P.B. Fraser, the “Biblical Recorder” & Katharine Bushnell

I recently sorted many accumulated papers that dated back to the 1980s, and one folder with some relevance to my current project, caught my attention. The contents are photocopies of various articles from a small, and dare I say, strange magazine the Biblical Recorder. Claimed as an Australasian journal, its aim was “in the Service of the Inspired Word, Evangelical Principles, and Missionary Enterprise”. Philadelphuis Bain Fraser, the ‘stormy petrel of New Zealand Presbyterianism’ as Allan Davidson describes him, was the Editor from 1914-1935. PB or Phil, as he was known, was an impetuous critic of many things. Browsing through Papers Past online you discover his prolific letter-writing regime to local newspapers, where he heavily criticises opinions and those who voice them, especially if he is in anyway involved. Fraser left a trail of controversy – an explosion with the North Otago Educational Institute over his School’s Inspectors’ Report, and the ‘modernism’ of Prof John Dickie and others at Knox Theological College, Dunedin, are two examples.

P-A71.12-34 PB FraserFraser is a curious and complex chap! Born in Lerwick, Shetland and a son of the manse he arrived in New Zealand in 1885, and from 1888 settled as a teacher at Weston in North Otago. Quickly becoming involved in the community, we see him popping up as a ‘Brother’ in the IOOF, office-bearer in the Prohibition Society and a strong advocate for Bible in Schools. He, with Rev. J. H. McKenzie, introduced the Nelson System of Bible Instruction in New Zealand State Schools. In late 1892 Fraser was accepted into training for the Presbyterian Ministry. While still teaching, he undertook a local training programme under Rev. Dr James MacGregor and the Oamaru Presbytery. He also stood for the 1893 General Election coming second, 400 votes behind the then incumbent.

Judging by the electoral reports in the North Otago newspapers he gathered a following of women. Shrewdly, in his first speech, he welcomed women to their first election (they had won the right to vote in August 1893) noting, “they had not merely doubled the numbers on the rolls, but they had introduced quite a new element into the politics of the colony – the womanhood of the land”. He assured his audience that women would take into their vote “everything good God had given them”, acknowledging they wouldn’t bring about the ‘millennium’ but they could be depended upon to work towards it.

Fraser brought all his skill to the task of winning people over to his political point of view, especially women. Contrary to the picture I had formed from reading his aggressive confrontations with the Presbyterian Church, he reportedly ‘spoke gently’ especially to an audience of women, as well as his local school parents and children. Standing as a Liberal, the party Richard Seddon would lead, he pushed the temperance and prohibition platform and supported religious teaching in schools; policies that women reformers encouraged their supporters vote for. Fraser’s interest in politics remained. In 1931 and 1935 he supported Mrs R.S. Black as a Democratic Candidate, nominating her for the North Dunedin seat.

What took my attention, in the folder and even surprised me, was his obvious  enthusiasm for the writings of Dr. Katharine Bushnell (Kate). Fraser’s discovery of her 1921 book, God’s Word to Women, excited him no end, “it is one of the most striking and worthy books that have come under my notice”, he wrote in a review in 1923.

Bushnell’s conservative writing reassured Fraser that she was no lover of theological modernism. Kate Bushnell, he told his readers, “is worthy of admiration and gratitude … for a powerful apologetic … in helping to vindicate the Biblical record where it is powerfully attacked in the present age”. Fraser’s deep mistrust of the increasing modernism trend among his Presbyterian colleagues resulted in his aggressive responses against the Presbyterian divines at the Theological Hall, Knox College. However, Fraser applied some caution to his complete acceptance of Bushnell’s new translations and interpretations.

For six years from his first review he presented reviews and opinions from well-known scholars, both supportive and critical, analysing them in detail to reassure his readers that Bushnell was on the right track. Fraser also introduces many other forgotten women theological writers who supported Bushnell’s reinterpretations, such as Dr Lee Anna Starr, Constance Maynard, Josephine Butler, Ethel Chilvers, and Dame Christabel Pankhurst. All these writers confirmed the need to resolve the “women’s question” as one of the major issues the Church had to face.

By the time Fraser concluded the editorship of the Biblical Recorder in 1935, he firmly believed that barring women from ordination was a contradiction of the Gospel. A letter to the Otago Daily Times in 1938, titled “Women – in New Zealand”, Fraser noted the equal rights of women was “the supreme problem of the ages” and required to be resolved, especially in churches; no response from readers to this claim reached the newspaper. His criticism was no longer heeded to as changes were occurring and even the Presbyterian Church was discussing women’s entry into eldership.

KCBushnell

Well, who is Dr Katharine C. Bushnell (1855-1943) that Fraser so warmed too? A Holiness Methodist and one of the first women medical graduates, she served as a Missionary Doctor in Shanghai for a time and then worked with Francis Willard and the WTCU as a Social Purity Evangelist. This work brought her into close contact with prostitution, firstly in American lumber camps and then in the British brothels in India and China.

The behaviours of reputable British and American men who were considered upstanding Christian citizens deeply disturbed her. The root of the problem, she concluded “is indirectly the fruit of the theology”; it lay with the mistranslation of the “cursed” biblical woman Eve, as accepted by the Christian Church over centuries of patriarchal authority. Bushnell began to examine the original Hebrew and Greek biblical texts. “The Bible is all that it claims for itself. It is inspired…infallible…and inviolable,” she wrote, but its infallibility lay with the original Hebrew and Greek texts and not the many language translations which she heavily criticised. “Theology”, she firmly believed, “shaped society”, by reinterpreting and retranslating the scriptures a new society could emerge.

Researching in libraries in England and Europe she produced a series of Bible study leaflets and correspondence courses that analysed passages dealing with the status of women. In 1921 one hundred of these studies were published in one volume. God’s Word to Women is the result of her many years of retranslating sections of the bible relating to women. It aimed to provide a new lens for women of early 20th century to reinterpret women’s relationship to God, men and the Church. Bushnell’s greatest desire had been to provide a new foundation and vision for women to enable a new and more God given relationship within their churches and communities and in an equal interaction between women and men.

Katharine bushnell biographyKate Bushnell’s writings, and there are a number, seemed to disappear off the shelves of reviewers from the mid-1930s onwards. Fraser expressed a fear that her retranslations would be lost sight of amongst the noise of the humanist liberals whose modernist thought “while professing reverence for the Word, swagger through it with an air of omniscience and the dogmatism of human authority”. Kristin Kobes Du Mez, in her excellent biography, A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism, reminds us that so often women “who wrestled with Christian Scriptures and penned intriguing and insightful commentaries”, have found their work forgotten, “leaving each generation to begin the task anew”.

It is difficult to ascertain the breadth of, if any, influence of Kate Bushnell’s writings within New Zealand. Obviously the subscribers and readers of the Biblical Record, had some awareness of this feminist theologian and her aims, and some may have purchased her books. I find no reference to her in Molly Whitelaw’s collection and Bushnell’s writing does not appear to have found favour in the Presbyterian Outlook. Some reference could well be in the PWMU or parish women’s collections, but somehow I doubt it.

In many ways Bushnell’s God’s Word to Women, was too late; the world had changed from when she first began to produce her studies at the turn of the twentieth century. World War I had turned everything upside down and the church saw itself in crisis, the old ways were no more. Women’s rights organisations were beginning to take a change of direction as many rejected the links with religion. There were new ideas influenced by science, psychology, sociology and anthropology bringing a new understanding to human nature and sexuality. Fraser’s prophetic concerns proved to be legitimate. Is it a coincident that his own journal, Biblical Recorder also closed? Had his own personal fundamentalist campaign also fallen by the wayside?

Interestingly, there has been a rediscovery of Bushnell writings in recent decades especially among women from the evangelical conservative wing of the church as they begin to insist on equal rights of leadership in their churches.

References: The Biblical Recorder (held in the Hewitson Library, New Zealand Collection, Knox College, Dunedin

Online New Zealand Newspapers: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers

A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism, by Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Oxford University Press, 2015.

 

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Jewel Baillie’s Coronation Day Experience 2 June 1953

With scenes of Netflix’s The Crown fresh in my mind it was fun to read a ‘live’ impression of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II written in great detail by Jewel Baillie to Molly and her friend Alexa Fraser; Molly received it with the utmost excitement. Molly, our loyal, royal supporter, circulated the letter among her friends in New Zealand and it was read out to several women’s groups as well as the Johnsonville congregation. She even transcribed large chunks to be printed in the New Zealand magazine The Free Lance.  Mrs Jewel Baillie, wife of Professor John Baillie of Edinburgh University and Principal of New College Edinburgh, also the Royal Chaplain, was humbled, honoured and overwhelmed to be present among 7600 others in attendance. She described the event from beginning to end and the scene within the Abbey in great detail.The planning was obviously meticulous everything timed to perfection.

Jewel mentions that where she was seated she could to see clearly the faces of all those who processed by.

The Baillie’s left their accommodation at 5am to be at Westminster Abbey and seated by 6am. Prof John Baillie however, had to wait patiently in the Annex for up to 4 hours, as he was part of the Queen’s procession. During the long 4-hour wait until the coronation ceremony began there was never a dull moment for Jewel, as significant personages arrived in their ‘brilliant uniforms or picturesque attire – a most vivid scene and ever-moving kaleidoscope of colour and beauty’. The descriptions of each party who entered provided her with plenty to write about. The Officers who showed them to their seats from various ‘services in full dress uniform complete with swords, gold braid, epaulettes, rows of medals and white kid gloves’. Crown Princes, Sultans, Prime Ministers, representatives from 50 States, ‘and Queen Salote looking very smart…’. Then there were clergy and choristers, the orchestra and trumpeters, and the Westminster Scholars who sang ‘Viva’ as the Queen entered, all described in detail.

Jewel Baillie had ample time to absorb the interior of the chapel, greatly altered for the occasion, with additional tiers of scaffolding ‘against ever spare available wall space, draped in grey cloth bordered with blue, the temporary staircases carpeted in the same colour and blue borders’. The guests’ chairs also upholstered in blue velvet with the cipher QEII in the corner. The spare wall space was draped ‘with lovely blue cloth brocaded in gold with lions, the Tudor rose, mitres, fleur-de-les and other heraldic devices’.   ‘The rich sky-blue and gold furnishings provided a superb backdrop for the scarlet and gold of the uniforms, the red velvet of the Peeresses trains’ that trailed yards behind them’. The one disadvantage of all this grand beauty was it dulled the sound and the 500 strong choir sounded no more than 50. The chairs, she noted, were for sale and the guests could purchase one, but Jewel Baillie felt her money would be better spent elsewhere. 

The young Queen carried herself with the ‘utmost grace and poise’, throughout the ceremony. ‘As she walked with her hands clasped in front of her, Jewel believed, ‘that here was indeed a dedicated spirit’.   She expressed what many of us must have considered while watching the Crown series, ‘from now on she must sacrifice most of her personal desires and wishes and live the lonely life of the highly placed … & what a tremendous responsibility rests on her youthful shoulders’.  But, for Jewel Baillie, the Queen Mother ‘stole much of the thunder that day’. Her procession ‘moved with exceeding slowness and stateliness…The Queen Mother looked beautiful dignified and charming, and she wore a radiant expression of triumph, as though this were indeed a day of fulfilment for her.’

Amongst all the glamour and pomp Jewel and John Baillie surreptitiously ‘munched their sandwiches and sipped their sherry’, which they were advised to take. Jewel does not go into detail as to when they partook of this ‘bread and wine’, which appears somewhat symbolic, but no doubt all those attending needed some sustenance during their 7-hour experience. She also notes the several small stumbles that were actually portrayed in the Crown episode. The Duke of Edinburgh knocked the Queen’s crown when he kissed her after paying homage to her, and that he forgot the words ‘Duke of Edinburgh’ in his vow of homage. Jewel was bemused when the ‘Peers and Peeresses popped on their coronets – it savoured so much of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe’. In all it was an occasion never to be forgotten and Molly was able to reciprocate with her detailed correspondence of the Queen’s tour of New Zealand.   In the days that followed, Scotland had its share of Coronation celebrations, which Jewel Baillie gave equally descriptive detail..

Reflecting back to the Nexflix’s production, I can’t help but marvel at the superb reproduction of the entire Coronation scene, hardly a detail missing! The reproduction of the exquisite Coronation Gown and the vast attire is an amazing feat by the producers.

 

 

 

 

In the Footsteps of the Shannon family, Morere Northern Hawkes Bay.

Morere Springs Hotel, 1927, APG-1756-1/2G Alexander Turnbull Library

With considerable anticipation I recently visited Molly Whitelaw’s first home territory of Nūhaka and Morere in Northern Hawkes Bay. I wanted to gain a little insight into the area and some appreciation of the environment that so amazed the family on their arrival in 1921.

It’s been many years since I first travelled on the Northern Hawkes Bay roads. Narrow winding roads are imprinted on my mind from childhood travelling, and this road no less then others. As a child in the mid-1950s my family travelled to the then isolated location of the Tuai Māori Mission House, 10 kilometres from beautiful Lake Waikaremoana in the Te Urewera National Park. I recall that sense of nausea one can have when squeezed into the claustrophobic environment of the back seat of a car and my father demanding quiet as he negotiated the narrow, roughly gravelled roads in our 1939 Ford Deluxe Sedan. It didn’t help on one occasion when my sister reacted with a sudden scream as a moth flew in through the open window. Father was unimpressed! All this came to mind as we drove on the now widened re-aligned, but still winding, tar sealed road from Napier to Morere. The trip today takes approximately two hours, without stopping to admire the amazing terrain and scenery. In Molly’s time, 1921, depending on the weather, the journey could require a stopover at Mohaka.

Molly described the Morere-Nūhaka Home Mission Station many years later in an address she gave to a group in Scotland in 1946:

We were in the most romantic parish among the deep valleys and razor back mountains of the great sheep-country, on the northern edge of Hawke’s Bay. Our parish extends from north and south, between 30 and 40 miles; from east and west about 30 miles. Embracing the Mahia(sic) Peninsula and Portland Island, with its lighthouse lying out to sea.

40km from Wairoa. Turn off State Highway 2 about 4km north of Nuhaka or 5km south of Morere Springs. Track 6km up a winding gravel road called the Mangaone Valley Road. http://www.backpackerguide.nz/walks-in-northern-hawkes-bay-you-cant-miss/

These ‘razor back mountains’ are indeed impressive. The suns slow movement as it casts its shadows is ever altering the landscape and the shape of these ‘deep valleys’ conveying little of their secrets but offering a challenge to those who settled and remain.   These mountains must have been awe-inspiring to our Scottish arrivals. But as we travelled through this amazing countryside I was made aware of how we humans impose our own design on the physical and cultural landscape. I experienced a pang of sadness as I contemplated the decimation of the native bush that once cloaked most of these mountains.

First Bath House, Morere Springs Brochure

Some physical evidence of the first human occupation by the Rakai Paaka hapu of Ngati Kahungunu and Rongomaiwahine is visible in the storage pits and the remains of the local pa. Known as Moumoukai, the Pa sat high above the district providing natural defences on three sides. The removal of native bush and other plant-life has meant erosion has disturbed much of the remains, leaving little evidence of the Pa’s existence today. Māori had known of the hot springs within the area from early on. They held and hold significance for local Māori as far north as Gisborne and south to Napier because of their healing qualities. For Pakeha settlers who discovered the springs in 1884, they became a commercial draw card. With constant pressure from the local settlers and their complaints of ‘Māori monopolising the Springs’, the Lands and Survey Department were finally persuaded, in 1895, to gazette the springs and the surrounding 300 acres as a reserve.[1] Land next to the Reserve was leased to a local settler who was to erect an accommodation house of not less than six rooms. It was built in 1898 and by 1920 the buildings could accommodate 100 people.

After a devastating fire in 1905, which destroyed much of the virgin bush within the reserve, as well as the sparse accommodation, the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts took over the Reserve under the Scenery Preservation Act of 1903, and fenced it to keep cattle out and to enable the bush to regenerate.[2] Behind this Act was the explicit drive to promote tourism and it resulted in the compulsory acquisition of scenic land as reserves. The rights of Māori to own and access scenic reserves became a point of heated friction as the Crown acquired more and more Māori land. By 1917, 63 reserves had been created from Māori land.[3] Only partial compensation for these reserves have been included in the historic claims to Māori in recent decades, being settled through the Treaty of Waitangi Land Claims.

Waikokopu Harbour, 1931. NZ Free Lance Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref. PAC-5469-053

The small community settled the area quickly despite its isolation and almost impassable access. Ambitious schemes raised the confidence of the residents; a school settled in 1897, the Church was built, a dairy factory established, although short lived, a local store, the Springs Hotel built and rebuilt, purchased and resold on a number of occasions. The Local Settlers Association pushed for improved baths and the promised purchase and development of the Waikokopu harbour, the first Whaling Station in the area. By 1910 the formation of a Port Company opened future opportunities for Morere to transport produce to Waikokopu instead of Gisborne.

The area is renowned for heavy rain and flooding which devastated many of the dray tracks, roads, bridges, and farm properties. The Morere Springs tourist accommodation and bath house was swept away by one of the worst floods in 1910. Winter rains frequently cut off access to both Nūhaka and Morere but hope was ever-present within the community that the Government would hear their constant angry appeals to upgrade the roads. Stories abound in newspaper reports of inaccessible roads, horses and coaches stuck in deep muddy ruts, passengers having to disembark and trudge through the mud, horses being swept away, accidents, mail delays, and milk carts stranded in attempts to reach the diary factory. The visit to the Shannon’s in April 1922, by the Rev. Dr. James Gibb, the past Home Missions Convener, had to be abandoned soon after he left Gisborne. Gibb, whose reputation as driver left much to be desired, wrote off his car. By the time Molly Shannon and her family left in August 1924, the access roads in and out of Morere had greatly improved although bridges continued to be swept away and roads washed out. For their three years in the parish, Molly and her father traversed the back regions of the parish on horseback, a new experience for the family from a middle class inner city parish in Edinburgh.

Morere and Nūhaka Home Mission Station, initially fell within the bounds of the Presbyterian Parish of Wairoa. In 1897 residents Robinson, McIntyre, and Shaw set about gathering subscriptions to build a small church in Morere.[4] According to the report substantial contributions were offered from outside the district. On Easter Sunday, 1899 Rev. William Raeburn officially opened St. John’s, their place of worship. The soiree and concert that followed on Easter Monday was a celebration for the whole community. The Church served as a school and a community centre until 1925 when a new school was built. Sadly, the Church is no longer standing. It was removed to another site, used as a barn and then destroyed by fire. I have been unable to discover the date for the building of Nūhaka Church but it appears  in the district before the formation of the Nūhaka Māori Mission in 1913.

The manse, is located at the end of the Morere stretch of road. Built in the first decade of the twentieth century it was leased to the Presbyterian Church. It is a typical, turn-of-last-century structure, a timber framed rectangle home with a veranda across the front. It was primitive by 1921 urban manse standards. There was no laundry or bathroom. Molly speaks of bathing in the Tunanui Stream, which ran close by the back entrance of the house. The stream has carried some devastating flood waters over the years the last  being in 2010. Several attempts to redirect the stream has lessened some of the flood risk. As expected, the house has been  renovated by various owners, but continues to reflect its early 20th century style.

Nuhaka Maori Mission. PCANZ Research Centre P-A36_18-084

James Shannon with his family was the last Presbyterian missionary to live in Morere. A property of 4 acres was purchased in Nūhaka eight kms south, which by 1924, was considered a more suitable centre for the Home Mission ministry. The intention was to see a closer relationship develop between the Pakeha ministry and that of the Māori Mission at Nūhaka. The Home Mission Station was reunited to the Wairoa East parish in the 1950s and is now part of the Wairoa United Parish.

There is still that sense of the romantic in Nūhaka and Morere that Molly describes. Nūhaka has suffered more than Morere as people have moved away. It is a ghost of its previous self, yet the voices of the past can be found in its atmosphere of emptiness and the people who remain. Morere continues to provide its ‘healing waters’ to locals and tourists. There is a thick cover of regenerated native bush around the Reserve 100 years on. The modern sophisticated bathhouses are a far cry from those of an earlier era.

 

Tunanui Stream, Morere

The ministry of James Shannon and his family while at Morere and Nūhaka, and later Matawhero (I will tell that story in the future) was a far greater adventure than they anticipated, one that would have a significant impact on the direction of Molly’s future in New Zealand.

References:

[1] Our Picturesque Heritage, 100 years of Scenery Preservation in New Zealand, by Tony Nightingale and Paul Dingwall, NZ Department of Conservation, 2003.

[2] Morere Springs Scenic Reserve Resource Kit for Teachers Author: Elizabeth Pishief, Department of Conservation, Gisborne East Coast Hawke’s Bay Conservancy, Department of Conservation Gisborne, New Zealand, June 2002

[3] Our Picturesque Heritage, 100 years of Scenery Preservation in New Zealand, by Tony Nightingale and Paul Dingwall, NZ Department of Conservation, 2003.

[4] David Shaw Jr. was farewelled at a social gathering at Morere, in May 1901 to begin his studies for the Presbyterian Ministy. He was presented with a ‘handsome cheque’ and the social concluded ‘near the wee sma ‘oors’. Poverty Bay Herald, 4 May 1901 (Papers Past)

LEST WE FORGET, LEST WE FORGET

I was in the Presbyterian Research Centre today looking at papers in another of Molly Whitelaw’s boxes. A paragraph from a talk she gave to the Glasgow Rotary Club in October 1947, caught my eye and I realised that ANZAC Day was almost upon us. It is another of those occasions when gems can be located in archives collections.

For many New Zealanders, 1942 marked a time of ‘national peril’. The surprise and devastating attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, by the Japanese new dive bombers sent ripples of fear through the Pacific. With Australia facing a possible  direct threat from the Japanese, New Zealand authorities feared that its shores could also be in jeopardy and prepared coastal residents for the worst outcome, many experiencing genuine fear.

Molly tells her story: “In 1942 we spent a holiday, down the Marlborough Sounds. As the children played on the beach the Japanese swarmed further and further south. Had they come to N.Z. those glorious deep Sounds would have made a wonderful anchorage for their ships. Fourteen miles inland the town of Blenheim, where lies the finest airfield in NZ and the sunlit plains of Wairau, from where a would-be attack could take place on Wellington, 70 miles away, we were told. Trenches were dug, all plans made in the event of an invasion. Mothers with children were to be evacuated to the hills. We had suitcases packed in readiness. I had been ill, [Molly had had whooping cough]. It was on my mind, going alone with young children, only two and three years old. For, of course, my husband would have stayed with his ‘people’. One day in March I went out on the verandah to think things out. As I looked up to the blue sky I suddenly, “out of the blue” got the assurance that the Japanese would never get to N.Z. I never had any fear again, although the news continued for some weeks to be precarious. Later we learned that about the very time I received this assurance that gave me such peace of mind the Japanese had unaccountably ceased their southern push. It was settled later by the Battle of the Coral Sea.”

When the American air force arrived in Blenheim towards the end of 1942, Molly and Alan Whitelaw  had a constant stream of young men through the manse. With a shortage of ministers in Blenheim and its surrounding areas, the arrival of the large numbers of soldiers at Woodbourne kept them and the Blenheim congregations on their toes.  It was an exhausting time dealing with every stress from homesickness to panic attacks. They resigned from the parish at the end of 1945, to return the two children they cared for to the London.  The Government could not guarantee them a return trip for two years, so they took the opportunity for a long sabbatical.

Woodbourne Air Base 1943

For me ANZAC becomes a day to reflect on our inability to reach our greatest ideal, that of peace. The horrors of war, and the tragic loss of thousands or should I say millions and millions of lives, the break up of families, the immense fear one sees in the eyes of children, the deep sadness in the body language of adults, the devastation of food and shelter and the breakdown of communities and countries, confront us daily through our channels of news. ‘Lest we Forget’ is what ANZAC suggests. Forget what? I ask. Reputedly, Rudyard Kipling was inspired by Deuteronomy 6,12: ‘Then beware lest you forget the Lord which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage’, in his poem ‘Recessional’, for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897.

“God of our fathers, known of old
Lord of our far flung battle line
Beneath Whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget!”

 

 

 

 

‘No documents – No History’ : Listening to discover women’s voice in our Church story

I’ve borrowed this title from Anke Voss-Hubbarb’s article in the American Archivist because it sums up the experience of my own frustrations over many years as Archivist for the Presbyterian Church. What you may ask was the root of this frustration? As in ‘No documents – No History’, the historian, Mary Ritter Beard, became more and more disturbed and frustrated at the lack of women’s voice in the various archival collections she was researching. From the 1920s until her death in 1958 she rigorously campaigned to gather women’s papers and records. Not only to be stored in suitable academic and archival institutions but she pressed the need for women’s voice to be integrated into university faculty programmes. A familiar and frequent cry heard from many an Archivist today. Mary Beard made a pertinent observation:  ‘without knowledge of women in history as actual history, dead women are sheer ghosts to living women—and to men’.[1]

Ann Braude forty years later again takes up Beard’s concern when researching women’s role in religious organisations and churches.   ‘We cannot understand the history of religion in [a country],’ she argues, ‘until we know at least as much about women who formed the majority of participants as we do about the male minority who stood in the pulpit.’[2] How true!

What a researcher will discover when first confronted with the Presbyterian Church official collection is the gender-blind, hierarchical and pietistic nature of the church’s historical past. Researchers will find women’s voices are silenced within the dominant historical narrative, which categorised all people as one under the notion of ‘man’. Even though the General Assembly gave its blessing to the formation of a Deaconess Order in 1906, and in 1916, accepted women onto several General Assembly Committees to give advice, with no voting rights, and gave grudging approval for women to serve as Home Missionaries from 1920, their voices remained securely locked on the margins.

It is not that women’s records are lacking in the overall Presbyterian collections, far from it in fact. There is a parallel collection to the Church’s official documents that date back 120 years, located at the congregational and women’s organisational level. During these 120 years, resourceful women sought their own sacred spaces, formed communities, and began to express a gendered spirituality. From that time women’s agency became increasingly more visible and their space more gendered, but at the same time their exclusion from ordained ministries more dogmatically denied them.

In these extensive collections researchers will find women teaching in Sunday Schools, even doctrine to the horror of some critics, leading youth groups, writing hymns and prayers, compiling missionary talks and studies, yes even speaking from the pulpit, leading study groups, and creative means of promoting, supporting and raising money for the Church’s mission schemes. They were called to clean and polish the church, wash the communion linen, arrange the flowers, serve tea, organise fair stalls, raise funds for furnishings and so it goes on.

There are tantalising anecdotes given in newspaper reports of women in large numbers attending theological lectures, following Evangelists from meeting to meeting, weeping as they farewell them at the railway station, and being rebuked for displaying their disapproval by shuffling their feet and shaking their handbags.

But the voices that tell of the callings, faith journeys, beliefs, recollections and memoirs from this vast and diverse multitude of women rarely are heard within the Archives and are therefore omitted from our church and religious histories.

The APW has made valiant attempts in the last two decades to correct this imbalance by capturing women’s voices, literally, through their oral history project ‘Women’s Stories’ and under Nan Burgess’s editorship, four biographical publications, A Braided River of Faith, have reached our shelves, significant, but underused resources.

Is the paucity of documented women’s papers due to women perceiving their experience within the institutional church as falling outside the narrative of what counts as a ‘serious’ church history’? The ‘fathers and brethren’ accepted the women’s organisations as auxiliaries to their more important activities within the church structure. It was taken for granted by the fathers of the Church that women’s work was a ‘service of mission’; it held no recognised status or standing within the male-centred Church’s definition of ‘ministry’[4] The women, were there to serve the Church and its decision making processes.

I was always surprised the number of times my request for any archival records from women active in the spiritual journeys of their congregations and organisations was by and large rejected. Oh there is nothing worthwhile in my papers! ‘No one wants to know about me’! ‘I didn’t do much to make an impression’; even though this woman had 65 years in two congregations and almost 50 active years in the PWMU. Perhaps it is this next response though, that sums up the rejections in general.   ‘We kept dad’s sermons but we didn’t really believe mum’s papers had much in them’!, Do these responses reflect how deeply embedded the prescribed divisions of gender in society and church over many centuries have shaped women’s past lives? How sad for women to consider their experiences as less important and therefore, contribute little to the overall historical narrative and its analysis. The reluctance of women to acknowledge the significance of their voices results in only half of the Church’s story ever being recorded.

‘No documents-No history’ is a slogan we could well use.[5] We cannot tell our story as a Church unless we know who the characters are. I continue to be stunned at the depth of Molly Whitelaw’s remarkable collection. It is a fine example of how the accumulation of women’s stories and voices would recover the many invisible women and place them with pride in the Church’s historical narrative. To voice Psalm 68:11: ‘The Lord gave the word, great was the women who published it’.

References:

[1] “No Documents—No History”: Mary Ritter Beard and the Early History of Women’s Archives ANKE VOSS-HUBBARD American Archivist, Vol58, Winter 1995, p. 19

[2] Ann Braude, ‘Women’s History is American History’, in Religion in America: A Reader, ed David G. Hackett, pp161-

[4] In Good Company: Women in the Ministry edited by Lesley Orr Macdonald, p12

[5] See footnote 1.

 

A Feast of Music – Mozart Festival – Glyndebourne 1935

Writing back to the Te Awamutu Congregation in June 1935 Molly Whitelaw delighted them with her description of the Mozart Festival held at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera Garden in Lewes, Sussex. Her excitement oozes through every line. Music on this scale she missed hugely since her arrival in New Zealand in 1921. First introduced to Mozart opera while she was attending school in Konigsberg, a welcome change from the regular diet of Wagnerian opera, she became a lover of Mozart’s music; ‘so calming, so melodious, so ‘entūzken’ [full of delight]. Under what she describes as ‘the most superb conditions’, Glyndebourne fulfilled Molly’s ‘feeling-good’ middle-class desires and aspirations in every way.

Besides the sight of the enchanting Sussex village of Glyndebourne, the grand old Tudor Manor house, which carried the name of the village, the gardens were exquisite. Molly had inherited her love of gardening from her father in particular. In each parish they served, Molly left a well developed garden, so the lily pond, the flagged paths with borders of blue and yellow irises, hedged gardens with flowers of numerous colour, large yew trees, velvety lawns, the roses and shrubbery bordering the river at the rear of Glyndebourne Manor filled her heart with great admiration. ‘Wherever you walk’, she wrote, ‘it is beautiful with that rich, tranquil, luscious beauty that one associates with the very name of England.’

As is normal with Molly, she is very aware of those she mingles with; the people attending were ‘in keeping with their surroundings’ she notes.   Good looking, well groomed men in evening dress with ‘white coats and ties’ and women, taller then she remembered from the past, in ‘backless dresses’, beautifully groomed hair something ‘most regal to observe’. She had never entertained such a standard in New Zealand. ‘There is something so distinguished about the appearance a certain type of well-born, well-breed men and women, which nothing but birth and breeding can give’… There is something indescribable which as long as the world will last money will never be able to buy’, she informed her rural church parishioners, many who may well not fully comprehend her enthusiastic observation of a class of people rarely found in New Zealand.

Although the tickets were expensive, Molly was prepared to squander her ‘last shilling on such a feast’. Words failed her when attempting to describe Cosi Fan Tutte and the conducting of Dr Fritz Busch, which was ‘par excellence’. She adored the character portrayal of the fascinating ‘Despina’ sung by the Czechoslovakian, Irene Eisinger, and the beauty of the Austrian, Luise Helletsgruber, who played Dorabella, she described as a ‘daughter of the gods’. Never she believed would she be satisfied with future productions. The production, staging, music, singing, and performance ‘combined [an] effort of unsurpassable completeness and beauty’.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera began in 1934, so Molly was attending its second season. The festival continues to be held annually to this day. Mr John Christie, an English businessman, contributed thousands of pounds to create his home into the beauty of ‘something of that “fellowship of all artists” which Wagner foresaw’. Besides the large garden, he built an Opera House that seated 300, and ‘barn like dining rooms paved with brick, and as Molly describes them ‘delightful in their combination of comfort, good service and rural simplicity.’ Food was served between the second and third acts where you could either have ‘a ‘table d’hôtel’ dinner, a cold supper or even take your own ‘provender’ and have your own servants wait upon you.’

The renowned Music Director Dr. Fritz Busch was appointed in 1934 after his politically motivated dismissal from his position at the Dresden State Opera in 1933. He remained with the Glyndebourne Opera until the outbreak of World War II; there were no performances through those years and he returned to Buenos Aires. After the war he conducted the New York Metropolitan Opera and the Chicago Symphony. Busch returned to Glyndebourne for two further seasons in 1950. He died September 1951.

Eleanor: A Spiritual Biography— A Review

Eleanor: A Spiritual Biography

The Faith of the 20th Century’s most Influential Woman — A Review

by Harold Ivan Smith. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017.

I enjoy pondering on an author’s dedication. Some can open a window on any number of emotions experienced by the author at the conclusion of a completed text. Others can be coded messages to those closest to the writer, they can also be witty, they raise questions for the reader about the context of names and places, and they can often set the tone for the forthcoming read. The dedication written by Harold Ivan Smith author of Eleanor: A Spiritual Biography, The Faith of the 20th Century’s most Influential Woman, [Eleanor Roosevelt]  sets the tone of this biography for me, at a number of levels. He thanked ‘the Archivist ‘par excellence’ for his ‘sage advice’ to set himself the task of exploring ‘the spirituality of Eleanor’ Roosevelt. Archivists are aware of potential areas of their collections that are under researched. That ‘moment of indecision’, which many writers experience, myself included, meant he was advised to, “Write the Book!” and another wise counsel with a head full of stories of Eleanor Roosevelt, helped him ‘clear hurdles throughout the entire [writing] process’.

Harold Smith sets the perimeter of his focus from the outset. ‘Eleanor’s faith was personal but never private’, he writes. She never hesitated to share in her conversations, writings, speeches and activities, her ‘reading of scripture, the examples of Jesus, her own prayers and the divine call to work for a more just and peaceful world.’ By opening with ‘What Religion Means to me’, an article Eleanor wrote in 1932, in the magazine Forum, Smith conveys Eleanor’s faith as central to her role as First Lady during her years in the White House and those that followed until her death in 1962. Spirituality, to Eleanor, was ‘that feeling of having something outside of one’s self and greater than one’s self to depend on.’ An Episcopalian, her evolving ecumenical spirit meant for her that ‘all people are one in Christ’. This resulted in a broad and liberal faith in which social justice was an imperative, especially for those most vulnerable. She held a deep love for the Bible and learned off by heart the New Testament, in French. This held her in good steed when challenged and criticised by the conservative Christian community. Framed on her bedroom wall were the words ‘Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace’; words she also carried on her person. These words became her prayer for action evidenced in all her activities.

Growing up in such a diverse and gathered population as found in the United States, it is difficult to escape the biases and prejudices that can evolve and become rooted in a culture. Eleanor was confronted by many of these in her comfortable and elite environment. Anti-Semitism that surrounded her during her growing up, both within her family and American society at large caused her some angst as she reached adulthood; Jews were viewed as too powerful, too financially and politically influential and were ‘a menace to America’. Despite her latent bias Eleanor, guided by her belief in the God-given worth of peoples regardless of creed or race, stepped out to do all she could for the persecuted Jews of WWII. This is one of the most poignant yet chilling chapters in the biography and is a reminder of how continuing prejudices that emerge as a result of the social affects of modern warfare become deeply rooted in society. Her tireless efforts for rehabilitation of the Jews led to an appointment to the United Nation Delegation on Humanitarian, Social and Cultural Concerns Committee where, as Convener, the same determination saw the Declaration on Human Rights be put in place and her commitment to the creation of a Jewish homeland – Israel. Her greatest regret at the end of her life, one she could not be dissuaded from, was that she should have done far more.

Although Eleanor was heavily criticised and judged for her Jewish stance, so she was on her advocacy for Civil Rights and the ending of segregation. Her unyielding opposition and outspokenness to segregation made her extremely unpopular, particularly in the South. She was much maligned by harsh and often brutal criticism. It distressed her that the Bible could be used in two such opposing points of view, but she did not waiver from her firmly held belief that there was one fundamental law –  to love one another and to care for the ‘least of these’.

Eleanor regularly reminded her readers in the post-World War II era of unrest, that America, as a Christian country did not mean exclusion. ‘Differences in religious belief are inherent in the spirit of true democracy’, she wrote. ‘One’s Christianity and one’s democracy should lead to greater tolerance.’ Her support of the ecumenical activities brought to Americans attention the significance of accepting a diversity of religious practices. ‘I think I believe that the Lord looks upon all His children with compassion and allows them to approach Him in many ways’.

Eleanor, a Spiritual Biography is an insightful exploration of the faith journey of an extraordinary woman who lived through a dysfunctional childhood, a challenging marriage, a political role she did not desire, economic and political upheavals, and shifting societal turbulence. Often the religious motivation that supports a person’s activism is glossed over or taken for granted. Harold Smith however, has gone to considerable effort to draw together Eleanor Roosevelt’s beliefs and Biblical understandings in relation to her activism and American culture during her life time as she perceived it. Eleanor: A Spiritual Biography is a well researched and enlightening read.