Susie Marian True (1850-1936) was born October 6, 1850 to Nathaniel T. True, M.D., and his second wife, Susanna Webber Stevens True in Bethel. Susie True’s early life in Bethel occurred while her father was principal of Gould’s Academy, a position which bestowed much esteem on him within the village of Bethel Hill. He remained as Gould’s principal until 1861 when she was eleven years old. While Dr. True was away in other employment after 1861, the True family continued to live in Bethel. In 1856, while still head of the academy, Dr. True built his family’s new home at the south end of Broad Street and it became one of the village’s landmark residences. Photo below left is the True homestead.
Miss True was schooled by her father until she entered Bradford Academy in Haverhill, Massachusetts. After graduation she studied music in Boston. In 1870 she married George B. Farnsworth of Boston, a retired civil engineer and the couple lived in Boston until his death in 1887, when she was 36 years old. In 1880, Marian True Farnsworth gave birth to her only child, George Bourne Farnsworth. After her husband’s death in Boston, Marian and her son returned to Bethel to live. Her son George attended school in Bethel.
In 1887, Dr. John G. Gehring of Cleveland came to Bethel on a visit. Gehring had met the Farnsworths some time previously while both parties were spending winter months in the southwest.
Marian Farnsworth and Dr. Gehring married on October 20, 1888 in Bethel and the newly weds left for a trip to Cleveland.
In November 1891, the Gehrings, step-son George Farnsworth, Mrs. Gehring’s mother and her sister left for Germany and closed their house (the True home) for a year and a half.
After the Gehring’s returned from Europe in 1893, Marian True Gehring often made the weekly news in connection with the Congregational church Ladies Club, which she had founded, a tennis club for young people including her son George and the formation of a Columbian Club devoted to the study of classics and Grecian History.
Other social activities included the tennis club. This news item appeared in July 1894: George Bourne Farnsworth’s Tennis and Croquet Club held a picnic on Paradise Hill. The club is in a flourishing condition and is made up of the following young people: president, Fred B. Merrill, vice president, Bertha Wiley; patronesses, Mrs. Gehring; Eva Twaddle, Alice Russell, Alice Andrews, Florence and Barbara Carter, Ethel Richardson, Sadie Mason, Joan Stearns, Robert Foster, Walter Lawrence, Mr. Deering and George Farnsworth. Among the invited guests to the picnic were Mrs. Rich and daughters, Mrs. Fannie Merrill of the Bethel House, Mrs. Prof. Chapman and daughter, Edwin Gehring and Alice B. Chamberlain. After the picnic and entertainment, the party rode through the village in a hayrack singing college songs.
While she and Dr. Gehring were in Portland, the home at the end of Broad Street was destroyed in a fire near the end of February 1896. However, the building of a new home on the same grounds started in July that year and the family moved into their new home in March of 1897. The Gehrings and Trues stayed at the Bethel House until their new house could be occupied.
The Mistress of Gehring Manor
In July 1897 Dr. Gehring returned to practicing medicine - his office and clinic were in the Gehrings’ new residence. That year was also the first year of the fall production of the Maine Musical Festival and Mrs. Gehring was heavily involved in that event. Later when Bethel’s chorus director left Bethel, Mrs. Gehring took over directorship of the chorus. That same year Dr. Gehring became a trustee of Gould’s Academy and the academy benefitted by the arrival of its new principal, Frank E. Hanscom. Prof. Hanscom found a strong ally in Mrs. Gehring for his efforts to improve the level of academic facilities at the school and to find desperately needed financial resources. Liberty Holden from Cleveland was the first to come to the rescue with substantial gifts to the Academy. However, before her full attention could be devoted to Gould, the Bethel Inn episode intervened.
The size of the new Gehring home might seem excessive for a single family. However, at the time the True house burned, there was a sizable contingent of Gehrings and Trues living there. Edwin and Norman Gehring who were nephews from Cleveland attending Gould Academy were two of the extra Gehrings in the True house.
Below The Gehring home in winter –probably about 1915-1916. Entertainment room – ground level left, then just to the right is the Sun Room - from the Gehring album
In the new home full time residents who were listed in the 1900 census follow: Dr. and Mrs. Gehring; George Farnsworth, 19, step-son; Catherine Gehring, 50, sister-in-law; Alma Gehring, 20, niece; Victor Gehring, 14, nephew; Susannah W. True, 72, mother-in-law; Elsie Morgan, 26, servant; Christina Carlson, 53, servant; Anna Carlson, 19, servant; and Gothard Carlson, 22, servant. With this size family, one can see why many bedrooms were necessary. Of course, additional rooms were used for visitors and the doctor’s patients who were staying in Bethel to see him.
It would have been completely uncharacteristic of Mrs. Gehring if she had not taken full charge of how the household would run. During the years when the Gehring home was also the doctor’s clinic, a constant stream of “guests” flowed through the home.
Mrs. Gehring worked tirelessly to broaden and raise the level of cultural interest for all with whom she came in contact in Bethel. She received support and encouragement from her neighborhood friends and members of the clubs where she was frequently mentioned as leading new musical, theatrical and educational activities.
In March of 1897, at the first meeting of the Bethel Federation of Ladies’ Clubs held at Garland Memorial Chapel papers were read by each of the five presidents giving the history of the clubs as follows: Annie Frye of the Columbian Club; Mrs. Frank Chandler of the W.C.T. U.; Mrs. Hillard Chapman of the Ladies’ Club; Mrs. F.E. Barton of the Universalist Ladies’ Club and Mrs. Andrews of the M.E. Literary Circle. Names of the ladies at this meeting paint a quick portrait of Marian Gehring’s social circle. And during this period she wrote a Chit Chat column for the Bethel News.
Dr. and Mrs. Gehring, William Fuller, William Bingham, Liberty Holden, the Bethel Inn, Bethel ladies clubs and much, much more.
In 1911, fire destroyed the Prospect Hotel; a lodging place had been a long time Bethel common landmark. It would be replaced by a more modern but smaller inn In October 1912, The Bethel Inn Company was incorporated with seven stockholders; Dr. Gehring was president. Whether or not Mrs. Gehring had an influence in how the new inn’s inner decoration should look is not recorded but she was certainly ready to extol the appearance of the new inn’s interior layout and furnishings.
In 1913, as the new inn was made ready to open, she became its most ardent promoter—her husband having become president of the Bethel Inn Company. At the same time, her family circle added two more very influential members from Cleveland and stockholders in the new inn company, William Bingham II and William Upson. The latter two gentlemen actually owned the inn and as clients/patients of Dr. Gehring the three men became influenced by Mrs. Gehring in her drive for cultural enrichment and strengthening Gould Academy’s financial situation. The Bethel Inn quickly expanded with guest cottages and a golf course under the direction of Messrs. Bingham and Upson.
In the meantime, she had seen her son George Farnsworth graduate from Harvard Medical School and become Assistant Professor of Obstetrics at Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Now that the new Inn was up and going Mrs. Gehring returned her attention to Gould Academy. Later Farnsworth would be Mr. Bingham’s executive assistant.
Right the Farnsworths on a visit to Bethel; Farnsworth home in Cleveland
The story is that Mr. Fuller eventually became disenchanted with the quietness of Bethel social life and left Bethel. He sold his house next to the Gehrings to William Bingham. However at one time he had a camp that saw winter outing use. One photograph shows a group of friends of William Fuller including the Gehrings enjoying a tea party at his camp. This photograph is one of very few showing Mrs. Gehring “roughing-it” outdoors.
From 1893 when the Gehrings returned from Europe until the doctor began retiring in the early 1920’s, Mrs. Gehring had many societies if you will she was attending to in addition to her family.
Besides the church Ladies Club, she had the tennis club with both her son and the Gehring nephews who were staying with them while attending Gould Academy.
From 1897 on she spent a lot of time with the Bethel Chorus that was the town’s contribution to the Maine Music Festival. Once Dr. Gehring’s clinic was attracting patients who spent extended periods with them, she would have been increasingly involved in overseeing their accommodations and entertainment. Although she had a fair sized staff of servants, she did not seem to have any “front desk” help to take care of finding accommodations and getting newcomers settled in.
From the day the Prospect Hotel burned in 1911, through the next several years while the Bethel Inn was coming on line to replace it, Mrs. Gehring jumped into what could be called “the Bethel Inn society”. During these years, her son George was finishing medical school, getting started as a doctor, moving to Cleveland and getting married. And finally, of course, Mrs. Gehring continued to lobby for Gould Academy support. As William Bingham and William Upson had settled into Bethel’s summer life and their development of the Bethel Inn as its owners, they were also becoming more closely engaged with the future of Gould Academy. As a concerned daughter of Dr. N. T. True, her pride called for “his Academy” to bloom and be recognized for its excellence. Both she and Dr. Gehring were committed to an improved standard of education of youth in Bethel.
Mrs. Gehring, Gould Academy, Liberty Holden and William Bingham
Years later, a tribute written about Mrs. Gehring noted that her devotion to education and the cultural advancement of young people made her influence felt far and wide during her long residence in Maine. Gould Academy as it stands today is the result of many years of effort on her part.
Mrs. Gehring was no doubt a very positive influence in garnering financial support for the academy. Dr. Gehring joined the academy Board of Trustees in 1897, the same year that Frank Hanscom became principal. In 1903, Maine passed a new law concerning education that provided for Maine scholars to attend high school at public expense.
The next year he presented the Abner Davis house on Church Street to the Academy as a home for the principal. Four years later he purchased the former Wiley house from E.C. Bowler which was remodeled into a student dormitory – the first Holden Hall. The building and equipment cost $20,000. Mr. Holden died in 1915 and in his will he left another $5,000 for help with the upkeep of the dormitory.
In this case, it would be pretty much a certainty that Dr. and Mrs. Gehring discussed some of Gould’s most pressing financial needs with Mr. Holden during his 1903 visit. The same type of story was undoubtedly played out again between the Gehrings and Mr. Bingham. Mr. Bingham joined the board of Gould trustees in 1917. His first major gift to the school occurred in 1920 when he gave the Academy $10,000. William Bingham gave the Academy its gymnasium in 1921 and in 1925 he gave the Academy the Marian True Gehring Dormitory for girls.
Many Gould Academy students will remember Mrs. Gehring for her classes in etiquette. (My father graduated from Gould in 1922. He enjoyed telling the story of how his class would be invited to Mrs. Gehring’s house where they learned dining etiquette such as for instance how to use a finger bowl correctly and you don’t drink the water in the finger bowl and how to place silverware at a table setting.)
To quote from her obituary in 1936,
“Without her foresight and enthusiasm, the little school could hardly have survived let alone become the magnificent institution it is today.
After Dr. Gehring retired from active practice for the next 10 years, the Gehrings spent their winters in California and Florida until his death in 1932. Thereafter, Mrs. Gehring made her winter home with her son in Florida at Miami Beach.”
She died December 19, 1936 at the age of 87 at her son’s home in Florida. On the following Monday a Memorial Service was conducted by Rev. Herbert T. Wallace, pastor of the Congregational Church in Bethel. The door of her pew was closed with a spray of flowers. Miss Catherine Lyon sang “Abide with Me”. Frank E. Hanscom read “Crossing the Bar” as he had done on earlier occasions when Mrs. Gehring’s mother, Mrs. True, died and later when Dr. Gehring died.
The Marian True Gehring Girls dormitory circa 1970
Sources for this profile of Mrs. Gehring were Bethel Historical Society files, Eva Bean’s Gould Academy chapter in East Bethel Road and the Oxford County Citizen.
The Bethel Journals
Donald G. Bennett
PO Box 763
Bethel, Maine 04217
The Bethel Journals
November 30, 2015
The True homestead on Broad Street extension
The “group” at Fuller’s camp for an outing. The Gehrings stand in the middle center and Fuller is directly behind the Gehrings
Besides the church ladies and her group of friends, one neighbor in particular stands out as special when looking at the Gehring photo album and that person was William Fuller. In 1920, William and Adelaide Fuller were next door neighbors of the Gehrings. (William Bingham lived one door further away in a rented house, complete with servants and cook.) Fuller had been living at The Bethel Inn and bought the house next door to the Gehrings after he had married one of Gehring’s patients. Left: William Fuller at his camp.
Liberty Holden (photo, left), owner of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, also an 1853 Academy graduate, returned to Bethel from Cleveland in 1903 for a visit with Dr. Gehring. Eva Bean wrote, “He was enthusiastic about the school – the tangible results were that he added $100 to Mr. Hanscom’s salary and added another $200 towards general expenses.”