Matilda was born on July 4, 1834 in Tioga, Pennsylvania, the eldest child of Catherine Mathews and bank president Benjamin Coleman Wickham, a grandson of Loyalist Parker Wickham. She had three siblings who lived to adulthood: Emily, Thomas and Charles. Thomas would spend his life in Tioga, while Charles moved to Newark, New Jersey.
Her father Benjamin was born in Mattituck on Long Island in 1804, but moved to tiny Tioga, Pennsylvania (population 500) in May 1832 (see downtown Tioga). He had previously lived in Elmira, where he operated a store under the firm name of Tuthill & Wickham, then opened a branch outlet in Tioga. In the fall of 1859 he became the president of the Tioga County Bank, which was near collapse from a scandal. He turned the bank around, even though on the night of May 24, 1864, the bank was robbed of $21,000 in a spectacular heist where the safe was blown.
Finding a suitable mate must have been difficult in tiny and remote Tioga, but Matilda's sister Emily became the third wife of William Waldo Willard, a wealthy attorney from Williamsport, a town about sixty miles to the south. He died shortly after the birth of their son Waldo Wickham Willard, who was born in Tioga in 1865. Waldo was sent to school in Switzerland, graduated from Harvard in 1887, attended Harvard Law School, and was admitted to the New York bar in 1891. Captain of both the Harvard football and baseball teams, he was one of Harvard's greatest athletes of all time. He later became a prominent attorney in Corning, New York who specialized in corporate law. Plagued by vision problems late in life, he retired from law to operate a large apple farm in Oregon, but later established a law office in Ithaca, New York where he had students read his paperwork. As his health deteriorated, he sought medical treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, where he died on January 2, 1924.
Emily's second marriage was to Rufus Smith Frost, mayor of Chelsea, Massachusetts, in 1867 and 1868; member of the State senate in 1871 and 1872; and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts's 4th district (1875-76) who was also a very successful wool merchant and bank president. His numerous other responsibilities included being president of the National Association of Woolen Manufacturers 1877-1884; president of the Boston Board of Trade 1878-1880; president of the New England Conservatory of Music; a trustee of Wellesley College; and one of the founders of the New England Law and Order League and of the Boston Art Club.
Compared to her sister's weddings, Matilda's marriage to ticket agent Quincy Winthrop Wellington on May 13, 1857 seemed unexceptional, but Quincy would soon reveal his extraordinary business aptitude. He had spent his early career managing a store in Tioga called Etz & Wellington, but moved to Corning in 1854 to work for the Erie Railroad as a ticket agent, then in 1859 became clerk and bookkeeper for The George Washington Bank. In 1862, he organized with Samuel Russell, Jr. the bank Q.W. Wellington & Co., which grew into Corning's leading bank, with operations in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Washington. By 1896, the bank had $690,000 in deposits and profits of $38,000 (see bank check).
For more than forty years, Matilda was a leading citizen of Corning, whose social circle included the Houghtons, owners of the successful Corning Glass Works and the community's most dominant family. Matilda was known for her unostentatious generosity, was an active and devout member of Christ Episcopal Church of Corning, and an enthusiastic supporter of charities, especially the Corning Hospital. She was the mother of six children: Benjamin Wickham, Catherine Amelia, Samuel Barney (died young), Adelaide Louise, Sarah Etz and Emily Clara (also died young). Matilda passed away on Wednesday, July 10, 1901, less than a week after her 67th birthday, following a lengthy and arduous illness. Her husband Quincy died on May 5, 1920.
Matilda's son Benjamin Wickham Wellington graduated from Harvard in 1883, then joined his father's banking house as cashier. He was elected mayor of Corning in 1891 and built a new city hall and the dikes that protected the city from the Chemung River. He also served as chief of the fire department, and founded the Corning Opera House and the Corning Free Library. He was president of Corning Hospital for two years and served as Corning postmaster for 12 years. He was also a charter member of the Corning Country Club and established the city's first Boy Scout troop.
Matilda's second daughter, Adelaide Louise Wellington, was born on August 15, 1867 in Corning and was married on June 25, 1891 in Christ Church, Corning to Alanson Bigelow Houghton, who was in public service, first in Congress, then as U.S. ambassador to Berlin (1922-25) and to London (1925-29), followed by his return to Washington (1929-41) (see his picture on the cover of Time magazine). He was the world's most influential diplomat during the 'New Era' of the 1920s, playing an important role in the major diplomatic achievements of the period, including the Dawes Plan for reparations, the Locarno security treaties, and the Kellogg-Briand peace pact. However, he gradually became disenchanted with the weakness of America's engagement in Europe, which resulted in more than 60 million people dying during World War II after the Harding and Coolidge administrations rejected his warnings.
Alanson was also president of Corning Glass Works from 1910 to 1918, during a time that the company tripled in size to become the largest glass manufacturer in the United States. He led important innovations in heat resistant glass, including the Pyrex line of highly durable cookware and laboratory glass products. After his departure, Corning continued to grow and by 2012 reached $8 billion in sales and $21 billion in market capitalization. Alanson was later chairman of the first board of trustees for Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study (see him laying the cornerstone of Fuld Hall with Albert Einstein).
Adelaide (see her) kept a diary from 1925-1929 about her time in London, which is preserved in the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College. She was also elected as one of the original directors of the Corning Hospital in 1900 and was a leading benefactor of that institution. Her son Amory Houghton became chairman of the board of the Corning Glass Works and ambassador to France (1957-1961). She died of a heart attack on Sunday afternoon, September 9, 1945 at her summer home, The Meadows, in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts.