Contributed by: Joyce H. Munro, Morris Arboretum Archives Volunteer

It’s only after many years of loyal service that an employee receives a gold watch, like twenty, thirty years. So why did Miss Morris give William Russell a gold watch after only two years’ service as her secretary? And this was no ordinary watch from Wanamaker’s or Gimbel Brothers. This was her brother John’s own watch. The fourteen karat gold, minute-repeating pocket watch made in Geneva, Switzerland, by Haas Neveux & Cie that John himself bought for 1500 francs in 1895, when he and Lydia were touring Switzerland. The watch inscribed with his name and the year.

John T. Morris pocket watch

The watch inscribed a second time by Miss Morris years later. And the words she chose make it all the more mysterious:

1919

William H. Russell

from

Lydia T. Morris

“Thank you”

Very cryptic of Miss Morris. We’re left wondering what William did to deserve such a treasured belonging. Did he arrange to have the Pierce Arrow limousine repaired after that accident in Philly. Or cajole the Chestnut Hill Police Department into assigning officers to patrol Compton after the burglar alarm started malfunctioning. Or negotiate with contractors for all those repairs at the Pine Street townhouse.

 

 Inscription to William Russell

More likely it was handling the aftermath of John T. Morris’s unexpected death while vacationing in New Hampshire. There was much to handle afterwards and it likely began when Miss Morris asked William to begin pulling together all of Mr. Morris’s Byzantine coins, Roman glass, Japanese armor, Alaskan amulets, Chinese lacquers, books, maps, swords, knives. So here was William Russell, an immigrant from Scotland with his reliable Kilmarnock brogue, surrounded by ancient curiosities. It would have taken months for him to inventory hundreds of items which, according to Mr. Morris’s will, were not to leave the premises unless a museum wanted to borrow something. All except Mr. Morris’s own watch, which Miss Morris, out of gratitude and sorrow, gave to William.

Certainly, William was well-qualified for an inventory job this immense. Prior to joining Miss Morris’s staff, he had served twenty-one years in the Office of the Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. Yes, there once was an architectural division within the Treasury, tasked with determining the need for federal buildings and getting them built, not only in the District of Columbia, but across the country. So staff like William created inventories, draftsmen drafted plans, contractors received contracts and voila, towns like Camden, South Carolina and Evanston, Wyoming got new post offices, Philadelphia got a new mint.

 

Actually, William was over-qualified for the position of Secretary to Miss Morris—he held a law degree from George Washington University. Yet here he was, William Henry Dunlop Russell, L.L.B., approving invoices for everything from azalea pots to dairy pails to screwdrivers to a new 1927 Pierce Arrow limo in standard green with optional heater and bracket headlamps.

William Russell Sr., circa 1940

Mr. Morris’s watch was not the only thing Miss Morris gave William. Under the terms of her will, he received a $5,000 legacy and college education for his sons. She also ensured his future employment by declaring him Secretary to the Morris Foundation, the position he held the rest of his life.

And during those years, William heard things at meetings of the Board of Managers, things that must have made him hold his tongue at times. But he didn’t hold his tongue when it came to the whereabouts of important Morris family papers. He had them. Letters, bills, deeds, bank books, business correspondence. Dating to the 1700s. Enough material for a book. And he would be happy to make everything available to the foundation, he informed them shortly after Miss Morris’s death.

Evidently the managers weren’t interested, but William’s son certainly was. As a matter of fact, William Russell Jr. was most interested and began researching the papers salvaged by his father—ten linear feet of papers—for a book on the business history of the Morris family and their associates. But that was the year William Russell Jr. was elected to the faculty of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. His scholarly interests shifted and the book was never written.

In 1964, William Russell Jr. donated the Morris family papers to the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware. The book is still waiting to be written.

~

Photos courtesy of the Russell family.