PARSONS, GERTRUDE ISABELLA, painter and writer; b. 16 May 1880 in St John’s, daughter of Alexander A. Parsons and Maria Raven Thompson; d. there unmarried 27 May 1924.
Gertrude Parsons’s family were adherents of the Methodist Church and the church was to have an influential role in her life. She received her early education at a private school operated by Louisa and Sophia Barnes at 217 Gower Street in St John’s, and then travelled to England where she studied art, in Liverpool with a Professor Lane and in London with Mrs Hall Neyle. After her return to St John’s, she first gained recognition as a painter of portraits and landscapes. She established a portrait studio in St John’s and offered art classes. Her work was in demand and displayed throughout the town.
Parsons was also a writer of some acclaim. Her talents were probably encouraged by her father, the first editor of the St John’s Evening Telegram and a regular contributor to the Newfoundland Quarterly. Gertrude’s published work was quite small, limited to a short story, “Christmas vision,” which appeared in the Newfoundland Magazine in 1920, and a novel Broken links . . . , published in London in 1923, but it seems to have been well received by the local populace. Set in a small English village, Broken links is a tale of lost love, the result of a mischievous prank involving a letter, and the tragic consequences it brings to the hero and heroine. The climax offers an unexpected twist, since the couple do not reunite and live happily ever after. It is well written, with clear and concise prose, a believable story inhabited by credible characters who move the action along at a solid pace. There are strong Methodist influences: morality, punishment for sin, and suffering in this world, with the hope of redemption in the next. Her Victorian education and upbringing are also in evidence.
Parsons was very involved in the work of her local church, Gower Street Methodist. When the Newfoundland branch of the Woman’s Missionary Society, a church organization, was formed on 18 Nov. 1915, she was elected secretary of circles and bands, the youth division of the society. Except for 1921–22 she would continue to hold this office until her death. She had considerable success: each year her activity reports indicate steady increases in membership, in the number of congregations sponsoring circles and bands, and in the amount of money raised. Her contribution was recognized at the 1921 annual meeting when she was presented with a life membership and a gold pin. Parsons had been scheduled to participate in the young people’s service at the branch’s annual meeting on 28 May 1924, the day after her death. The women delegates to the meeting from all parts of Newfoundland attended her funeral as a body, a further sign of the high esteem in which she was held. A report on her passing in the Methodist Monthly Greeting paid tribute to her as “one of the most talented connected with this organization [the WMS]. As an artist, a writer and a most gifted speaker Miss Parsons gave both time and talent most cheerfully to the young people in whom she took such deep interest.”
Parsons was in the process of finishing a second novel, set in Newfoundland, at the time of her death. It was never published. Her first novel showed promise. Ironically, the reviewer in the Daily News had hoped “that her first volume may not prove the last; and that out of the rich stories of legend, love and life, in which our own Newfoundland abounds, she may find inspiration for many pages in the years to come.”
No manuscripts or personal papers of Gertrude Isabella Parsons are known to exist. Her short story, “Christmas vision,” appeared in the Newfoundland Magazine (St John’s), 4 (December 1920): 25–26, and her novel, Broken links; a story, was published in London in 1923. The only painting by her that has been found – a portrait of Captain James Moss – hangs in the archives of Gower Street United Church in St John’s.
Daily News (St John’s), 1 June 1916; 9 June 1917; 6 June 1918; 5–6 June 1919; 2, 4 June 1920; 24 Aug. 1923; 28, 30 May 1924.
Evening Telegram (St John’s), 3 June 1921, 28 May 1924.
Directory, St John’s, 1890.
A history of the Thompson family, by one of its members, [comp. G. J. A. Thompson] (n.p., 1937).
Methodist Monthly Greeting (St John’s), March 1916, August 1917, July 1918, July 1919, June 1924.
Missionary Outlook (Toronto), new ser., 39 (1919): 186; 40 (1920): 187; 41 (1921): 165; 42 (1922): 442; 44 (1924): 186