Saturday, July 29, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History   July 30

Travis Park Women Provide Program for Brooks Field Troops, July 30, 1918

The entrance of the United States into World War I opened up a new mission field for Methodists in Texas, especially the Woman’s Missionary Society.  Texas had wide open spaces, good rail connections, and a supportive population.  The Department of War considered Texas an ideal place to build new military posts.  Many troops went sent to Texas for their training before being deployed to France.  Texas was the only place that American aviators were trained.  If a man wanted to earn his pilot’s wings, he had to come to Texas. 

Many Texas churches saw the military bases as a mission field.  Part of their concern was expressed by Rheta Childe Dorr (1868-1948), a fearless journalist who covered both the war and the Russian Revolution in spite of obstacles thrown up because she was a woman.  The War Department would not give her credentials as a journalist so she went to France credentialed as a lecturer for the YMCA.  In one of her dispatches from France she wrote, 

(a mother wrote to me)  I know my boy is being well cared for by his regiment, and I’m not afraid of what may happen to him as long as he is on duty.  But what about his off hours?  What is to prevent him falling into bad company?”  

Dorr replied (in part)  Even if France were a second Sodom or Gomorrah, our soldiers would be safe there.  

The War Department was sensitive to the fears of mothers who imagined the worst for their sons, many of whom were away from home for the first time.  They did what they could to suppress prostitution, drinking, and gambling dens near the new military facilities.  The generals knew they needed help in preventing venereal disease, drunkenness, and attendant loss of military readiness so they were eager to accept civilian help.  Church women in San Antonio mobilized themselves to help.  They channeled most of their efforts through the YMCA and the Red Cross, since both institutions had existing relationships with the military.

On July 30, 1918, the women of Travis Park Methodist provided a program for troops from Brooks Field.   The event was held at Brooks Field in the YMCA building.  The official host was the Comrades in Service Bible Class whose teacher was Mrs. L. B. Haines.  

The Post Commander provided five trucks to transport young ladies of the Philathea Sunday School Class from Travis Park Methodist Church to the base.   Some readers may recognize the Philathea Class as the class in which the Upper Room devotional magazine began. The class was founded at Travis Park in 1907.  It also was the origin of the San Antonio YWCA (1910).  In 1918 it had about 100 members.  

Older women, members of the Woman’s Missionary Society, arrived in a caravan of ten private automobiles.  The program was mainly musical.  It started with the entire assembly singing America, and then the Comrades in Service Class sang their class song, Over the Top for Jesus.  

After alternating vocal and violin solos with dramatic readings, everyone adjourned for refreshments.  Mrs. L. B. Haines organized the whole event.  She was assisted by Miss Ella Bowden*, Mrs. E. Nance, Mrs. S. Grayson, Mrs. Chaplin Stanford,  Mrs. G. Snyder, and Mrs. E. Wright,  Mrs. Rogers, and the young women of the Philathea Class.  

Events such as this were not confined to San Antonio.  Many other churches around Texas made similar efforts.  In addition to morale-building programs such as this, church women often wrote letters for wounded or semi-literate soldiers, brought flowers, or sat beside soldiers in military hospitals reading to them. 
Some Texas women were also moved to go to France with the Red Cross or Y to provide similar services “over there.”  

*Ella Bowden (1880-1953) was a Deaconess, one of the founders of the Wesley Settlement House and assistant to the pastor at McKinley Ave. Methodist Church. 


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