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About The Founders

The Seawell Elam Foundation was established in Austin, Texas in 1992 by Belle Patterson Elam and her daughter, Elizabeth Elam Roth, in memory of Mrs. Elam’s mother, Nelle White and Charles Henderson Seawell. It was Mr. Seawell’s successful thirty-five year career at McCormick and Company that provided the initial funds for the Foundation.

Nelle and Charles Seawell

Belle Elam, Co-Founder

Elizabeth Roth, Co-Founder

Charles Henderson Seawell (1879-1960) was born in Marion, Alabama to Marie Louise Ravesies and Charles H. Seawell. He became deaf early in life. Determined to overcome his handicap, he learned to read lips before satisfactory hearing aids were produced. He was educated at the Marion Military Institute and subsequently worked as a sales representative with McCormick and Company. Charles Seawell and Nelle White were married in Houston in 1924 and resided there until their deaths.


Nelle White Seawell (1885-1963) was born in Bonham, Texas to Helen Belle McKamy and pioneering Texas Cattleman George Samuel White. Nelle, her mother, and her sisters were active members of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She attended Hosmer Hall in St. Louis, then Vassar College. She married James T. Patterson in 1907 and had one daughter, Belle McKamy Patterson. Nelle and Mr. Patterson divorced in 1918. In 1924, Nelle and Mr. Seawell married but had no children of their own.

Belle Patterson Elam, Co-Founder, (1908-1999) was born in Weatherford, Texas but moved to Houston at the age of two. She attended Rice University and in 1929, married Robert E. Elam, Jr., Vice-President of Houston-based markle Steel Company until his death in 1955. They had one daughter, Elizabeth. Mrs. Elam was involved in such community activities as the San Jacinto Girl Scout Council, various Houston-area garden clubs, the John McKnitt Alexander Chapter of the DAR, and with Mr. Elam, was a charter member of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. She moved to Austin in 1987.

Elizabeth Elam Roth, Co-Founder, (1946-2007) was born in Houston, Texas. She attended Texas Women’s University, St. Thomas, and Texas State University. In 1966, she married Durell M. Roth. They had three children, Robert Elam Roth, Elizabeth Mader Roth, and Elizabeth Louise Roth Jarrett. She was a writer and editor for both the popular and academic press and taught English at Texas State University-San Marcos. In addition to writing, Mrs. Roth held board positions with American Poetry and Literacy Project, Ballet Austin, American Studies Association of Texas and Women in Communications. In addition to being a philanthropist, her many interests included ballet, opera, amateur astronomy and gardening. Mr. and Mrs. Roth moved to Austin in 1985.

Elizabeth "Beth" Birdwell, Board President. I was born in Houston, Texas and moved with my family to Austin in 1985. I graduated from Austin High School in 1993, then attended University of Texas at Austin, graduating in 1998 with a BA in US Southern History and a minor in African-American Studies. I then entered the History doctoral program at UT, but after having my daughter in 1999, I was fortunate enough to make the decision to be a stay-at-home mom for a few years. Life events have taken me through a variety of careers including 10 years in the animal care field, followed by 4 years in the counseling field,  (including receiving my Masters of Counseling at St. Edward's in 2011), and my last 7 years have been as Spa Director of a medical spa. While my schooling and my careers have been diverse, I truly believe my experiences in these fields have given me a unique perspective as President of the Seawell Elam Foundation. I am grateful to be able to work with so many incredible organizations.

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