It is the 17th of July 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1887.
It was the year of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. The grandest of 19th-century monarchs was feted by over 50 monarchs from around the world. But it may have been the arrival of an American cowboy that excited her the most.
The former trapper, actor, and Buffalo hunter "Buffalo" Bill Cody had brought his show to England this year. The show proved to be massively popular with the British. The wild west extravaganza included "97 American Indians, plus 180 horses, 18 buffalo, ten elks, ten mules, 5 Texas steers, and the old Deadwood stagecoach." After hearing of a show to a packed house of almost 30,000 people, the queen invited the entire cast to perform at Windsor Castle for a crowd of just over 20. The Queen recorded in her diary that it was one of her favorite events of the Jubilee year.
In 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his first story introducing Sherlock Holmes and his flatmate Dr. John Watson. The book was "A Study in Scarlet." The next few decades would see three more Holmes novels and over 50 short stories.
In America, 1887 saw the birth of the Tesla Electric Company. The one-time assistant to Thomas Edison filed for seven patents this year, one of them being for an electrical system of alternating currents. Edison's system of direct currents would thus compete with Tesla's system of alternating currents. While Edison would attempt to smear the AC in favor of his DC, both systems of AC and DC are used today.
In 1887, American painter Georgia O'Keefe was born, as was Chico Marx, the oldest of the Marx Brothers. Joining them was sculptor Marcel Duchamp and the Big Train, the Washington Senator's Walter Johnson. As these figures came into the world, a few famous characters left in 1887. They included gunfighter and gambler Doc Holliday, Lutheran theologian C.F.W Walther, and Congregationalist pastor Henry Ward Beecher.
And it was on this the 17th of July, in 1887, that Sunday School teacher turned Social reformer Dorothea Dix died. Dorothea was born in 1802 in Maine, and according to her biographers, her mother was self-absorbed, and her father, a Methodist lay preacher, was a drunk. Dorothea did not have a happy early life, being moved from place to place, assisting her father in the production and dissemination of religious tracts. She ran away from home at 12. And while still in her teens, she started a private school in Worcester. Here she began to develop the pedagogical methods for which she would become known. Despite bouts of sickness for which she had to convalesce, her writing and teaching began to garner attention.
In 1841, she met with a ministerial student who was frustrated with his ministry for women at the East Cambridge jail. Dorothea volunteered to teach Sunday school at the jail, and this would begin her long career of fighting for reforms within prisons and mental institutions. She was able to lobby for a bill that would grant over 12 million acres of federal land for newer institutions for the destitute and disabled. This bill passed both houses of Congress and was favored by president Millard Fillmore. However, before Fillmore could sign the bill, he was out of the office, and Franklin Pierce, destined to be amongst the five worst American presidents, vetoed the bill. Dorothea would go on to serve as the Superintendent of Nurses for the Union during the Civil War before returning to the cause of those with mental health disabilities.
Dorothea Dix spent most of her time in Unitarian churches. It is important to note that this meant something different than it might today. "Unitarian" became more of a watchword for generally progressive theology. Rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity was not central to them as much as was latitude in doctrinal matters. Driven away from the strict Methodist tradition by her father, she found refuge in the church of famed Unitarian William Ellery Channing, who became something of a father figure to her. She remained critical of many of the tracts she was given to read, and her letters reflect a decidedly Evangelical tone and theology.
Unable to secure the requite funds for her institutions, she fell into depression and retired to one of her hospitals in Trenton, New Jersey, where she died on this day, the 17th of July, in 1887. Born in 1802, reformer Dorothea Dix was 85 years old.
The reading for today comes from the end of John Donne's "Annunciation." This is Gabriel's word to Mary. The final couplet is one of the best in the English language.
Ere by the spheres time was created thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son, and Brother;
Whom thou conceivest, conceived; yea, thou art now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy father's mother,
Thou hast light in dark, and shutt'st in little room
Immensity, cloister'd in thy dear womb.
That was from John Donne's "Annunciation"
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 17th of July 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher "thunderstruck" Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.