It is the 23rd of February 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1925.
Today we travel back in time, 96 years ago and staying in the United States. The 1920s are something of a nightmare for the historian attempting nuance. After all, these are the "roaring 20s," which gave way to the "Great Depression." Everyone was rich and happy and then poor and miserable, or so the broad-brush paints it so.
In the church, this is the era of fundamentalists and modernists. You are on team Darrow or team Bryant. You are either a backwoods inerrantist or a sophisticated reverend with a Ph.D. from a German University.
That brush is, of course, too broad as well, but at least these depictions of this era of American history can set the necessary boundaries.
Consider the 18th and 19th amendments from 1919 and 1920. Americans amended the constitution! There had been an amendment spree because they had worked (see the Civil War Amendments— numbers 13-15!). One amendment stopped the production and sale of booze, and the other gave women the right to vote. But that was a long time ago.
Transposing our notions of "right" and "left" to one hundred years ago, politically or theologically, can leave us with historical "misfits" who don't meet our preconceived ideas of group identity. Today, we remember a woman who fits this category to a T. A giant in the early 20th century, Dr. Kate Waller Barrett. A daughter of the South, Kate Waller would help found one of the first charitable homes for "fallen women." Her work with the Florence Crittenton Mission led to it becoming the first private religious charity to be recognized by Title 36 of the United States Federal Code (this is a significant historical landmark in its own right!)
Katherine Waller was born in the Antebellum South and attended the Arlington Institute for Girls after the Civil War. In 1876 she married the Episcopal minister Robert Barrett. After his encouragement, Kate attended and graduated with an M.D. from the Women's Medical College of Georgia. She did this on account of her desire to work with unwed mothers and other destitute women. In 1893 she began the process of opening a home for destitute women but could not secure enough funding. She contacted the well-known Evangelist Charles Crittenton who had shown interest in opening a mission for women. His 4-year-old daughter, Florence, had passed away, and Crittenton wanted to honor her. He was especially taken with the story of the woman caught in adultery and the story of the woman at the well. Crittenton gave 5,000 to Barrett for the women's mission. Still, when Katherine's husband took a new call-in Washington D.C. (close to Crittenton), the Crittentons and Barretts pooled their talents to open several what were called "Rescue Homes."
Shortly after moving to D.C, Robert Barrett died, leaving Kate, a widow with six children. However, she was not slowed by tragedy. Instead, she helped the mission grow as the founder of a national mission training center for missionaries, both foreign and domestic. She was instrumental in having the Mission recognized by Title 39 of the U.S. Code. President McKinley personally intervened to help the mission becoming the first chartered charity recognized by the Federal government. Eventually, over 70 homes were opened across America and Mexico, France, China, and Japan.
In 1909 she would become the head of Florence Crittenton Mission, a position she would hold up to her death. In the meantime, the popular Barrett would serve as a representative of the U.S. government studying women's issues during the first World War. She participated at the Versailles conference of 1919, was president of the National Council of Women, president of the American Legion Auxiliary, and was involved in just about every reform issue of the early 20th century.
Dr. Kate Waller Barrett has been deemed too conservative for modern progressives and again progressive for modern conservatives. That alone doesn't make her right, but these kinds of voices and examples might help us work out of our polarized malaise. We remember this remarkable woman on the anniversary of her death, the 23rd of February in 1925.
The reading for today is an excellent Lenten hymn, "Lord, Who Through These Forty Days," by Claudia Frances Hernaman.
Lord, who throughout these forty days
For us did fast and pray,
Teach us to overcome our sins,
And close by You to stay.
As You with Satan did contend
And did the vict'ry win,
O give us strength in You to fight,
In You to conquer sin.
As You did hunger and did thirst,
So teach us, gracious Lord,
To die to self, and only live
By Your most holy word.
And through these days of penitence,
And through Your Passion-tide,
For evermore, in life and death,
O Lord, with us abide.
Abide with us that, when this life
Of suffering is past,
An Easter of unending joy
We may attain at last!
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 23rd of February 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by noted 27th Amendment stan, 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.