Jump to content

Personal life of Joseph Franklin Rutherford

The Librarian

Recommended Posts

  • Member

Part of a series on:


Beth Sarim was built in San Diego, California in 1929. Rutherford died at the property in 1942.


Rutherford married Mary Malcolm Fetzer of Boonville, Missouri on December 31, 1891. Their only child, Malcolm Cleveland, was born on November 10, 1892.[203] The couple separated after Joseph Rutherford became president of the Watch Tower Society.[157] Mary remained an active member of the Jehovah's Witnesses until becoming confined to her home in the years before her death in 1962 at age 93.[204]

  • Brother Rutherford was survived by his wife, Mary, and their son, Malcolm. Because Sister Rutherford had poor health and found the winters in New York (where the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters were located) difficult to endure, she and Malcolm had been residing in southern California, where the climate was better for her health. Sister Rutherford died December 17, 1962, at the age of 93. Notice of her death, appearing in the Monrovia, California, Daily News-Post, stated: "Until poor health confined her to her home, she took an active part in the ministerial work of Jehovah’s Witnesses." jv chap. 7 p. 89 Advertise the King and the Kingdom! (1919-1941)

Rutherford's wife Mary was born on 17 August 1869 in Missouri. She married at age 22 in 1891. A longtime bethelite commented that they "couldn't stand each other"
Their living arrangements in California were the following:
"Judge" Rutherford's Beth Sarim residence:
4440 Braeburn Rd., San Diego, CA 92116
Mary Rutherford's residence
159 Stedman Pl., Monrovia, CA 91016
Distance/Travel Time:
127 mi – about 2 hours 10 mins (up to 3 hours 10 mins in traffic)

Sadly, neither Mary nor his son Malcolm attended his funeral.
Malcolm C. Rutherford was born on Nov. 10, 1892, and died on June 22, 1989, and lived in Arcadia, California-(Los Angeles).
Malcolm did not go on to become one of Jehovah's Witnesses and even spent time in the US Military.

Rutherford had reportedly lost the use of one lung from pneumonia suffered during his imprisonment in 1918 and 1919; finding New York's winter weather "impossible", Rutherford was encouraged by a doctor to "spend as much time as possible" in a more favorable climate.[205] In 1929, a residence named Beth Sarim (literally,House of Princes) was constructed at San Diego, California for Rutherford's use,[206][207] initially as winter accommodation and later as a full-time residence.[204][208] He died at the property in 1942. The villa was sold in 1948, with The Watchtower declaring, "It had fully served its purpose and was now only serving as a monument quite expensive to keep."[209]

The standard of Rutherford's accommodation and his personal conduct attracted criticism from some Bible Students and Jehovah's Witnesses in the 1930s. Walter F. Salter, the Society's former branch manager in Canada, wrote a public letter to Rutherford in 1937, the month he was expelled from the religion, claiming that Rutherford had exclusive use of "luxurious" and "expensive" residences (in Brooklyn, Staten Island, Germany, and San Diego), as well as two Cadillacs[210][211][212] and alleged that on more than one occasion he had purchased for Rutherford cases of whiskey, brandy, beer and other liquors, and 'go from "drink to drink"'.[213]In July 1939 Olin R. Moyle, legal counsel for the Society, wrote an open letter of resignation to the president, in which he complained about behavior of some members of the Watch Tower Society, including Rutherford himself, that he considered excessive and inappropriate. Moyle mentioned California when discussing "the difference between the accommodations furnished to you, and your personal attendants, compared with those furnished to some of your brethren." Moyle also accused Rutherford of "unkind treatment of the staff, outbursts of anger, discrimination and vulgar language" and condemned his allowing the "glorification of alcohol" at Bethel.[214][215][216] Penton notes that Moyle was a "teetotaller" and "puritanical", but claims Rutherford's drinking habits were "notorious" and cites unnamed former Brooklyn Bethel workers who told of occasional difficulties in getting Rutherford to the podium to give public talks due to inebriation.[217]

JFRutherford 19032014 05.JPG

Death and burial

About age 70, Rutherford underwent several medical treatments for cancer of the colon.[218] This included an operation on November 5, 1941 some two months before his death which found "carcinoma of the rectal sigmoid" and was given less than six months to live.[20] Rutherford died at Beth Sarim on January 8, 1942 at the age of 72.[219] Cause of death was "uraemia due to carcinoma of the rectum due to pelvic metastasis."[20]
Watch Tower Society staff member said of the announcement of Rutherford's death, "It was at noontime when the family was assembled for lunch. ... The announcement was brief. There were no speeches. No one took the day off to mourn. Rather, we went back to the factory and worked harder than ever."[218]
Rutherford's burial was delayed for three-and-a-half months due to legal proceedings arising from his desire to be buried at Beth Sarim, which he had previously expressed to three close advisers from Brooklyn headquarters.[220][221] According to Consolation, "Judge Rutherford looked for the early triumph of 'the King of the East', Christ Jesus, now leading the host of heaven, and he desired to be buried at dawn facing the rising sun, in an isolated part of the ground which would be administered by the princes, who should return from their graves."[222] Based on his claims that resurrected biblical characters would live at Beth Sarim, Rutherford concluded that it was appropriate that his bones be buried on the property.[223]
The legal problem arose because Beth Sarim was not a legally zoned cemetery.[224] Witnesses collected more than 14,000 signatures for two petitions—one supporting his burial at Beth Sarim, another for a second preferred site on a nearby Watch Tower Society property named Beth-Shan—that Rutherford's dying wish might be granted.[225] Consolation condemned San Diego County officials for their refusal to grant a permit for Rutherford's burial at either property, stating "It was not the fate of the bones which they decided, but their own destiny. Nor is their blood on anyone else's head, because they were told three times that to fight against God, or to tamper with His servant's bones even, would bring upon them the condemnation of the Lord. ... So their responsibility is fixed, and they followed the course of Satan."[226][227][228]
Speculation that Rutherford was secretly buried at Beth Sarim has been called "private rumor", 'frequently disproven', and "myth".[229][230][231] The May 4, 1942 issue of Time magazine noted Rutherford's burial at Rossville, New York, on Staten Island;[232] a private burial plot for Watch Tower branch volunteers is on Woodrow Road.[233][234] In 2002, a caretaker at the immediately adjoining graveyard answered an inquiry about Watch Tower's graveyard by noting, "I couldn't tell you who is buried on it because it has absolutely no markers or headstones".[235]
Rutherford was succeeded by Nathan Homer Knorr as president of the Watch Tower Society
Only FOUR people attended his funeral. Brothers Nathan Knorr and Frederick W. Franz also declined to attend.

Census Data Info relating to the Rutherfords

I also checked the 1880 census for Missouri and found the entry on the Fetzers. Mary's father is listed as John Fetzer, aged 55 (thus born in 1825). John Fetzer's occupation is listed as "physician," and his place of birth is stated as Westerberg, Germany. This neatly confirms what the later California census data stated, that Mary Rutherford's father was a native of Germany. John Fetzer's wife was listed as Mary Fetzer, aged 44, with her occupation stated as "keeping house". Mary's birthplace is given as Hannover, Germany. Interestingly, Mary declared in later censuses that her mother was from France. I'm not sure if this is accounted for by a post-WWI change in borders and if Hanover at one point was part of Belgium. The single child of the Fetzers was named as "Mary Fetzer," who was born in Missouri and whose age was given as 11. The Fetzers also had a live-in servant named Hannah Prigg, aged 18, and they all lived in Rolla, Phelps, Missouri .

Meanwhile, I found a listing for "Joseph Rutherford," aged 11, resident of Haw Creek, Morgan, Missouri. Looks like he grew up in a big family. His father is listed as James Rutherford, aged 43, whose occupation was listed as "farmer". James Rutherford was born in Michner, Tennessee. Joseph's mother was named "Lanora Rutherford," aged 37, who was born in Senneku, Tennessee. Her occupation was "keeping house". They had 7 children (!). The oldest child was Virginia (sp.?), aged 20, who was employed as a school teacher. The next two oldest children were also girls, Anna (aged 19) and Salena (aged 17). Hmmm, does it sound like the Rutherfords were trying hard to have a son? The next oldest children were William, aged 15, and Florence, aged 13. Then, finally, do we come to Joseph, aged 11. But he wasn't the youngest child. Well, for much of his young life he was, but the Rutherfords had one last son, Berkie (sp?), who was aged 4 at the time of the census. No other occupation was given for the other children, except for William who was stated as "works on farm".


On edit: The 1870 census lists a "Mary Fetzer" from Hannover, Germany living in Boonville, Cooper, Missouri. Cooper is the county that BeelzeDub gave as where little Mary was raised. It looks like it might be more accurate to say that Mary was born in Cooper county and then moved before the age of 11 to Rolla in Phelps County. The 1870 census also states that mother Mary was married to a physician named John Fetzer who was born in Wirtemberg, Germany. John Fetzer appears to have been somewhat wealthy; the value of his real estate was $15,000 and the value of his personal estate was $300. Mary Rutherford also appears to have had several siblings, such as Anna (aged 16), a brother F. (aged 15), a sister M. (aged 10/12), and a brother R. (aged 4). Little Mary would've been an infant at the time of this census so she wasn't counted.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Views 5.2k
  • Replies 0
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Days

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Days

Posted Images

  • Create New...

Important Information

Terms of Service Confirmation Terms of Use Privacy Policy Guidelines We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.