Beacon Street Diary
Don't miss out on next week's free lunchtime discussion with our own executive director and resident historian.
Peggy Bendroth is executive director of the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston. She is author of Fundamentalism and Gender, 1875 to the Present, among other books.
Wednesday, March 23rd
12:00 - 1:00 pm
In the mid-1800s, as mission work expanded in scope, the ABCFM began to actively recruit women missionaries. The goal of the missions — to create self-sustaining churches — required not only pastors, but nurses, doctors, and teachers. While ministers' wives and even single women had long gone to work in missions, the ABCFM formalized women's involvement by establishing the Women's Board of Missions in 1868.
The green-printed cover of one folded brochure speaks directly to young middle-class women:
"TO YOU who are enjoying all the rich fruitage of a Christian education and who are seeking the largest opportunities for sharing what you have received with others, unless you are detained in this land by imperative obligations, the call is to go."
Inside the brochure, women read descriptions of missions in South Africa, Turkey, India, China, Japan, and Micronesia. There were positions for teachers, nurses, even doctors in addition to the more traditional "evangelistic worker". The pamphlet spoke to worried mothers as well, assuring that as their daughters were called to go, they were called to let go.
In a pamphlet with the simple title Being a Missionary, missionary worker Mrs. H. S. Calder spoke directly to other women who are considering missionary work. She addressed both their concerns and their hopes.
"When you mention to your friends that you are thinking of becoming a foreign missionary, some of them will tell you that you are quite too good for this work,-- that some one who has had fewer advantages, some one of less culture, some one made of a coarser fiber, not such a choice spirit as you, some one whose life is more allied to those people in whom you have developed this sudden interest, some one not so far above them in education and refinement,-- that such a person will do that work far better than you can do it; that it is your duty to use your superior talents where they will avail the most, and that it is wrong to 'cast pearls before swine.' …But they need your help and stimulus."
Calder wrote of the challenges educated women would have as missionaries, and spoke frankly about her own struggles.
"You are fond of school work, and feel that you can succeed in that, but you find your attention and time taken by the most uninteresting and distasteful details of domestic work, toward which you never had any learning, and which you know little about. I well remember how appalled I was when, in the first or second year of missionary experience, I was in charge of the schoolgirls for an hour while they were mending their clothes, and one of them quietly said to me, 'Will you please cut my dress?' I stood aghast. I, not at all adept at dressmaking, then and there, without patterns, cut a dress for a girl sixteen years old? Don't ask me the end of this story, for it might be unpleasant for me, but remember that you need to be better equipped for your position than I was for mine."
But the hard work would be fulfilling. Calder wrote, "If you are weak, under this experience you will grow strong. If you are severe, you will soften. I have seen it."
Congregational missionaries worked to engage women who stayed in the United States as well. The Women's Board of Missions of the Interior, based in Chicago, focused primarily on fundraising to support the missions. The WBMI provided opportunities for engagement to women who were not able to venture out into the field, but who wished to support others who went abroad as foreign missionaries. In one pamphlet, the WBMI explains its mission:
"Its object is the engage the earnest, systemic co-operation of Christian women in sending out and supporting women as missionaries, native teachers, and Bible readers to women and Children in Christless lands."
The WBMI published letters from women currently serving in missions in their magazines. Ann Ellis Pullen, Kennesaw State University professor emerita, wrote about the life of Nellie Arnott, who was engaged both in missionary work and in marketing the missions. Arnott wrote letters designed to be read in public and articles for WBMI magazines about her life in Angola, to help raise money for the missions and persuade other women to follow her overseas.
"It was clear to Arnott that pert of her responsibility was to write circular letters to her supporters at home to encourage donations, to encourage just thinking about the missions, and coming to the missions," says Pullen. "The women's magazines were certainly intended to be a marketing tool."
Pullen notes that Arnott's diaries are often discouraged about the mission and her role on it, but the letters she wrote to friends and for publication were upbeat and cheerful. "The female missionaries were encouraged to become missionary journalists in a very positive way, as a marketing tool," she said.
Even if it is propagandistic, these pamphlets and articles are examples of women speaking directly to women in the early 20th century in the marketing of mission work. Through their words, we can begin to understand what mattered to Congregational women, and what might have persuaded a young woman from Iowa to pick up and move to Angola, as Nellie Arnott did. These pamphlets are important records, helping us remember women's dreams, women's frustrations, and voices like Calder's encouraging middle-class women to claim a little agency, and go on an adventure.
The American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missionaries was active in Hawaii from 1820 until 1863. Missionary Album: Portraits and Biographical Sketches of American Protestant Missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands offers glimpses into the lives of women missionaries who came to Hawaii nearly two hundred years ago.
The biographical details for women in the Missionary Album are often spare, usually just listing the dates of their birth and death, and the names of their children. Some are more in-depth, and a few contain eyebrow-raising details: for example, Mrs. Lucia Holman is believed to be the first American woman to have circumnavigated the globe.
Most missionary women came with their husbands, but single women missionaries were present almost from the beginning of the mission. These women typically had some experience as teachers or in mission work. One exception, Betsey Stockton, had worked for many years as a servant in a Connecticut minister's home. A largely self-taught woman, she shared her knowledge with Hawaiian farmers and their wives. She conducted a school in Hawaii for two years after her extreme piousness led her to serve as a missionary.
Women's experiences on missions were incredibly varied, as we can learn from the Missionary Album. Some stayed for only two or three years, while others settled in Hawaii for several decades. Different women played different roles, but as missionary Ursula Emerson wrote in her journal in 1832, each missionary woman wore several hats. "A missionary here must not only be a pastor and a spiritual guide, but also a school-teacher, doctor, farmer and mechanic, and this is not for a few hundred, but for thousands."
portrait of Miss Betsey Stockton, first single female missionary of the American Board, and teacher at the American Board school at Lahaina, Hawaii (then called the Sandwich Islands) from Missionary Album, Sesquicentennial Edition, 1820-1970 Hawaiian Mission Children's Society. Honolulu, HI: 1969. p.186
For my sixty-hour internship, I processed and created a finding aid for a collection of records from the Congregational Conference of Illinois and its member associations. Because this was my first hands-on experience in the archival field, many aspects of processing surprised me. For example, the importance of preserving original order has been drilled into my mind in class. However, I discovered on my first day at the CLA that I would be imposing an artificial order onto a collection.
Don't forget to let us know if you'll be joining us for this week's free lunchtime lecture.
Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity, Dr. Heath W. Carter will argue that it was, in fact, working people who keyed the rise of social Christianity in industrializing cities such as Chicago. Throughout the Gilded Age, trade unionists, socialists, and anarchists alike advanced theological critiques of laissez faire capitalism and protested 'scab ministers' who cozied up to the business elite. Their criticisms compounded church leaders’ anxieties about losing the poor, such that by the turn-of-the-century many leading Christians were arguing that the only way to salvage hopes of a Christian America was for the churches to soften their position on "the labor question". As denomination after denomination did just that, it became apparent that the Social Gospel was, indeed, ascendant – from below.
Carter is currently the University Research Professor at Valparaiso University, an appointment that comes with a research leave to begin his next book project, a new history of the Social Gospel in American Life.
Wednesday, March 2nd
12:00 - 1:00 pm
Member profile: Carolyn Sundquist
It has been cold and snowy here in Boston and across much of the United States, but at least one of our members has relished the wintry weather. When we caught up with Carolyn Sundquist, she was headed out for her Monday morning ice skating session in Duluth, Minnesota. She was happy to have the chance to talk about her interest in the Congregational Library & Archives, and the many reasons why she values her membership.
As Carolyn points out, the Congregational Library & Archives is an historic building in an historic district within the historic city where Congregationalism took root. The library building on Beacon Street is as much a part of history as the records within it.
Carolyn's preservation interests also touch on church buildings across the country, which were extremely important to the development of individual communities across the country. The buildings provided a physical place for people to gather and plan the life of the community. "Congregational history goes hand in hand with the preservation of the Library and church buildings," says Carolyn.
The Congregational Library & Archives is also a repository of more traditional 2-D history. Some of that history involves Carolyn's family, which has been Congregationalist for (at least!) five generations. Carolyn's parents and grandparents were instrumental in the beginning of the NACCC, and she grew up attending Pilgrim Fellowship meetings at the annual NACCC meetings. Carolyn has taken her active involvement in her own Duluth Congregational Church to a national level. Over the last twenty years, she has been part of the Congregational Church Development Committee and for the past twelve, she has served on the board of the Congregational Foundation. She steps down as its president later this year.
Carolyn understands why history matters. "When you understand the development of the past, you can understand the actions of the present and formulate policies for the future."
Members guarantee the future for the Congregational Library & Archives, its historic building, and the history it contains. Members will keep it open for many cold winters to come. Please join Carolyn.
The Congregational Library & Archives is perhaps best known for its stories of white Puritans. But our collection also holds many more diverse voices from across history.
On the third floor of the stacks, there is a box filled with pamphlets and small books from the early nineteenth century. The thin, yellowing volumes contain the first-person narratives of former slaves. The narratives offer portraits of individual men: the violence, heartbreak, and suffering their narrators faced as slaves punctuated with the overwhelming joy of freedom, and fascinating reflections on the United States.
The earliest narrative, first published in 1798, told the story of Venture Smith, who was about nine years old when he arrived in Narragansett, Rhode Island. He remembers violence in his native Guinea that led to his being captured, and he remembers the slave ship crossing the Atlantic.
The narratives contain plenty of secular hypocrisy as well. For example, Mars' enslaved father fought for freedom in the American Revolution, but remained in captivity after his service. The land of the free, especially after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, was not a welcoming place for escaped slaves. Several stories deal with the decision to leave the United States.
After Henry Watson escaped from captivity Virginia and made his way to Boston, he met William Lloyd Garrison, who advised him to leave the country. It was in Britain that Watson finally felt free. "Wherever I went [in England,] I was treated like a man. They looked not at the color of my skin, but judged me from my internal qualifications."
Josiah Henson's narrative tells about how he decided to make his way to Canada.
"I determined to make my escape to Canada, about which I had heard something as beyond the limits of the United States; for, notwithstanding there were free states in the union, I felt that I should be safer under an entirely foreign jurisdiction."
After traveling on foot from Kentucky to the lakeside town of Sandusky, Ohio, Henson travels by boat to Ontario. He remembers the presence of "Kentucky spies" who watched all the boats sailing across Lake Erie, looking for escapees. To Henson, arrival in Canada feels nothing short of miraculous.
"When I got on the Canada side, on the morning of the 28th of October, 1830, my first impulse was to throw myself on the ground, and giving way to riotous exultation of my feelings, to execute sundry antics which excited the astonishment of those who were looking on. A gentleman of the neighborhood, Colonel Warren, who happened to be present, thought I was in a fit, and as he inquired what was the matter with the poor fellow, I jumped up and told him I was free. "O," said he, with a hearty laugh, "is that it? I never knew freedom make a man roll in the sand before." It is not much to be wondered at, that my certainty of being free was not quite a sober one at the first moment; and I hugged and kissed my wife and children all round, with a vivacity which made them laugh as well as myself."
The narratives' descriptions of freedom are all just as touching, and their reflections on life are powerful. After saving up money from side jobs and off-season labor for other farmers, Venture Smith earned enough to buy freedom for himself and his family, and settled on Long Island. Looking back on his difficult life, he says,
"Amidst all my grief and pains, I have many consolations. Meg, the wife of my youth, whom I married for love and bought with my own money, is alive. My freedom is a privilege which nothing else can equal."
The narratives continue to be interesting after the men become free, because they are detailed stories of the lives of free black people in the early 19th century. Smith went into the shipping trade after he was freed, and found moderate success. Once, one of Smith's white associates cheated him, and Smith wanted to sue. He remembers that no lawyer would take the case, because they believed that the white man was in the right simply because of his whiteness.
James Mars stayed in the same Connecticut town where he had been enslaved, and became part of the community. Mars joined the same church as his former master's family and they had some social relationship. The family suffered a dramatic reversal of fortune, and Mars was the only person at his former master's bedside when he died. Mars found consolation for his suffering in his good health and good social standing in his community.
Henson stayed in Canada, and watched as the number of black people in southern Ontario increased to what he estimated to be around 20,000. In Canada, Henson met Hiram Wilson, a Congregational minister from Massachusetts, and the two started a vocational school for the newly-arrived Canadians, which opened in 1842.
These powerful stories of individuals are not often heard, and as part of our collection serve to make people of the past more human. Just as the relations of faith illuminate early New England, the slave narratives in our collection bring nuanced individual perspectives to ugliest chapter of American history.
There's still plenty of time to register for this month's free lunchtime lecture. Don't miss out.
New England Historic Genealogical Society since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. His areas of expertise include: Southern New England, especially Connecticut; New York; ancestry of notable figures, especially presidents; genetics and genealogy; African-American and Native-American genealogy, 19th and 20th Century research, westward migrations out of New England, and applying to hereditary societies. Chris has lectured on these topics and edits the genetics and genealogy column for American Ancestors.
Thursday, February 18th
12:00 - 1:00 pm
excerpt from "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way" (1861) by Emanuel Leuteze, located in the US Capitol building, via Wikimedia Commons
All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have a question for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we will get back to you when we return to the office on Tuesday.
The Superbowl was a luxury for Patriots fans this year, at least for some of us. Yes, we lost to Denver and didn't get to play in Santa Clara — but there's something warm and enjoyable about watching a game just for fun, knowing that in the end you'll be pretty much the same emotionally as you were at the beginning. Call me shallow, but I have more than a little scarring, courtesy of the New York Giants and I admit, even Peyton Manning.
Sports radio makes it even more fun. It's basically gossip for men, of course, mostly snark and hearsay about what someone said to somebody else, and can you believe the nerve of those people? It's also generally immature and often sexist and dumb, and sometimes I just have to turn it off and walk away. But over the years I have been a loyal listener. Maybe it's because sports fans are some of the few people out there who appreciate history.
Compare sports radio with other stations, the kind you hear at the gym or shopping malls. Their definition of "oldies" is just puzzling — it seems to be pretty much everything before last month, a mishmash of the rock music I heard in high school in the 1970s up to last week.
Of course, you had to know what station to listen to. In my town it was WBBF, the local top-40 station, "better by far." And you had to keep up with the play list. It changed all the time, force-feeding us the latest new hits (did anybody really like Bobby Goldsboro?) and tracking their progress up or down the popularity chart. You also had to have a favorite song, one you waited for hours through hours of commercials and DJ blather. But that song would only be around a week or two; after a while it kind of disappeared. And so to stay cool you picked another one. And on it went, year after year. The songs ticked off weeks and months and years. "Hey Jude" was sophomore art class (the teacher was extremely cool and let us play the radio) and "Fire and Rain" the background track to moody months of senioritis.
Now oldies can be anything, including some of the dumbest songs I thought I'd never hear again, forgettable 60s schlock with pseudo-hippy outrage and Jesus freak pieties. There is no concept of time in adult contemporary radio any more.
Not so my friends on the sports station. That's where you go to get the long perspective, the endlessly dissected back story behind every "storied rivalry" or devastating loss. I hate the Yankees because of Goose Gossage and Reggie Jackson, all that swagger and spit still fresh after three decades or more. I am a Red Sox fan, but I will always love the Orioles because Eddie Murphy and Ken Singleton and Gary Roenike got me through graduate school. "We Are Family" by Sly and the Family Stone still makes me sad because it was the Pittsburgh Pirates' dopey theme song, the year they beat the Orioles in the World Series.
There are still places in our world today where the past matters, I guess, but you have to look for them. It's worth it though. When you do, you'll find people who really care about something, who have — let's say it — a passion. Maybe that's why some sports still matters so much, even after all the drugs and bad behavior and obscene amounts of money. (Underinflated footballs don't count.) Peyton Manning isn't just another quarterback, any more than Aaron Boone is just another baseball player. As every sports radio diva knows, the past is never really past. It's always alive and ready to bite. It brings pain and sorrow, but also real emotion, genuine feelings. Without history, the container of all those hopes, dreams, and fears, sports and life itself wouldn't matter half as much — and it wouldn't be half as fun.
photograph of vintage transistor radio found via Wikimedia Commons courtesy of user Joe Haupt