I’ve been interested in the story of Mrs. William Kingsley, the woman who built our house in 1927 under the name Mary Kingsley. The couple separated around 1917-1918 and the ex- Mrs. William Kingsley, formerly Susan Buek, began going by the name Mary Kingsley after she moved to California in 1918. I don’t know the reason behind the name change, but maybe it was a fresh start on the West Coast after the break in her marriage.
After I began researching the family background, I found the Kingsley family had previously been a very socially prominent family. William Kingsley had begun his career in the stock market and had enjoyed a meteroric rise in his career throughout the rest of his life, even appearing on the coveted Social Register for a time - which was a “who’s who” of prominent wealthy people in New York.
Like many prominent families of the time, they had a public life that included an association with a church. It would be hard to be considered upstanding citizens without appearing at church regularly and also giving “not so private” generous donations.
This idyllic family image the Kingsley’s has would not last forever. Religion may ultimately have been part of what divided the couple. William Kingsley was a conservative and devout Christian, but Susan/Mary Kingsley began to get more into Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, Spiritiulism and other “new age” spiritual beliefs around the turn of the 20th century that William might have found strange or even heretical. But previous to Mrs Kingsley’s interest in the occult, it seems she was supportive of the more traditional side of her family’s spirituality for at least the first decade after their marriage in 1890. Proof of that is evidenced by donations to the Madison Square Presbyterian Church by Mrs Kingsley and little Myra Kingsley, almost 4 years old in February 1901.
Pictured below is the newer church they may have attended in a few years later but the donation record is from a church kitty corner to the Beaux-Arts masterpiece below that was completed in 1906. From Wikipedia “The congregation's church had previously been located on the opposing, southeast corner of Madison and 24th Street, in a Gothic-style structure, also called the "Madison Square Presbyterian Church", whose cornerstone was laid in 1853 and which was completed the following year.“
Wikipedia: “The new church, valued at $500,000 and called the "Parkhurst Church" after its pastor, Reverend Charles Henry Parkhurst, was described as "one of the most costly religious edifices in the city"; it was awarded the Gold Medal of Honor of the American Institute of Architects.”
The reason I think they attended this newer church as well was William Morgan Kingsley and his father Ezra Munson Kingsley had been close with Charles Henry Parkhurst. William even named his first born son Charles Parkhurst Kingsley. (Other naming trends - I believe his first daughter was named Myra after his mother Almira Kingsley. His second son was named Mabon Kingsley after William’s first stock market business partner - and Mabon later named his son William M Kingsley after his grandfather.)
Charles Henry Parkhurst was also a notable figure in New York. From Wikipedia: “Charles Henry Parkhurst (April 17, 1842 – September 8, 1933) was an American clergyman and social reformer, born in Framingham, Massachusetts. Although scholarly and reserved, he preached two sermons in 1892 in which he attacked the political corruption of New York City government. Backed by the evidence he collected, his statements led to both the exposure of Tammany Hall and to subsequent social and political reforms.”
William Kingsley was also involved in the Union Theological Seminary in New York so you can see how there might be a conflict with Mrs Kingsley’s interest in Spritualism and the seances she began having at the family summer retreat in Elizabethtown, NY in the early 1900s. This could have created a wedge between the two that ended with their separation around 1918. William remarried and the ex-Mrs Kingsley, now going by Mary, lived with her adult kids where possible (1919-around 1923) but ultimately lived alone (with a servant) for most of the rest of her days in California. Mary called the breakup of the family “the great break” of her life in a letter she wrote to Helen Keller around 1923 after moving to Berkeley: https://www.afb.org/HelenKellerArchive?a=d&d=A-HK01-03-B066-F08-002.1.1&e=-------en-20--1--txt--------3-7-6-5-3--------------0-1
In 1923 I believe she lived with Mabon at 135 Tunnel Rd in Berkeley but after that he moved to student housing and she was alone at 135 Tunnel Rd until 1927 when our house was under construction. Around mid 1928 she moved into our house until the end of 1940, when Myra came and helped her, at age 70, move back east to Charles P Kingsley’s farm in Maryland where she lived her last two years. (Additions in 1939 suggest she was making the one bedroom house livable for two people, by adding a second bedroom and a dining room. Myra was at the peak of her astrology career, and probably didn’t have time to care for her aged mother.)
Despite their differences, after about a decade apart, it seems William probably paid for the construction of our house as it was pretty expensive for a one bedroom house at the time and Mary didn’t have much if any income to speak of. A couple expensive touches were the extensive use of redwood throughout and the industrial sash Fenestra windows had imported amber glass from Belgium for ALL of the original windows. (The additions she did in 1939 appear much lower budget).
From the limited information I can find on Mary Kingsley, I have to assume the most important things to her were family and spirituality - the latter interfering with the former.