It is the 30th of December 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The Year was 1906.
There was a general unease in the Victorian social settlement. The so-called "gay 90s" were a time of carefree living and relative comfort. However, the second industrial revolution had produced new classes of poor and overworked citizens.
The second industrial revolution was referred to as the "dynamo" by Henry Adams in his 1906 autobiography "the Education of Henry Adams." In this classic work, he reflects on America's rapid changes and the world since the middle of the 19th century.
Another book published in 1906 with similar themes was Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle." "The Jungle" is a story about a Lithuanian immigrant who comes to America searching for the American dream. However, it is a dream denied, as the dangerous working conditions and anti-immigrant sentiment are among the other things that disenchant him. The conditions described in the book of the packing plants led to the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act's passing.
One more publication in 1906, Edith Wharton's "The House of Mirth" was published. The tragic tale of Lily Bart examined the social life of the elite and the vanity of class and wealth.
All published in 1906, these three popular books reflect the anxiety of modernity, the plight of the poor, and the crumbling class system. Unsurprisingly, we see in the church at this time many of the same themes. To what extent should the church embrace modern modes of thought regarding ecclesiology, representation, and organization? And how might the church recommit herself to the poor, and how are both material and spiritual needs met with the Gospel?
Today we remember one pioneer in the church and society who was born amongst characters resembling Wharton's but would spend her life serving the likes of those characters in Sinclair's "The Jungle." On this, the 30th of December in 1906 that Josephine Butler, an evangelical Anglican who Millicent Fawcett called the 'the most distinguished Englishwoman of the nineteenth century," died at the age of 78.
Josephine Butler was born in 1828 into the well-to-do Grey family. Her father, John, was a cousin to Prime Minister Earl Grey. Josephine was baptized into the Anglican Church but, by her own account, did not take her faith very seriously until she was in her late teens. Going for a ride in the countryside, she came across the corpse of a suicide. Along with this, she was in Ireland with her brother during the Irish potato famine. Josephine wrote, "As a young girl, I had no conception of the full meaning of the misery I saw around me, yet it printed itself upon my brain and memory."
In 1852, Josephine married George Butler, an Anglican minister, and teacher. The couple had four children. However, they tragically lost their youngest girl, Eva, who fell to her death from an upper story railing as her mother watched in horror. After this, Josephine threw herself into charity and social reform, working on behalf of the most destitute. Her reforming work helped to raise the age of consent in England from 13-16. This helped cripple a child slavery ring across Europe. Butler also worked with Florence Booth, the daughter-in-law of Salvation Army founder William Booth.
"[I] became possessed with an irresistible urge to go forth and find some pain keener than my own, to meet with people more unhappy than myself."
She spent her life wrestling with the institutional church's role and that of individual Christians working together for the common good. She believed that the spiritual realities of the Gospel might affect real-life situations as well. At the turn of the century, she began to resign from various boards as her health began to fail. She spent the last five years of her life out of the spotlight and in declining health. In 1981 the Josephine Butler College was named at Durham University, 75 years after the voice of the outcast, Josephine Butler died.
The reading for this, the 6th day of Christmas, is the "Carol of the Poor Children" by Richard Middleton.
WE are the poor children, come out to see the sights
On this day of all days, on this night of nights;
The stars in merry parties are dancing in the sky,
A fine star, a new star, is shining on high!
We are the poor children, our lips are frosty blue,
We cannot sing our carol as well as rich folk do;
Our bellies are so empty we have no singing voice,
But this night of all nights good children must rejoice.
We do rejoice, we do rejoice, as hard as we can try,
A fine star, a new star is shining in the sky!
And while we sing our carol, we think of the delight
The happy kings and shepherds make in Bethlehem to-night.
Are we naked, mother, and are we starving-poor—
Oh, see what gifts the kings have brought outside the stable door;
Are we cold, mother, the ass will give his hay
To make the manger warm and keep the cruel winds away.
We are the poor children, but not so poor who sing
Our carol with our voiceless hearts to greet the new-born King,
On this night of all nights, when in the frosty sky
A new star, a kind star is shining on high!
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 30th of December 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, who likes Prime Minister Grey, but always preferred Prime Minster English Breakfast. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember…the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.