This Week in Texas Methodist History June 27
Fort Worth’s historic La Trinidad UMC will celebrate Founder’s Day on June 27, 2010. The special day will lift up the life and legacy of Eugenia Smith, a deaconess of the Methodist Episcopal Church South who worked in Wesley Houses in Thurber, Fort Worth, and Houston during her long and distinguished career.
Wesley Houses were a prominent feature of Progressive Era Methodism. They provided a variety of social services such as health education, child care, vocational training, language instruction, Sunday school classes, and recreation. They were often staffed by deaconesses such as Eugenia Smith. The MECS established the office of deaconess in 1902, following the lead of the MEC which had done so in 1888. The office of deaconess provided women opportunities for Christian vocation when full ordination was denied to them on account of sex.
Before coming to Fort Worth, Smith had already worked at Thurber among the Mexican, Italian, and Bohemian immigrants who had come to work in the coal mines. She secured a donation of property from the Texas and Pacific Rail Road and established Marston Hall. After only a few years she came to Fort Worth where she worked in Jerome Duncan Wesley House which was located on the north side of the city to serve the multi-ethnic community that had grown up around the packing houses and flour mills. A 1908 report gives a good idea of the services offered in Fort Worth. In addition to a campaign to have kindergarten included in the public schools, it “maintains a library; playground; kindergarten; day nursery; stamp savings; rummage sale room; classes in sewing; cooking; fancy work; clubs for boys; mission Sunday school.”
Smith later moved to Houston where she continued to work in a Wesley House. It was located on the near north side of downtown near the old McKee Street Methodist Church and received much of its support from First Methodist Church. The author’s grandmother, Ida Wilson Hardt was a good friend of Eugenia Smith and often stayed with her at the Wesley House when annual conference met in Houston.
La Trinidad UMC in Fort Worth traces its origins to the Progressive Era efforts of dedicated women like Eugenia Smith. We salute the church for lifting up her example of ministry.