Source: courtesy Wikimedia Commons
FROTHINGHAM, LOUISA GODDARD (Molson), philanthropist and administrator of charities; b. 15 April 1827 in Montreal, daughter of John Frothingham* and Louisa Goddard Archibald; m. there 30 April 1873 John Henry Robinson Molson; d. there 12 Aug. 1910.
Louisa Goddard Frothingham was the last of six children and the second daughter born to Montreal’s largest wholesale hardware dealer and his wife. Three of her brothers and sisters died in infancy, so Louisa grew up with her two remaining brothers, George Henry and Frederick, at Piedmont, the family’s estate on Avenue Pine in Montreal. In 1873 she married John Henry Robinson Molson, son of Thomas Molson* and owner of Molson’s Brewery. They lived at Piedmont, which her father had left to her at his death in 1870. Both before and after her marriage she was active in the city’s charities, working on the management committees of several associations and supporting a number with substantial and timely financial contributions.
She had joined the management committee of the Montreal Protestant Orphan Asylum when she was just 18. This charity sheltered and educated close to 1,000 orphans during the 19th century. She remained an active manager for 64 years, attending its meetings regularly. Well educated, intelligent, and possessing a strong character, she was sure of her abilities and was both a dedicated worker and a leader in policy decisions. She served on many of the asylum’s subcommittees and instigated the creation of the ladies’ building committee, formed to work with the men’s advisory committee.
She visited the orphanage regularly to help supervise its administration and because of her love for children. Her attachment to the children led her to organize an annual Christmas party for them in her home during most of her years with the asylum. Sympathetic but strong, she was the manager to whom apprenticed children wrote when they needed assistance. She always responded with advice and encouragement and helped several girls find positions in Montreal following their apprenticeships.
Louisa Frothingham was also a manager and honorary manager of the Protestant Infants’ Home of Montreal, a member of the management committee of the Industrial Rooms [see Mary Cowans], and from 1888 a life governor of the Montreal Maternity Hospital. A public-spirited citizen, she did not limit her philanthropic involvement to the city’s charities for children. She served on the board of management of the Protestant Hospital for the Insane in Verdun at its opening in 1890 and used her wealth to further its work. She also made a contribution to the cause of higher education for women as the second president of the Montreal Ladies’ Educational Association, from 1873 to 1875, taking over the post from her sister-in-law Anne Molson*. As president, she defended the auditing of courses as an effective way to keep abreast of new developments and encouraged members to take advantage of the opportunity. She attended a number of courses herself. From 1876 until the association dissolved in 1885, she was an honorary member.
Louisa inherited substantial wealth from both her father and her husband, who died in 1897. Because of it, she was able to support charitable undertakings in a practical way and was not limited to the contribution of her time and energy as were most women in the 19th century. She used her wealth with intelligence and discretion, helping the organizations which she felt most needed it. For example, she gave the Montreal Ladies’ Benevolent Society, a large charity for children of single-parent families, $10,000 in the 1890s at a time when it had almost crippling financial problems and another $10,000 in her will, but she allowed only $4,000 to the Montreal Protestant Orphan Asylum, since it had a substantial endowment fund. Louisa made a special financial effort in the case of the Protestant hospitals in the Montreal region. She helped to ensure the stability of the Protestant Hospital for the Insane with a donation of $10,000 during her lifetime and residuary bequests which totalled almost $120,000 on her death. The Montreal General Hospital, another of the three residual legatees named in her will, eventually received almost $240,000 from her estate. She also left the Children’s Memorial Hospital a donation of $20,000 and gave the Montreal Maternity Hospital an endowment of $5,000 in 1901. Her support of education led to a donation of $10,000 to the Fraser Institute [see Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott*] and to several contributions to McGill University, including an endowment of $40,000 for the principalship in 1889 made in conjunction with her brother. The governing body of McGill, the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning, was the remaining residual legatee, receiving more than $100,000. In a typically unostentatious manner she made many of these donations to the institutions’ general funds rather than to endowments named after her.
The Frothinghams had originally attended St Andrew’s Church (Presbyterian) and Louisa was baptized there, but in the early 1840s the family helped found the Unitarian Church of the Messiah [see John Cordner*]. Louisa and her family continued to support the church and made substantial gifts to it over the years. She left it $20,000 in her will.
Louisa is an excellent example of a socially conscious, wealthy 19th-century woman. In her personal life she was a casualty of societal norms. When her mother died in 1843 Louisa, who was only 16, promised her father that she would remain the mistress of his house as long as was necessary. Since he never remarried, this promise held until his death in 1870. As a result, her engagement to Molson was prolonged for 30 years and past her child-bearing years, a source of great grief to her.
Louisa Frothingham Molson died in her home of old age in 1910. Obituaries in the city’s papers described her as “one of the best known and most widely respected women in the city.” She was a leading philanthropist and charity worker in 19th-century Montreal. Her life is proof of the power of talented women to forge positions of influence despite social restrictions and a reminder of the important financial contributions a few wealthy women made to the causes of social-service work and education in Montreal.
AC, Montréal, État civil, Unitariens, Church of the Messiah (Montreal), 12 Aug. 1910. ANQ-M, CE1-125, 15 avril 1827; CE1-132, 30 avril 1873. BE, Montréal, Testaments; nos.14689, 80375–76. MUA, MG 1053, c.1; RG 95, c.391. NA, MG 28, I 388, 4, 6–8, 10–11. Montreal Daily Star, 12 Aug. 1910. Directory, Montreal, 1850–1910. S. B. Frost, McGill University: for the advancement of learning (2v., Montreal, 1980–84), 1. Montreal General Hospital, Annual report, 1905–31. Montreal Protestant House of Industry and Refuge, Annual report, 1866–70. Protestant Hospital for the Insane, Annual report (Verdun, Que.), 1893–94, 1897, 1910–39. B. K. Sandwell, The Molson family (Montreal, 1933). S. E. Woods, The Molson saga, 1763–1983 (Scarborough [Toronto], 1983).