It is the 31st 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 1861.
For Americans, the year 1861 means the beginning of the Civil War. Lincoln won the election in November of the previous year despite not appearing on the ballot in ten southern states. Despite the Washington Peace Convention and other attempts at unity, states began to secede. The questions of national unity and slavery would take four bloody years to answer. In 1861, in Russia, Emperor Alexander II did what Lincoln would do later. Alexander freed over 20 million serfs in the Russian empire. The 1861 Emancipation Manifesto was one of many of Alexander's reforms. In 1861, the British annexed Lagos in Nigeria. The stated goal was to use the strategic location in Africa to snuff out the transatlantic slave trade.
1861 was the year Fyodor Dostoevsky published his "The House of the Dead." His English counterpart, Charles Dickens, released "Great Expectations" in the same year.
It was a big year for hymnody. The hymns "Abide with Me," "Holy, Holy, Holy," and "Eternal Father Strong to Save" were all published with their best-known melodies and original texts in this year. In 1861, the song "John Brown's Body" also became a favorite in the north. The song celebrated the famed abolitionist using an old folk tune. Eventually, the tune would be used more famously as the melody for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Just a note: that's a weird hymn. Kids also used the tune in elementary school in the late 80s and 90s. We, or, they would sing "Glory, Glory Hallelujah, Teacher hit me with a ruler." The playground song then gets dark.
In 1861, Elisha Otis died. Whenever you get on an elevator, there's a good chance you see his name. And when you don't die on that elevator, you can thank him. Stephen A. Douglas was a great debater. Abraham Lincoln's foe also died in 1861. 1861 saw the birth of James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, as well as William Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate and namesake for baseball parks in Chicago and (for a time) Los Angeles.
It was on this, the 31st of July, in 1861, that Helen Barrett Montgomery was born. Born in Ohio to Emily Barrows and Adoniram Judson Barrett, Helen would follow in the footsteps of her father's namesake. She attended Wellesley College and Brown University, where she studied the Classics. Her mastery in Greek would serve her later. Helen Barrett, as she was known, met William Montgomery, and the two were married in 1887. Helen would go on to serve on both the city of Rochester school board, and in 1914, she became the first president of the Woman's American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society.
She traveled extensively throughout the world, advocating for both missions and women's education. She also advocated for an international day of prayer for women. Soon it became the World Day of Prayer. She was named the first woman president of an American denomination, the Northern Baptists. The Northern Baptists, like Helen herself, rejected much of the racist rhetoric and fundamentalism of some Baptist church bodies. The Northern Baptist tied its history back to the original Rhode Island outlaw Baptists led by Roger Williams.
In 1924, Montgomery published the Centenary Translation of the New Testament. It came out of teaching Bible classes to underprivileged boys. She found that the archaic language was too difficult for them to grasp. Her translation goals, in her own words, was to "consider young people, busy Sunday-School teachers, and foreigners, and to try to make it plain." The Bible was one of the first to use chapter titles within books and to relegate all verse numbers to the margins for easier reading. Helen died in New Jersey in 1934. Born on this day in 1861, Helen Barrett Montgomery was 73 years old.
The reading for today comes from one of those hymns published in 1861, one of the greatest hymns in the English language. This is a stanza from Henry Lyte's "Abide With Me."
I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless,
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 31st of July 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man with a beard worthy of a Civil War general, Christopher 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.