Saturday, February 28, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History   March 1

Helen Keller Speaks to Packed House at Southwestern University, March 6, 1915

Exactly one hundred years ago this week Helen Keller (1880-1968), arguably the most famous woman in America, and her tutor, Anne Sullivan Macy, spoke to a packed house at Southwestern University.  The reporter for the campus newspaper, the Megaphone, estimated the crowd at about 1500.  

Professor Moore introduced Mrs. Macy who told the large audience of how she was hired as tutor for the young girl who lost both sight and hearing when still a child of eighteen months.  The story of how she taught Helen is well-known even today, mainly through the 1962 motion picture, the Miracle Worker.  

That movie provides a stirring inspirational drama, but does little to convey how famous Helen Keller was in 1915.   She was born in 1880, suffered the attack of scarlet fever as a child, and eventually was admitted to Radcliffe where she became the first person without sight or hearing to earn a bachelor’s degree.  While she was still in college, she published an autobiography The Story of My Life (1903).  That was followed in 1908 by The World I Live In.  Her publications made her famous, and introduced her to the celebrity world—including Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, Alexander Graham Bell, and other progressive era authors and intellectuals.  She also met every president from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon Johnson.

Anne Sullivan Macy then introduced Helen Keller.  The Megaphone reporter turned rhapsodic  

. . .there was a radiant expression upon her face and an inner emotion about her person which seemed to go from her and touch the heart of everyone present. . 
The reporter acknowledged that Ms. Keller’s speech was difficult to understand without looking at her, but she delivered her speech Happiness. 

She also demonstrated how she read lips by placing one finger on the speaker’s lips and her thumb on the larynx. Little children were invited on the stage, and she bent to kiss them.  

Most of us know Helen Keller’s story of overcoming adversity and are inspired by it, but the other side of Helen Keller’s life is all but lost to everyone but historians.  In fact, she was one of the most radical progressive reformers of an era full of reformers.  She was a socialist, a pacifist, a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, a fighter for birth control, women’s votes, a member of the International Workers of the World (Wobblies).  She used her celebrity to advance these causes as well as less political issues such as blindness and disability concerns.    

Her 1915 appearance was during one of her most active political periods.  As a member of the Socialist Party, she supported Eugene Debs against Woodrow Wilson (Wilson opposed votes for women.). In 1914-15 some of the most violent anti-labor union suppression in our nation’s history was occurring in Rocky Mountain mining districts.  Revolution in Mexico and World War I in Europe were strengthening her commitment to pacifism. 
If she brought any of these issues up in her presentation at Southwestern on March 6, 1915, they did not make it into the Megaphone account.  

My grandfather was a student at Southwestern in 1915.    I cannot know for sure, but it is likely that he was in the audience of 1500 that Saturday night one hundred years ago. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History   February 22

Humor edition

The priest, the rabbi, and the preacher---or the Methodist, Baptist, and the Presbyterian—or (if you listen to Prairie Home Companion) the Lutheran, the Unitarian, and the Atheist----have you ever noticed how humorous stories almost always have the same  structure of a triad? 

 This joke structure has a very long heritage, as we can tell from the item from the Feb. 23,  1866 Texas Countryman (Bellville)..  Here it is:

Hard on the Hard-shells—a traveler called lately at nightfall at a farmer’s house in Alabama; the owner being away from home and the mother and daughter being alone, they refused to lodge the wayfarer. 
“How far then” said he,” is to a house where a preacher can get lodging?”  

“Oh, if you are a preacher,” said the lady,” you can stop here.”

Accordingly he dismounted, deposited his saddlebags in the house and led his horse to the stable.  Meanwhile the mother and the daughter were debating the point as to what kind of preacher he was. 
“he cannot be a Presbyterian,” said one, “for he is not dressed well enough.” 

“He is not a Methodist,” said the other,” for his coat is not the right cut for a Methodist.”

“If I could find his hymn book,” said the daughter,” I could son tell what sort of preacher he is.”   And with that she thrust her hand into the saddle bags and pulled out a flask of liquor, she exclaimed, “La! Mother.  He’s a hard-shelled Baptist.” 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History   February 15

San Antonio Methodists Honor the Late George Rankin, February 14, 1915

In 1915—one hundred years ago—Valentine’s Day was on a Sunday.  It was also scheduled as the opening session of a week long revival at Travis Park Methodist Church in San Antonio.  The featured preacher for the revival was one of the MECS bishops, Elijah E. Hoss (1849-1919), of Nashville, Tennessee.  Travis Park organizers invited other Methodist churches in the city and also the general public for the opening session on Sunday afternoon, February 14.  

The plans were changed, however, and became a memorial service for George Rankin, the editor of the Texas Christian Advocate who died at his Dallas home on February 2.  The San Antonio Express reported that hundreds of San Antonians attended the services. 

How could a preacher and editor whom most of the audience never met be so popular as to attract a large crowd on Valentine’s Day afternoon?  The answer is that Rankin used the Advocate as a strong voice for the prohibition campaign.  Rankin was a hero to the dry cause and known far beyond the readership of the Advocate for fighting the good fight.

 The Travis Park pastor, the Rev. W. D. Bradfield, started the services with “On with the battle!  There won’t be a stopping until the battle is won.”  Other Methodist ministers followed Bradfield.  J. T. Curry of West End and J. W. Hill of Laurel Heights delivered a flowery, literary eulogy which was reprinted by the Express.  After comparing Rankin to Napoleon, he closed, “Our great Ulysses has gone on his long wanderings, and who is left in Ithaca to bend his mighty bow?” Mrs. Hannah Cluck then sang Rankin’s favorite hymn, Christ is all the World to Me, to the tune of Annie Laurie.  

They weren’t through---J. E. Harrison, president of San Antonio Female College—made a special address to the youth who were present.  He encouraged them to model their lives on the example of Dr. Rankin.  The final words of tribute were delivered by the Presiding Elder, J. H. Groseclose.  

What about Bishop Hoss?  He certainly would have been the featured speaker—He had been elected to the episcopacy from the editorship of the Nashville Christian Advocate, and recognized Rankin as a fellow Christian journalist.  Unfortunately, Bishop Hoss did not arrive in time to participate in the huge outpouring of love for George Rankin and rededication to the cause of prohibition. 

Saturday, February 07, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History  February 8

Telegraph and Texas Register Notes Impending First Issue of Wesleyan Banner, Feb. 8, 1849

One of the most prominent threads of Methodist history is the enthusiasm for publishing.  The denomination’s founder, John Wesley, was a prolific and best selling author.  When Wesleyans created their denomination, the Methodist Episcopal Church, in 1784, publishing soon followed.  

Perhaps you have seen images of circuit riders.  A typical image shows the horseback rider with an open book and saddlebags.  Those saddlebags were stuffed with tracts, testaments, printed editions of Wesley’s sermons, and commentaries on the scriptures.   In addition to bringing the spoken word to isolated settlements, they also acted as distribution agents for the literary output of the publishing house.

It was, therefore, natural that Texans would ache for their own publishing concern.  Robert B. Wells, the station pastor at Brenham, is credited with starting the first Texas Methodist newspaper.  Wells called his newspaper the Texas Christian Advocate and Brenham Advertiser.  Unfortunately the high hopes associated with the newspaper did not materialize.  The publishing effort was taken over by the Texas Annual Conference, moved to Houston, and renamed the Texas Wesleyan Banner. 

The main secular newspaper of Houston, the Democratic Telegram and Texas Register, took note of the upcoming publication of issue #1 as follows

The first number of a new religious paper, to be styled the Wesleyan Banner, will be published in this city in a few weeks.  This paper is to (be) under the direction of a committee of the Methodist conference and will be edited by the Rev. Chauncey Richardson, a gentleman who has been long and favorably known to the Texian public, and who possesses every talent requisite to ensure the success of such a journal.   We congratulate our Methodist friends that a gentleman of such high literary attainments and such fervent piety,  and such untiring and ardent zeal, has been selected for this highly responsible station.  We earnestly hope that this journal  will, by the blessings of Him who can render the efforts of man availing, become like a beacon light amid the gloom of surrounding darkness, and prove an effective agent in dispelling the clouds of vice and scepticism  that have too long lowered over our fair land.  

The editor of the Telegram and Texas Register (and probable author of this notice) was good friend of many of the prominent Houston Methodists of the era and one of the most fascinating characters in Texas history.  Francis Moore was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of a Harvard-educated physician.  He came to Texas to help fight for its independence, arriving in June 1836.  He bought a share in the newspaper in 1837 and continued to be a major force in Texas journalism for the next 17 years.  He served three terms as mayor of Houston, and served in the Senate of the Republic of Texas.  One of his achievements in that office was chartering Rutersville College. 

Although he was Episcopalian, his newspaper demonstrated a friendly interest in Methodism.  He sold that interest in 1854 and moved back to New York and pursued his interest in geology.  He returned to Texas several times to collect fossil and geologic specimens, and returned to Texas in 1859—this time as a lawyer.  He continued his interest in geology, but when Texas seceded, he returned to New York.  He died at Duluth, Minnesota, in 1864 while on a expedition that examined the copper resources of that region.  Francis Moore—a remarkable man, and a friend of Texas Methodism.