Martha Sleeper Jay was the wife of Allen Jay. They lived at Springfield for 8 years, from 1868 to 1876, when Allen Jay was the field agent for the Baltimore Association. Although her role here is less well known, she was very active in the meeting and in the work they did together.
They met when Allen came to study for a year at the Farmer’s Institute, a small new Quaker-run school near Lafayette, IN. Allen Jay boarded at the home of Martha’s parents, and they were married September 20, 1854.
They taught school together for 2 years and then moved to Greenfield, Indiana, where they had 5 children – Charles, Rhoda, William, Edward and Isaac. Charles and Rhoda died in childhood. During the Civil War, Allen Jay was a conscientious objector, and their farm was almost auctioned off to pay a fine. Abraham Lincoln personally intervened and the Jay family stayed there in peace.
Like her husband, Martha Jay was a recorded Friends minister who spoke frequently in the unprogrammed Quaker worship of those days. Allen Jay said, “She was a real helpmate and was anxious that I should do the work well. She would tell me of my mistakes in grammar, pronunciation, and gestures, sometimes showing me how I stood in the gallery, and what I did with my hands. She taught me to keep my hands out of my pockets while I was talking. She labored hard to break me of the habit of speaking so loud and being so boisterous while preaching. She never became discouraged, but kept on and sometimes in a way that bore fruit.”
She had a dry Quaker sense of humor. Allen Jay said, “”I will always remember one morning when I was going to drive ten miles to attend the quarterly meeting. I had bade her farewell and started to drive away when I heard her calling. Looking around, I saw her coming down the steps. She came up to me with a very solemn face and said very deliberately, “My dear, I am going to be very busy today and will not have time to listen, so thee need not preach loud enough for me to hear.’ Then she turned around without a smile, leaving me sitting there, and went into the house. When I commenced speaking that day, I remembered she was ten miles away. Blessed is the preacher who has such a faithful wife, and twice blessed is he who listens to her.”
While they lived at Springfield, Martha Jay taught classes every Sunday afternoon in Trinity for former slaves and their children. Allen was very active in the new style of pastoral worship and in building up Quaker meetings in North Carolina. Martha strongly supported her husband in this work.
At the end of their time of service with the Baltimore Association, Allen and Martha moved for 2 years to Providence, RI where they worked for a Quaker school. Then they moved to Richmond, IN where Allen Jay served as fundraiser for Earlham College. The Richmond Declaration of Faith was written in their living room,
During the last two years of her life, Martha’s health deteriorated, and they spent the winters in the warmer climates of Florida and Alabama.
She died after a short illness on April 27, 1988. The day before she died, she told her husband, “”Now, when I am gone, don’t sit down and mourn, but rise up and go to work and finish the service the Lord has for thee to do, and when it is done, come home and we will be together.”
Allen Jay said, “It may be sometimes that in expressing our sympathy and giving encouragement to the minister, the faithful wife at home with the children is forgotten by the church and its membership.”
A Sunday School class at Springfield was started in 1933 by Dovie Haworth and was named after Martha Jay. The class continued to meet regularly for almost 80 years.
A hand-tinted portrait of her is in the Martha Jay Parlor at Springfield Friends.