Frances Ford Seymour
Paternal 27th cousin, 2x removed.
Frances Ford Seymour was one of my familial discoveries that was a surprise. For those of you that have not heard of her before, she is the mother of two of Hollywood's famous celebrities, Peter and Jane Fonda. Frances was Henry Fonda's wife...and she was also a Canadian & American socialite.
I stumbled across Frances' information while exploring my extended paternal family on the Plantagenet line. While a very distant cousin, Frances was a very interesting person and I thought that she deserved her own bio on my website.
Frances was born in Brockville, Ontario, Canada (not terribly far from this author's home) on April 4, 1908. Frances was the daughter of Sophia Mildred Bower and Eugene Ford Seymour. Frances grew up in an upper-middle class family. According to reports, Frances suffered sexual abuse as a child which most likely contributed to her mental health issues later in life. Frances also had an older brother, Ford de Villiers Seymour.
I have not been able to find much information about Frances' early years, unfortunately, and little appears to be known about her childhood. At the age of 22, Frances married George Tuttle Brokaw, a millionaire lawyer & businessman, on January 10, 1931. This was Frances' first marriage and George's second. Together they had one daughter, Frances de Villiers Brokaw (half-sister of Jane and Peter), born in October, 1931.
George died from a massive heart attack on May 28 1935 leaving Frances a widow.
After George's death, Frances met actor Henry Fonda in London, England, while he was filming "Wings of the Morning". The couple married on September 16, 1936. It was the second marriage for both Frances and Henry.
Together Frances and Henry had 2 children, daughter Jane Seymour Fonda, born on December 21, 1937 and son Peter Henry Fonda, born on February 23, 1940. Both children would go on to become iconic actors like their father.
After 13 years of marriage - apparently not always happy - Fonda announced in August of 1949 that he wanted a divorce from Frances so that he could remarry. The news apparently devastated Frances and compounded the mental health issues that she had endured throughout her life. She was admitted to the Austen Riggs Psychiatric Hospital in Massachusetts in January, 1950, to seek treatment.
Unfortunately for Frances and her children, the treatment that she sought did not work and she took her own life on April 14, 1950.
Researching this distant cousin of mine, I cannot help but feel sad about how her life had turned out. Today mental health awareness is at an all-time high, but in Frances' day, mental health issues were mostly kept hidden away; a shameful secret that was only talked about in hushed whispers.
I also cannot help but see some similarities between Frances' life and the lives of some of my other wealthy, yet unhappy and mentally troubled distant cousins, such as some of the Woolworth family. Mental illness can strike anyone regardless of their social standing, and Frances' story is proof of that. Whatever demons haunted Frances to the point that she would take her own life, leaving her 3 children motherless, we may never know. I only hope that Frances has now found the peace that she could not find while living.
I wish that I knew more about this intriguing relative, but unfortunately if there is more information available about her, I have been unable to find it.