber Company, Exchange National Bank of Boston, Five Cent Savings Bank and Wellesley College.

In 1853 Converse opened the Boston Rubber Shoe Company in Malden that employed 3,500 people and became one of the largest rubber manufacturers in the USA. In 1875 his factory was severely damaged by fire, but he managed to rebuild it within a few months. The business was so prosperous that it expanded to Melrose and later opened branches around the country and even in England. Converse was company treasurer and general manager for 40 years, and president from 1893.

Boston Rubber Shoe Company, 1853

Political/public service[edit]

He served the commonwealth for two years (1878–79) in the house of representatives and for two years (1880–81) in the state senate. In 1881, after Malden had been incorporated as a city, he was, by universal acclaim, elected as its first mayor.

Philanthropy[edit]

Among Converse's philanthropic deeds were the establishment and construction of Malden Hospital, Malden City Hall, Malden Public Library, Malden YMCA, Malden Historical Society, and the Malden Auditorium - one of the finest theateres around Boston at that period.

Malden YMCA, 1890s.
Malden Auditorium in 1909

The Converse Memorial Building, in which the Malden Public Library is located, was designed by Henry H. Richardson. It was built by Converse and his wife as a memorial of their eldest son, Frank, the assistant cashier of Malden Bank, who was murdered during the first US robbery of a bank in 1863. Converse donated money for its construction, and artwork for its decoration. This building, when completed, was given to the trustees of the Malden Public Library, "for the benefit of the inhabitants of the city of Malden." In October 1885, Malden Public Library was opened in the Converse Memorial Building.

Converse provided basic education and proper health care for his employees. He also founded the Malden Home for Aged Persons and Day Nursery.

Malden Hospital, 1890s
Malden Hospital, main entrance

Converse tried to improve the health care system in Malden. He provided monetary and land donations for the construction of Malden Hospital. In 1892, two years after its incorporation, Malden Hospital admitted its first patients. For many years Converse served as its president. He and his family donated money and land for the Maternity Hospital and the School of Nursing.

Converse participated in the creation of the Malden city water supply system (Spot Pond Water) and Reservoir.

Pine Banks Main Entrance

Converse donated 107.5 acres (43.5 ha) of land - to organize the public Pine Banks Park.

Family[edit]

In 1843 Elisha S. Converse married Mary D. Edmands (1825–1903), daughter of Captain Hosea and Ursula Edmands, of Thompson.

Their children were: Frank Eugene Converse (1846–1863), Mary Ida Converse (1853–1940, m. Costello Converse, 1882), Colonel Harry Elisha Converse (1863–1920, m. capt. Mary Caroline Parker, 1891), Frances Eugenia Leland (1865–1941, m. Lester Leland, 1892).

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kimball Randall, Ruth (1975). Malden: From Primitive Past to Progressive Present. Phoenix Publishing for Malden Historical Society. pp. 68–74. 
  2. ^ a b Babitskaya, Inna (April 29 – May 5, 2011). "Malden's first mayor and outstanding citizen: Initiative, courage and generosity". Malden Observer 29 (31). pp. 7–8. 
  • Marquis, Albert Nelson (1909). Who's Who in New England: A Biographical Dictionary of Leading Living Men and Women of the States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, Vol. 1. pp. 241–245. 
  • White, James Terry. The National cyclopaedia of American biography: being the history of the United States as Illustrated in the lives of the Founders, Builders, and Defenders of the Republic, and of the men and women who are Doing the Work and Moulding the thought of the Present Time. New York, N.Y.: James T. White & Company. 
  • Who's Who in Finance, Banking, and Insurance, Vol. 2. 1922. 
  • ""Converse Memorial Library". National Historic Landmark summary listing". National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-07-07.