Seward’s wife, Frances Adeline (1805 – 1865), daughter of Auburn, New York, Judge Elijah Miller, was an advocate of homeopathy and encouraged her husband to adopt it. Their homeopathic physician was Dr. Tullio Suzzara Verdi, who treated various members of the family for ailments ranging from tonsillitis, broken bones, to dysentery and typhoid fever.
William Henry Seward was one of a number of influential people who supported the homeopathic Boston Female Medical College, the first medical school for women in the world, founded in 1848.
The Sewards knew many other homeopathic-supporting political and cultural figures of the age, including Louisa May Alcott, Susan B. Antony, William Cullen Bryant, Dorothea Dix, William Lloyd Garrison, Horace Greeley, Samuel Gregory, Phebe Hanaford, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William James, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Israel Tisdale Talbot, Daniel Webster, Martha Coffin Wright, and many others.
Like many other adherents of homeopathy, the Sewards were progressives and believed in social justice. In the early 1850s, their dismay at the Fugitive Slave Act led to them becoming committed abolitionists. Seward’s wife, Frances, was a good friend of Harriet Tubman, and the Seward’s were active in the Underground Railroad, opening their Auburn home to escaped slaves.
He supported state funding for schools for immigrants using their own languages and operated by their own clergy – such as Catholic parochial schools…
Seward became a radical opponent of slavery. His views — and the even stronger anti-slavery feelings of his wife — were formed in part by their observations of the conditions of slavery while traveling in the South with their children in 1835.
He opposed the expansion of slavery and resisted attempts by Southern states to extradite those who enabled fugitive slaves to escape…
Seward believed that slavery was morally wrong, and said so many times, outraging Southerners. He acknowledged that slavery was legal under the Constitution, but denied that the Constitution recognized or protected slavery.
He famously remarked in 1850 that “there is a higher law than the Constitution”. He continued to argue this point of view over the next ten years.
He presented himself as the leading enemy of the Slave Power — that is, the perceived conspiracy of southern slaveowners to seize the government and defeat the progress of liberty.
Seward was an opponent of the Fugitive Slave Act, and he defended runaway slaves in court.
William and Frances Seward’s progressive politics and their opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act led to them providing sanctuary for escaped slaves, their home serving as an Underground Railroad station. They also financially supported Abolitionists, including backing Frederick Douglass‘ Rochester North Star newspaper. Interestingly, another New York state homeopathic adherent, the philanthropist and social reformer Gerrit Smith, also supported Douglass‘ newspaper.
The Seward’s home also hosted many of the leading women’s rights activists, including Dorothea Dix, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott. Frances Seward’s sister, Lazette Maria Miller Worden, was also an Abolitionist and Women’s Rights activist. She spent a great deal of time with her sister and brother-in-law in Auburn. Lazette Miller Worden knew Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was a frequent visitor to the Seward home. Worden also met regularly for tea and social occasions with Lucretia Mott‘s sister, Martha Coffin Wright. Frances was also a friend of author Washington Irving.
It was this group who offered sustenance to Harriet Tubman, after she purchased land from William Henry Seward in 1857 and began gradually to move her family to Auburn, beginning in 1859. In 1861, Harriet Tubman brought Margaret Stewart, most likely a niece but possibly her own daughter, to Auburn, to live with Lazette Worden.
Lazette Worden stayed for long periods at the Seward home, and she brought Margaret Stewart with her there to live, where Frances Seward helped raise her.
William Henry Seward was one of the targets in the April 1865 assassination plot that resulted in the murder of President Abraham Lincoln. Seward survived a vicious attack at his Lafayette Square home in Washington D.C., although his son, Assistant Secretary of State Frederick William Seward (1830 – 1915), was seriously injured by the assailant.
Tullio Suzzara Verdi, William Seward’s family homeopathic physician, was the first medical man on the scene, arriving moments after the attack. He was joined shortly after by Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes and two allopathic physicians, Norris and Wilson. Verdi provided a comprehensive report of the assassination attempt in a letter to Dr. William Tod Helmuth, published in The Western Homeopathic Observer on 15 May 1865. In his letter Verdi approvingly recounted the absence of partisanship on the part of the three allopaths during the crisis:
“I must say, to their honor, that their energies united with mine only to save and relieve the victims, and not one descended to that petty professional pique or ill conceived pride of many practitioners, in reference to associating with a medical gentleman of a different school of therapeutics.”
The orthodox medical community did not share Verdi’s perspective. Surgeon General Barnes was afterwards censured by the American Medical Association for working alongside an homeopath when attending to Seward’s injuries. As Dana Ullman has noted:
At a time in American medicine when physicians would very rarely, if ever, be reprimanded by fellow physicians, the ethical code on consorting with homeopaths was regularly enforced. One Connecticut physician [Dr. Moses Pardee] was expelled from his local medical society for consulting with a homeopath – his wife [Dr. Emily Pardee]. A New York doctor was expelled for purchasing milk sugar from a homeopathic pharmacy. Joseph K. Barnes, the Surgeon General of the United States, was denounced for aiding in the treatment of Secretary of State William Seward on the night he was stabbed and Lincoln was shot, simply because Seward’s personal physician was a homeopath.
The attack took its toll on his family as Seward’s wife, Frances, died of a heart attack on 21 June 1865, just six weeks after the assassination attempt. His daughter, Fanny, died of tuberculosis a year and a half later, in October 1866.
After the death of her sister, Frances, in 1865, Lazette Worden often acted as hostess for her brother-in-law, William Henry Seward, both in Auburn and Washington.
William Henry Seward died at his home on the afternoon of 10 October, 1872. He was laid to rest alongside Frances and his daughter Fanny at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, NY.
William and Frances Seward’s son, Frederick William Seward (1830 – 1915), was the Assistant Secretary of State during the American Civil War, serving in Abraham Lincoln‘s administration as well as under Andrew Johnson during Reconstruction, and for over two years under Rutherford B. Hayes.