This Week in Texas Methodist History March 25
Ladies Aid Society Sponsors Spelling Bee At MEC Church in Dallas, March 26, 1875
Methodist records of the late 19th century are full of fund raisers sponsored by Methodist women. There are bake sales, ice cream socials, progressive dinners, craft sales, and so on. Methodist societies never sponsored cake walks or raffles since those events included chance, and chance meant gambling. Bake sales and craft shows are still popular and widely appreciated, but what about a spelling bee as a fund raiser?
The Rev. Lewis Carhart, (b. 1833) was the leading MEC preacher in North Texas in the late 19th century. He is most famous as the founder of Clarendon, named for his wife, Clara Carhart and for his more famous brother, John Wesley Carhart. (see post for April 5, 2008 for more on J. W. Carhart, preacher, physician, inventor)
On March 26, 1875 he filled the tabernacle of the MEC Tabernacle in Dallas with a spelling bee fund raiser.
Instead of raising money by selling admission tickets, Carhart had a better idea. This is how it worked out.
He announced the event and managed to fill up the building. He had previously solicited the services of Judge J. C. McCoy to act as umpire of the event. Naturally McCoy was supplied with a large unabridged dictionary. R. G. Venable and R. W. Allen were named captains of the opposing teams. The captains then chose audience members as children choose athletic teams, by alternate selections. The teams eventually numbered twenty on each side for a total of 40 contestants.
Then the fun (and fund raising) began. The rules were tweaked so that a contestant who misspelled a word could pay a dime and try again, and again, and again. . . as many times as the contestant wished.
The Allen team eventually beat the Venable team, and prizes were awarded. The winner received a napkin ring. A Webster’s primary dictionary went to the runner up, Clara Carhart, and there was also a booby prize for the worst speller. Mr. Nichols received a primer.