Blue Water Healthy Living

“A Life Filled with Learning, Love, Friendship, and Fraternalism.”

Frances D. Partridge

By Derek Smith

Contributing editor Julie Langolf Director of Office Administration, Woman’s Life Insurance Society

Frances D. Partridge

I write this brief article, as a tribute to all the women involved in the founding, and subsequent success of the  Woman’s Benefit Association, now Woman’s Life Insurance Society. However, my primary focus in that group is a  woman who was one of the first residential pioneers in the Sherman Woods Community, Frances D. Partridge. This article is also in honor of International Women’s Month, which was in March. 

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Frances D Partridge was born in White Plains, New York on December 1st, 1871, to parents John F Partridge and  Catherine Clay Partridge (Dusenbury). Her father John was born on February 5th, 1834, in Devonshire, England  John’s father, Thomas Partridge, was also a native of Devonshire. He was married to Ann Dawe, who was born in  Somerset, England in 1805. Her mother, Catherine, was born in March of 1839, in White Plains N.Y. Catherine was the youngest daughter of Daniel Dusenbury and Frances Coles, both born in Westchester County, New York State. John Partridge would immigrate to America and was one of the early pioneers of Genesee County.  Catherine Dusenbury and John were married in 1886. 

Together they would have 4 children, a son Horace Edwin Partridge born July 23rd, 1868, a daughter Maggie Louise Partridge, who died early (1869-1878), a daughter Frances Dusenbury Partridge was born on December 1st,1871, and another daughter Agnes Winifred Partridge born October 5th, 1879. 

 John and Catherine Partridge Gravesites at Lakeside Cemetery Port Huron

In his career, John had acquired extensive interests in the lumber industry, in the Flint area. He had served as a  bugler in the Civil War.  

The family resided at several locations in Flint Michigan. When John retired, they moved to 723 Pine Street in Port  Huron, Mi. Their address on Pine Street is now occupied by Desmond Village Apartments. During the warm days of summer, the family enjoyed a lakeside cottage at Edison Beach. 

In 1900, after the family moved to Port Huron, Frances became employed as an “efficiency expert “for the  Supreme Hive of the Ladies of the Maccabees of the World. 

The Ladies of the Maccabees was an auxiliary organization of the Knights of the Maccabees. 

This Knights of the Maccabees was introduced to the United States by Nathaniel Boynton, a 3-term mayor of Port  Huron and a member of the State Legislature. The Knights of the Maccabees was a fraternal organization for men, originally formed in London, Ontario, Canada. Boynton would find time from his busy schedule to lend his support,  encouragement, and his considerable experience to the Ladies of the Maccabees, as they began their fraternal journey into the business world.  

The Ladies of the Maccabees valued Boynton’s friendship and counsel. After his death on May 27th, 1911, they honored him with a Resolution in his memory for his many priceless contributions. On a side note, Boynton would build the legendary Boynton Beach Hotel in Florida, in 1896. In honor of Boynton, the city fathers of that community would name their city after Nathaniel Boynton, “Boynton Beach Florida”.  

(You can read more about Nathaniel Boynton’s life in this writer’s stories on the Bluewater Healthy Living web page)

Frances Partridge was a woman of extraordinary talents. She was a great communicator, who presented herself in a thoughtful, intelligent, and orderly fashion.  

She was an ardent reader; she had a passion for the classics such as Shakespeare. She was gifted by her father,  with exceptional skills, in proper words and grammar. She was “an expert and interesting conversationalist,  seldom does the notorious lull disturb her chats, but when it does, she defeats it gracefully.” (Flo Allen… Times Herald April 1938) 

Frances was a woman full of wisdom, having traveled over several decades, socially and professionally, to hundreds of domestic and international, towns, cities, and ports These trips would include the 48 states of the nation, Mexico, Canada, Europe, and England. On these travels, she would promote and gather memberships for the Woman’s Benefit Association. 

Frances had a keen mind for mathematics and was one of the finest actuaries in America during the early 1900s.  She was educated in Flint, Michigan, and in White Plains New York. 

Frances Partridge had also studied under Miles M Dawson of New York, a well-known actuary in the New York City area. 

The Supreme Hive of the Ladies of the Maccabees of the World, later the Woman’s Benefit Association, was founded in Port Huron on October 1st, 1892. The organization provided women between the ages of 18 and 56, with sound bodily health, with endowment, sick, funeral and disability benefits. 

Bina West was the Supreme Record Keeper and Lillian Hollister was the Supreme Commander. Bina was a 24-year-old schoolteacher from the Capac school system. She was born on May 18, 1867, the daughter of Alfred J West,  who was born in New York State, and Elizabeth Conant who was originally from Canada. She was a sister to Alfred  Jr, Edward, and Mabel. 

On March 28th, 1929, she would marry George W Miller an Attorney from Chicago Illinois.

Lillian Hollister, Supreme Commander of the Fraternal Organization in 1892, was born in Milford, Michigan, in  September of 1853. Having graduated from normal school and high school, she started her teaching career at the age of 15. She married Danielle Hollister, a farmer in 1881. They would have a son Norris who was born in 1874.

Hollister would retire as Supreme Commander in July of 1911, due to ill health. She would pass shortly thereafter, on August 4th, 1911. 

Bina West would take over the duties of the Supreme Commander, having been given a unanimous vote for that position by her peers. Frances Partridge was then nominated as Supreme Record Keeper by Bina West. Bina spoke highly of Frances in her nomination speech by saying, in part, “this young woman whom I will name is so thoroughly informed in all matters concerning the rates and the business of this Association that she can deal with the most intellectual and experienced department officials. I am sure she will merit in every respect your confidence. I nominate Frances D Partridge as my successor!” Frances Partridge was elected unanimously! Francis was intense and serious in her role as Supreme Record Keeper for the Woman’s Benefit Association and would serve professionally in that role for 39 years. 

By 1911, there were 2834 Hives established in 56 states, territories, and provinces with a membership of 150,000  and assets of 5 million dollars invested in the high-grade county and municipal bonds. The funds of the Ladies of the  Maccabees of the World were larger than the capital stock of any bank in Michigan, and only 9 banks in New York  City had capital stock exceeding this amount. 

Frances was recognized as one of the best accounting experts in the United States and was elected to the executive committee of the secretarial section of the National Fraternal Congress of America on October 20th,  1916. In accepting the honor Frances said it would be her goal “to spread a greater knowledge of fraternalism  among the public through some form of public relations plan, the other, associate with other patriotic civic bodies,  both nationally and locally, in forwarding the cause of true Americanism.” 

This was quite an achievement and a wonderful recognition for a woman just in her mid-forties. 

In 1938 Frances was elected vice-president of the National Fraternal Congress and served as president in 1939.  Additionally, she was a librarian for the Fraternal Actuarial Society for over a decade. 

Frances was responsible for the establishment of statistics which Miles Dawson, Consulting Actuary, used to create the first mortality rates for women. Mortality rates predict the life expectancy of a person based on their age,  gender, and other factors. Francis accomplished this without the aid of tabulating machines to assist with the calculations. It was certainly an achievement, one that required both patience and determination. It was an accomplishment that only the brightest of mathematical minds dare challenge.

It was very difficult for women in the life insurance business in the early 1900s, as men occupied most of the workforce in that vocation. Women of business were not looked at in an inviting or accepting way. 

It was Bina West’s and Frances Partridge’s dedication to hard work, their intellectual talent, their persistence, their organizational and communication skills, and their ability to hire energetic, competent employees, that enabled the Ladies of the Maccabees of the World, later the Woman’s Benefit Association, to grow so successfully, into a national and international conglomerate. 

Over these many years, the Women’s Life Insurance Society has had several name changes. 

1892-1904. The Supreme Hive of the Ladies of the Maccabees of the World 

1904 –1915 The Ladies of the Maccabees of the World 

1915-1926 Woman’s Benefit Association of the Maccabees 

1926-1966 Woman’s Benefit Association 

1966- 1996. North American Benefit Association 

1996-Present Woman’s Life Insurance Society 

The organization’s world headquarters was on the third floor of the Maccabees Temple in Port Huron, which they  quickly outgrew. Walter Wyeth, a well-known, and much respected local architect with the architectural firm of  Gardner & Schmidt of Chicago, was hired to design a new world headquarters. 

 Artist’s Rendering of the New World Headquarters 

 Construction Started in 1915. W.B.A. Building Today now Woman’s Life Insurance Society


On May 27th, 1915, it was announced that construction would begin immediately on the new World Headquarters. It was also announced that the name of the fraternal organization would change from Ladies of the Maccabees of the World to Woman’s Benefit Association of the Maccabees. At that time total membership was over 186,000,  with over 8 million in the reserve fund. Interest earnings for the year 1914 totaled over $325,000.00. 

In 1915 the sod was broken for the organization’s new office complex. on the corner of Chestnut Street and  Military Avenue, on a lot purchased from Henry Howard. It would turn out to be a $200,000.00 investment, a very large sum of money back in 1915. When it was completed in 1917, there would a dedication ceremony and a  parade through the downtown area, that drew thousands of people from Port Huron and beyond. 

Just four years later, in 1921, as the organization continued to grow, an addition was added to the building nearly doubling its size. 

From her meager beginnings in 1892, Bina West would never have dreamed, that she would be constructing a  business complex as large and magnificent as this! 

In 1992 the building was named to the Michigan State Register of Historic Sites.  

Bina West Miller would retire in May of 1948. She had served in the Fraternal Benefit business for over 56 years. For most of those years, 37, as the Supreme Commander of the Woman’s Benefit Association.  

She would spend much of her retirement years in her gardens, at her home”, Westhaven”, which still stands at 2828 Military Street, Port Huron. Bina’s gardens were plentiful and magnificent. 

Her dahlias, which she managed with Gordon S. Nutt, a local renowned horticulturist, won the top prize at the Dahlia  Society of Michigan.

Bina West was elected to the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993  

 Gordon Nutt and Bina West in her Garden at Westhaven. Oil Painting of Bina West at World Headquarters 

Bina’s splendid home rested on the banks of the St Clair River, presenting her with a spectacular view, of the many  

lakes and ocean freighters, traveling up and down that beautiful river. 

Bina West Miller would pass on April 18th,1954, at the home of her great-nephew in Evanston, Illinois. She was, buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Port Huron, Michigan. 

In tribute, I quote some of the speech Emma S. Olds, Great Commander from Ohio, delivered in 1911, concerning Bina West, when she was first elected to the position of Supreme Commander. 

“Many years ago, a young woman in Michigan saw a vision”. She continued, “Having no encouragement at the  beginning, beyond the strength of her own genius and her own woman’s faith in a woman and the possibilities of  women, she began the great work which today we look upon as a monument to woman, which the world has come to recognize as the greatest monument that women have ever built to the ability of women and their love  for one another.” 

Her words were a lasting testament, not only to the beginning, but to all the many days that followed, in this great ladies’ business, family, and social life.

Bina’s dedication to women’s causes and to the community lives on with Woman’s Life Insurance Society. In 1892, she began her business journey with an idea and a small office on Huron Avenue. In that first year, her fraternal organization provided life insurance to 319 women. 

Today that idea has transformed into one of the largest commercial buildings in Port Huron, employing 40 people. Woman’s Life Insurance Society now serves thousands of women and their families across the United States, by providing quality life insurance, annuity products, and substantial support for their community outreach. 

 Woman’s Benefit Parade Float. Bluewater Festival in Port Huron 1949  

Janice Whipple, former National President, stated in 1992, that she did not believe that Bina West’s “divine dream” died when Bina passed. “Instead, her legacy is perpetuated by the dedication of our members across the  continent who commit themselves daily to fraternalism and the spirit of volunteerism and community service at  the local, state, and national levels.”

Woman’s Life Insurance Society is a community life insurer, offering life insurance and annuities designed to help women and their families plan for a secure financial future, with the added benefit of helping others in need. 

Woman’s Life remains highly committed to social responsibility. Serving the needs of members and the communities where they live has been at the heart of everything they have done since 1892, making financial resources available to members in support of community projects, including matching funds, volunteer service project grants, and more. 

Ten years after the groundbreaking for the Woman’s Benefit Association’s new headquarters, Frances Partridge, and her sister Winifred, would begin construction of their new home. 

In 1925, they had purchased the first two of 63 lots, to be sold in the Sherman Woods subdivision, by Ross Mahon and Fred Dixon, the developers. They would take title to these lots, that stood on the corner of Edison and Conger, for the sum of $4000.00. There they would build a beautiful family home family at 304 Edison Boulevard. 

The home was also designed by Walter Wyeth, the same architect of the Woman’s Benefit Association’s building, the Bina West home (Westhaven), the St Clair Inn, J B. Sperry Building, the W. B. A. camp, the Wingford Estate, and many other fine buildings and homes in the Port Huron area.

 Construction of 304 Edison ca. 1926.

304 Edison Completed in 1927  

Frances and Winifred loved their home and its spectacular lakefront location. 

It is there that they entertained numerous business clients, and hundreds of friends, and hosted a plethora of parties for various charities. 

They were members of the Ladies Library Association and held annual fundraisers for the association at their 304  Edison Blvd home. The Ladies Library Association was one of the oldest consortiums in Port Huron, having been founded in 1866. 

Their home was a frequent gathering spot for the Port Huron Home Garden Club, of which Francis and Winifred were lifelong members. It is there some of their ideas were born for their own beautiful gardens, gardens that featured properly spaced, colorful plantings, and the magnificent landscaping that supported them. Frances and  Winifred, like Bina West, were caring custodians of the flowers, plants, and grounds that they managed on their corner lot overlooking beautiful Lake Huron. 

On April 3, 1950, 72 years to the day, as I began writing this narrative, Frances Partridge presented her resignation to the Woman’s Benefit Association Board of Trustees. It was completely unexpected, “A bolt from the blue”, and a “shock to us all,” said Supreme President Koob. Having completed 50 years of service to the association, Frances was comfortable with her decision, knowing that she helped forge a good foundation for the society and that  

younger more energetic talent, might better serve the fraternal organization. The Supreme President said of Miss  Partridge “Many will feel the loss after all these years of faithful attention to the duties of her office, as well as her kind and cheery visits to the field. It is difficult to express my personal regrets, but I do know that she has a well-earned rest coming to her and it is hoped that she may be spared many years to her beloved home circle and her beautiful garden in Sherman Woods. Miss Partridge was efficient, and always considerate and faithful and the  interests of our members came first in her life.” 

She and her sister Winifred would spend the next 10 years, tending to their beautiful gardens at 304 Edison Boulevard, in the subdivision they so dearly loved. 

It is there they would also invest their time, energy, and love with their two adopted children, Ruth Rose, and Ann  Constance, along with their 4 grandchildren.  

 Ann Partridge at a Tree Dedication in Front of 304 Edison 1989

Agnes Winifred Partridge would pass on September 26, 1961. 

For over eight decades Winifred and Frances had shared their triumphs, their failures, their happiness, their sorrow, the freedom of their youth, and the many challenges of growing old. 

There is no doubt the loss of Winifred would weigh heavily on Frances. They had been sisters and best friends for  82 years. 

Shortly after Winifred, following a brief illness, Frances would pass on the first day of spring, April 22, 1962. She passed as the flowers began their bloom in her precious garden, knowing that they would be strong and healthy, having tended to them with such care and dedication. 

She passed, knowing the Woman’s Benefit Association would be strong and healthy, having tended to it with such care and dedication. 

Francis Partridge, your legacy remains strong and healthy, a legacy attained over a 50-year period of hard work,  sacrifice, and dedication to the causes of women, families, and the community. 

“We all die. The goal is not to live forever, but to leave something behind that will.” Chuck Palahniuk, author    

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1 comment

John Mason July 4, 2022 at 10:10 am

Reading Derek Smiths article which mentioned my family member is always exciting. How I wish Walt Wyeth had lived longer so I could have had a relationship with him. I am lucky to have my fathers stories and some home movies from a fishing trip to remember. I sure would like to know more about some of the waterfront homes he built.


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