Edward Ames Temple's inscription on the family tombstone states that he was born Sept. 23, 1831, and died on Feb. 12, 1909. Born in Illinois, most of his life was spent in Iowa. He died while on vacation in Orlando, Florida.
Life must have seemed good to Edward and Elizabeth Temple as Chariton and Lucas County prospered after the Civil War. The war, which had formed a dam against westward expansion, was over and new settlers flooded in, most in the market for land. Construction of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, stalled at Ottumwa when the war commenced, resumed and in July of 1867 tracks and trains reached Chariton. Chariton briefly became the jumping-off point for settlers headed farther west and the base for continued rail construction to the Missouri River.
The fact that rail entrepreneur and Temple’s banking parther, Smith H. Mallory, who had launched his fortune by obtaining contracts to build bridges on the rail line between Ottumwa and the Missouri, picked Chariton as his permanent headquarters meant the city would remain an important railroad town into the 20th century.
While basking in prosperity and filled with new optimism, Edward’s thoughts turned to a new industry then emerging across the country --- life insurance. Most of the companies then offering insurance where headquartered in the East and distrusted in the West with some justification. The industry was entirely unregulated and marked by abuse of both policy holders and investors.
While casting about for a way that Iowa bankers might obtain low-cost and safe life insurance for themselves and their employees, Edward began to consider the case of an Episcopal priest who upon arrival in Fairfield had boarded with the family of Edward’s brother, George. A year after moving his family to Fairfield, the priest died. It then was discovered that he had belonged to an informal association of 100 clergymen, each of whom had agreed to pay $10 to the survivors of any who died. The deceased’s widow thereby collected $990 in life insurance with nothing deducted for overhead or as fees and at minimal cost to the other members of the association.
That became the central idea behind what became the Bankers Life Association formed by Edward and a few banker associates. Edward obtained a charter for the association, to be headquartered in Des Moines, on July 1, 1879, and was named president, a position he held until his death 30 years later, during 1909.
Modest initial fees plus occasional assessments funded the association and smart investing allowed reserves to grow.
Tight restrictions on the insured minimized risk. At first, certificates were sold only to bankers and their employees although that later was modified so that people recommended by their bankers also could obtain insurance. Women were excluded (childbirth was considered too risky). Men prone to overindulge in alcohol or drugs could be booted from the association or denied benefits if lifestyle contributed to demise. Men in occupations deemed risky or in geographical areas considered high-risk (this included all states south of the Mason-Dixon Line) also were excluded.
In its early years, there was little overhead. There was no paid staff initially and Edward did not draw a salary himself until the 1890s (at the time of his death, he was drawing a $7,000 annual salary, a fraction of the average amount then being paid to similarly placed executives).
Bankers Life grew rapidly during Temple’s 30 years at the helm and reported assets of $13 million and more than $450 million in insurance in effect by 1909, a remarkable record. As the company became more profitable, however, pressure increased to shift its base to a fixed-premium system, but Edward resisted. That shift was made after his death, however, and the firm continued to grow. In 1985, it was renamed the Principal Financial Group and it continues as one of the nation’s major insurers and purveyors of financial services.
The 1880 deaths of Elizabeth Temple and little Porter George occurred just as the Bankers Life Association was taking off and, by Edward’s own account, that combined with increasing responsibilities to the company to change his outlook toward Chariton.
Elizabeth Jane (Swett) Temple's date of birth is not inscribed on the family tombstone. She was born May 23, 1830, in Little Falls, N.Y. Her death, caused by "rheumatism of the heart," occurred in Chariton on Dec. 6, 1880."
Porter George Swett, son of Moses Albert and Mathilda (Weaver) Swett, was adopted by Edward A. and Elizabeth (Swett) Temple after his mother died of complications from childbirth. He died on April 30, 1880, of scarlet fever.
Each inscription on the Temple family tombstone is matched by a symbol below it, Edward's, by an hourglass; Elizabeth's, by a cross and crown; and Porter George's, by a lamb. The tail end of my red pickup behind the stone represents careless parking.
He continued to balance his responsibilities at First National Bank and Bankers Life until 1884, spending at least part of each week in Des Moines. In that year, he resigned his banking position and thereafter devoted full attention to Bankers Life. He continued to maintain his home in Chariton until 1887, however, traveling back and forth by train.
In 1887, he moved himself, his two nieces and his sister, Cecilia, to Des Moines permanently A little less than 10 years later, he built a large home of surprisingly contemporary design for a conservative man on Ninth Street in what now is known as the Historic River Bend Neighborhood, north of downtown in a bend of the Des Moines River. That home, restored in recent years after falling upon hard times as the neighborhood deteriorated after his death, still stands.
The Edward A. Temple home in Des Moines' River Bend Neighborhood, has been fully restored after falling upon hard times after the Temples left it.
He transferred his church membership from St. Andrew’s in Chariton to St. Luke’s in Des Moines and became an active member of that parish.
His lifestyle during the closing years of his life is fairly well summed up in two paragraphs of a story reporting upon his death in The Chariton Patriot of Feb. 18, 1909:
“He was a deep reader, familiar with a wide range of subjects, fond of music, although not a performer. He kept in his den at home his favorite music and he idolized the home and its life. He had a large library and he was regarded as a man of splendid mental equipment.
“Religious activity took much of Mrs. Temple’s time during the past few years. He was senior warden of St. Luke’s Episcopal church and the vestry meetings were always held in his office. He was generous in charity, but modest concerning his benefactions and what a fortune he has given to the worthy will never be known.”
By 1909, when he was 77, Edward’s had begun to be troubled by health issues and had taken to spending time during the winters on the west coast, where relatives lived, and in Orlando, Florida, which had become the home of Annie Mallory and Jessie Thayer, widow and daughter of his old friend and business associate, Smith H. Mallory.
He traveled to Orland from Des Moines prior to Christmas, 1908, and became ill early in the new year. After apparently rallying, he died of heart failure on the evening of Friday, Feb. 12, 1909, with Annie and Jessie as well as another old Chariton friend, Miss Margaret McCormick, at his side.
The following Tuesday, his body was brought to St. Andrew’s Church in Chariton where funeral services were held, followed by burial beside his beloved Elizabeth in the Chariton Cemetery.
Edward left behind an estate of roughly $100,000, a fortune at that time but by no means as large a fortune as he could have accumulated had he taken full financial advantage of his position with Bankers Life and had not given so much away. About $50,000 was in the form of liquid assets; the balance, in real estate and other investments.
His will, dated Dec. 9, 1906, is of remarkable scope and precision, reflecting the detail man he was. The largest bequests, although by no means extravagant, went to his sister, Cecelia, and his two nieces, Harriet and Sarah. In addition, he left $1,000 each to 29 surviving relatives --- the widows and children of all his brothers as well as surviving siblings, nieces and nephews of Elizabeth.
Thousand-dollar bequests also went to the Iowa Children’s Home, the Riverside Settlement House Association, the Home for the Aged on University Avenue, St. Luke’s Parish and the Iowa Humane Society, all of Des Moines; the endowment fund of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa; and to St. Andrew’s Church of Chariton.
He also left $1,000 to the Historical Society of the State of Iowa to fund a bronze tablet for the wall of the old Historical Building (now the Ola Babcock Building) commemorating “delightful memories of William Salter, George Temple (Edward’s father), Levi Hager, William D. Remey, Bernhart Henn, Anthony W. Carpenter and William F. Collbaugh, pioneer residents of Burlington, Iowa.”
Edward made no provisions for a monument to himself, beyond ensuring that his name and dates of birth and death were inscribed on the family tombstone not far inside the gates of the Chariton Cemetery. Although acknowledged by Principal Financial Group as its founder, he has receded into obscurity. And I suspect that is precisely what Edward would have preferred. He was never a man to make a fuss.
Matilda E. (Weaver) Swett, mother of Porter George, is buried next to her son as graves continue south around the circle of the Temple-Swett lot. Her inscription is so badly eroded and encrusted with lichen that it is virtually impossible to read. Census records suggest she was born about 1845 in Ohio and the obituary of her mother, Harriet (Yergey) Swett/Larimer, states that the family arrived in Cedar Township, Lucas County, in 1850. She was married to Moses Albert Swett on 21 April 1868 in Lucas County and died of complications from childbirth on June 29, 1877, a few days after the birth of Porter George. Her father, George Weaver, had died Sept. 12, 1869, in Cedar Township and her mother, Harriet, had married as her second husband Hugh Larimer on Oct. 12, 1876. Harriet died Jan. 10, 1901, and was buried with George in the Allen Cemetery in Cedar Township. The symbol below Matilda's inscription on the Templle-Swett stone is a rose.
So far as can be determined, none of the three children of Matilda and Moses Albert --- Harriet, Sarah and Porter George --- lived with their father again after they were taken in by Edward and Elizabeth Temple. In 1910, Moses Albert was living with his sister, Abby (Swett) Freeman, and nephew, Albert Freeman, in Columbia County, Oregon. He died 29 Decenber 1918 in Columbia County (according to the online Oregon Death Index) and is buried with the Freemans (Abby's husband was Charles) in Bayview Memorial Cemetery at Scappoose.
The inscription marking the grave of Moses Porter Swett, husband of Abby Jane, next to that of their daughter-in-law, Matilda (Weaver) Swett, is easier to read. It shows that he was born May 13, 1807, and died June 27, 1860. The Swetts had moved from Ohio to Jefferson County, Iowa, in 1850 and on to Lucas County ca. 1857. The symbol below Moses's inscription is a shock of wheat.
Continuing the circle around the Temple-Swett stone, the final inscription is that of Abby Jane (Tillman) Swett, wife of Moses Porter Swett and mother of Elizabeth Jane (Swett) Temple. The dates on the stone were transcribed during the 1970s by members of the Lucas County Genealogical Scoiety as "Born, Feb. 27, 1810" and "Died, Sept. 28, 1865." While there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of this transcription, I've never been able to decipher the dates myself. The symbol below Abby Jane's inscription is a sythe.