Saturday, April 28, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 29

Hiram Boaz Named Secretary of Church Extension, May 1918

Hiram Abiff Boaz was a commanding figure in Texas Methodism for decades.  He was president of Polytechnic College, vice president and president of SMU, and also led the transition of Polytechnic to its becoming Texas Woman’s College.  He was elected bishop of the MECS and presided over annual conferences in Texas and elsewhere until his retirement in 1938.  

Boaz was tall and had a commanding presence.  He also had a forceful personality and was no stranger to controversy.  In 1909, for example, he led voting in the election of delegates from the North West Texas Conference  to the 1910 General Conference, even though he was the youngest of the 18 delegates.  Four years later, as member of the newly created Central Texas Conference which had been split from the North West Texas Conference, he was voted 3rd alternate—quite a comedown.
Much of the controversy between 1909 and 1913 had to do with his activities in trying to move Southwestern University from Georgetown to Fort Worth.   He recognized that North Texas should have a major Methodist university, and he wanted it to be in Fort Worth.  The SU president, Robert S. Hyer, thought Dallas a better site.  In 1910 an Educational Commission received bids from both Dallas and Fort Worth and chose Dallas only after the Dallas group was allowed to increase their offer after hearing Fort Worth’s incentives.  Boaz thought the process had been conducted unfairly, but agreed to serve as vice president of the school being built in Dallas.    

While Hyer supervised the creation of the university, Boaz raised the money to make it possible.   In 1913, having raised $500,000, Boaz returned to Polytechnic in Fort Worth where his successor, Frank P. Culver, had resigned.    The next year Polytechnic became Texas Woman’s College.   (It later resumed its coeducational mission and is named Texas Wesleyan University.)

At the General Conference of 1918 Boaz was elected Secretary of the Board of Church Extension.  The task of the Board was to help churches pay down debt and to provide incentive grants for the construction of new church buildings.     
The new position required relocation to Louisville, Kentucky, where the Board of Church Extension had its offices.   The new position required constant travel throughout the South and also to New York City to solicit funds.  
The travel schedule was arduous, but it was also the path to the episcopacy.  Candidates for bishop in this era had to become known throughout the denomination.   There were plenty of “favorite son” candidates, but to win, one had to secure votes from more than one’s own conference.    There were three ways to achieve that denominational recognition.  One was by the presidency of one of the Methodist colleges.  A second was by transferring among the various annual conferences every four years.  The third path was working for one of the denominational offices or the Publishing House.    Each of those paths broadened the network of contacts and increased election chances.

Boaz was elected to the Board in May 1918 and moved to Louisville.  He stayed only until February, 1920 when he was informed that the SMU trustees had accepted President Hyer’s resignation and elected Boaz the 2nd President of SMU. 
SMU had opened its doors in the fall of 1915.  Hyer, a brilliant academic physicist, had made decisions on everything from architecture, to faculty, to choosing the name of the mascot (Mustangs), but now SMU needed more of a fundraiser instead of an academic  so Boaz returned. 

He did not stay long in that position either.  The General Conference of 1922 elected him bishop.   


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