Beacon Street Diary

Archives: March 2016

March 23, 2016

The Congregational Library and Archives will be closed this Friday, March 25th, in observance of Good Friday.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have questions for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we will get back to you when we return to the office next week.

We hope you have a pleasant Easter weekend.


excerpt from "Field Of Easter Lilies" (2008) submitted to Wikimedia Commons by user ForestWander

March 22, 2016

Don't miss out on next week's free lunchtime discussion with our own executive director and resident historian.

Congregationalists, the oldest group of American Protestants, are the heirs of New England's first founders. While they were key characters in the story of early American history, from Plymouth Rock and the founding of Harvard and Yale to the Revolutionary War, their luster and numbers have faded. But Margaret Bendroth's critical history of Congregationalism over the past two centuries reveals how the denomination is essential for understanding mainline Protestantism in the making.

New England Puritans were known for their moral and doctrinal rigor but the demands of competition in the American religious marketplace spurred Congregationalists to face their distinctive history. By engaging deeply with their denomination's storied past, they recast their modern identity. The soul-searching took diverse forms — from letter writing and eloquent sermonizing to Pilgrim-celebrating Thanksgiving pageants — as Congregationalists renegotiated old obligations to their seventeenth-century spiritual ancestors. The result was a modern piety that stood a respectful but ironic distance from the past and made a crucial contribution to the American ethos of religious tolerance.

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

Register through Eventbrite.

March 21, 2016

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 Women's Board was responsible for recruiting and training women missionaries. The board had offices on the seventh floor of Congregational House, five floors up from where the Congregational Library & Archives sits today. In our present-day archives, we have a collection of pamphlets that were used to encourage women to become missionaries. Glancing through the papers allows us to eavesdrop on a conversations between women that happened over one hundred years ago.

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.

March 18, 2016

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.

Missionary women often worked with Hawaiian women and children. Several founded schools and seminaries specifically for women, but few had other work. Maria Chamberlain Forbes managed a home for elderly Hawaiians after her husband's death. Another, Louisa Gulick, translated educational texts into Ponape, a vernacular language.

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

March 16, 2016

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.

Not only did the records have no meaningful original order, the different associations' documents making up the collection had never been intentionally grouped together before. I discovered that because a perfectly preserved original order is not a given outside of the classroom, the archivist's role in creating access and order for researchers is even more crucial. My internship was also an opportunity to learn a new kind of language, as I was completely ignorant about the structure and vocabulary of Congregationalism. For instance, the waves of letters of dismissal I kept bumping into were not evidence of a Great Church Recession that resulted in mass firings. Instead, these documents often signified a minister's transfer between churches. Similarly, I had no idea that an "In Care Association" kept records about future ministers. One of my favorite aspects of the internship was the ability to learn about history through a different perspective. I had no idea that Congregational ministers in Illinois were heavily involved in abolitionist efforts, or that they frequently participated in the Underground Railroad. While doing background research, I even discovered that one Congregational minister lost his life while trying to defend a member of the press speaking against slavery in Illinois in 1837. It was also fascinating to learn the large role the denomination played in developing the Republican Party during its earliest stage. After completing my internship, I am even more excited to enter the archival field and peek into the lives and work of many different people and groups.

-Corinne Bernstein