Olive Risley Seward

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Olive Risley Seward
Born Olive F. Risley
July 15, 1844
Fredonia, New York
Died November 27, 1908(1908-11-27) (aged 64)
Washington D.C.
Resting place Fort Hill Cemetery
Known for Co-founder of the Literary Society of Washington
Parent(s) Harriet C. Crosby
Hanson A. Risley
William H. Seward (adopted)

Olive Risley Seward (July 15, 1844 – November 27, 1908) was a writer and the adopted daughter of William Henry Seward, United States Secretary of State under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.

Early life[edit]

Olive F. Risley, was born in Fredonia, New York. She was the daughter of the former Harriet C. Crosby and Hanson A. Risley, a prominent civil servant who later worked for the Secretary of the Treasury and resided in Washington, D.C.. She attended local schools and grew up in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the capital.

Personal life[edit]

Beginning about 1868, when she was in her early 20s, Olive Risley became a close companion of the widower statesman William Henry Seward in the last years of his life. Their relationship followed the deaths of Seward's wife Frances Adeline Miller Seward and daughter Frances Adeline "Fanny" Seward (with whom Risley had been friends), and was shortly after the death of Olive's own mother (in 1866). In company with her sister Harriet Risley, and her father Hanson, Olive traveled extensively with Seward through Asia, the Middle East and Europe in 1870-1871. In order to curtail gossip and family worries that they might marry, Seward formally adopted Olive as his daughter in 1870.[1]

Published works[edit]

When they returned to New York, Seward and Olive began work on a travel book about their experiences, drawing largely on Olive's journal from the trip.[2] Unfortunately, Seward died before the book was finished. Published by D. Appleton & Co. in 1873, William H. Seward's Travels Around the World became a best seller. According to James Cephas Derby, the Seward estate made $50,000 from the sales.[3]

Inheritance and later life[edit]

After Seward's death, Olive, who inherited a quarter share of Seward's $200,000 estate, moved back to Fredonia to be with her birth father.[4] By 1874, she had moved to Washington D.C., where she, with her lifelong companion Sara Carr Upton, co-founded the Literary Society of Washington.[5] She was also a member of the Washington Club and the Daughters of the American Revolution. In 1889, she wrote a book of stories for children based on her travels with Seward called Around the World Stories that was published by D. Lothrop Company. She died in 1908 at her home on Nineteenth Street, NW.[6]


Sculpture of Olive Risley Seward adjacent to Seward Square as seen from the southeast corner of 6th Street and North Carolina Avenue.

In 1971, sculptor John Cavanaugh chose to create a statue honoring her. A picture of her was not found at the time, so Cavanaugh sculpted his idea of an idealized Victorian lady instead. The statue stands in front of a private residence on North Carolina Avenue and Sixth Street, SE in Washington, D.C.. Risley's head is turned to the left as if gazing toward the nearby Seward Square, named for her adoptive father.


  1. ^ Blair, William A. (15 August 2014). "WILLIAM H. SEWARD IN THE WORLD". Journal of the Civil War Era. UNC Press Books. 4 No. 3 (Fall 2014 Issue). Retrieved 30 November 2016. 
  2. ^ Van Deusen, Glyndon G. (1967). William Henry Seward. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 553–563. 
  3. ^ Derby, James Cephas (1884). Fifty Years Among Authors, Books and Publishers. New York: G.W. Carleton & Co. p. 84. Retrieved 3 June 2015. 
  4. ^ "Society" (PDF). Evening Star. 29 November 1872. Retrieved 5 May 2016. 
  5. ^ Nicolay, Helen (1934). Sixty Years of the Literary Society. Washington, D.C. p. 3. 
  6. ^ "Olive Risley Seward Dead". The New York Times. November 29, 1908. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]