Frankiel, Sandra Sizer. California's Spiritual Frontiers: Religious Alternatives in Anglo-Protestantism, 1850-1910. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft1z09n7fq/
By 1848, when the American flag was hoisted over Monterey, the tradition generally known to historians as evangelicalism was enjoying its heyday: it had become the most powerful religious influenceand perhaps the most important single cultural influencein the United States. Evangelicalism has generally meant, since the work of nineteenth-century historian Robert Baird, the voluntaristic, revivalistic Protestantism that aimed to shape American civilization along moral lines. Denominationally, it embraced the membership of Baptist, Congregational, Disciples of Christ, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches as well as a number of smaller sects; its chief opponent was Roman Catholicism. Evangelicals emphasized a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ established through prayer, devotion, and (often) a conversion experience; they supported strong churches to educate and fortify their members against the temptations of secular society. Through their educational, organizational, and revivalistic efforts, they made Protestant churches a bulwark of American society during the first third of the nineteenth century. Although evangelical leaders had to battle with secularists who resented religious influence in public affairs, and although they met with increasing resistance from the growing Roman Catholic population, on the whole they were successful in upholding traditional Protestant values as the norm for American society.
Evangelicals maintained their preeminence throughout the middle years of the nineteenth century by means of revivals, reform associations, and the popular media as well as through the churches. They were largely responsible for the great antislavery campaigns, for temperance and prohibition crusades, for maintenance of Sabbath observance in most communities, and for the establishment of private colleges, orphanages, and asylums. Their influence was felt throughout the nation, and they faced relatively few challenges until the 1870s. Then evangelicalism itself began to splinter into liberal and conservative factions. Still, however, Protestant values governed American public life and the private lives of most of the citizens.
At least, that is the picture of evangelicalism appearing in American histories if they treat of religion at all. Yet the portrait of a triumphant evangelical tradition is based primarily on data from east of the Mississippi. In the Far West developments were taking a different turn. Roman Catholicism was strong in the formerly Spanish areas, of course; but even in many areas where Anglos dominated, Protestantism did not fare as well as on earlier frontiers. Census data from nearly all the states of the Rocky Mountain region and westward suggest a lower level of Protestant church membership than in other regions. The lack of notable religious movements in the Far West, judging from the scant historical research thus far, suggests a lack of religious ferment or a lower level of religious interest than in the East and Midwest. Did religion die a slow death, even while denominations continued to exist, west of the Rockies? What happened to the great evangelical tradition?
Each area of the Westthe Rocky Mountain region, the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, and Californiahad its distinctive kind of religious development, and each deserves separate study. We will consider some of the significant developments in California, where traditional Protestantism evolved so differently that it may not be appropriate to speak of evangelicalism there as a distinctive and coherent system. While we see many examples of an evangelical approach among ministers and missionaries in the early years of American settlement, it is not long before we find instead a settled denominational Protestantism, mutually tolerant and seldom fired with the interdenominational zeal of the East's Second Great Awakening, the major series of revivals that occurred between 1790 and 1835. Because of the variety of attitudes among the evangelical denominations and the strong presence alongside them of Episcopalian institutions, we will use the term Anglo-Protestantism to refer to the tradition as it evolved in California. For in examining Californian Protestantism, we find ourselves looking at the adjustments to a new culture of one ethnic group among many, rather than at the transplanting of a clearly defined tradition. The evangelicals were visible in California as a vocal, highly significant ethno-religious group, but they no longer constituted a system that defined regional religious culture.
The research for this work has focused on areas of rapid growth in northern and southern California before 1910the mining country, the San Francisco Bay Area, and early Los Angeles (after 1910 shifts in migration patterns changed the religious scene considerably). In the early period, the mining country and urban areas were chief targets of Protestant ministers and missionaries. Yet by 1906, after nearly sixty years of Anglo domination, barely 14 percent of California's population belonged to any Protestant church. Roman Catholics accounted for 30 percent of the population in 1850, but less than 20 percent in 1906, while by 1906 other small groups comprised 2 to 3 percent of the total. Thus in 1906 nearly 65 percent of California's population was unchurched. Considering the great effort of ministerial talent in California and the wealth of the population as a whole, which could have supported a strong religious establishment, the Anglo-Protestant churches did not fare well.
As we will see, there were several reasons why Californians did not join Protestant churches in as large numbers as their immediate predecessors in the East. One significant factor was the development of a small but significant minority who from the beginning interpreted life in religious terms that, explicitly or implicitly, challenged traditional Protestant interpretations by giving expression to an alternative tradition. This challenge and its effect on Protestantism in California will be the main subject of this book. Before pursuing it, however, we must introduce the main actors in the drama.
First were the leaders of the Anglo-Protestant churches, who viewed themselves as agents of the Protestant civilization that began in the New England towns and extended into the entire American empire. They saw themselves as representing true, mainstream Christianity. Doctrinally, they guarded standard Protestant beliefs in a personal God who saved mankind through the sacrificial acts of his son, Jesus Christ; in reward or punishment after death; in human sinfulness and the necessity of repentance; and in clear standards of morality and justice derived from the Bible and democratic traditions. They considered religion to be both individual and communal: individual in that each person had to develop his or her own relation to God (many, but certainly not all, expected this to include a clear experience of conversion), communal in that the churches provided the moral center and continuing education essential for a solid citizenry. Anglo-Protestants in California generally avoided disputes between denominations, adopting the view that groups might have significant differences, but that it was not appropriate to fight publicly over them. This was more than a live-and-let-live mentality; the various denominations often cooperated on enterprises of joint concern. But they showed no interest in merging. Each denomination had its own clientele, and all together carried the Protestant banner.
Second were the liberals emerging in California, as in the East, throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. While not giving up Protestant doctrines entirely, many softened their views on sin and punishment, or de-emphasized conversion. There was no cohesive, institutionalized liberal movement, but a diffuse California mythology arose, emphasizing the state's uniqueness and offering a liberal religious outlook. Many from traditional backgrounds came to consider themselves religiously tolerant, independent thinkers who transcended denominationalism. In the 1860s a strong and clear liberal voice arrived, that of Unitarian minister Thomas Starr King, the most popular Protestant preacher California has ever known. In the Bay Area, Laurentine Hamilton carried on the liberal tradition in the late 1860s and early 1870s. King's connections to eastern Unitarianism and Universalism and Hamilton's to liberal Presbyterianism exemplify an openness in matters of religion that would become firmly ingrained in the attitudes of many of their Protestant contemporaries. Starr King was more the transcendentalist, a visionary who seemed to know a mystical communion with nature and history; Hamilton more the rationalist, developing an intellectual understanding of the universe as organic and meaningful. Their ideas defined the outer range of liberal Anglo-Protestantism in California. Most leaders connected with the traditional denominations did not go so far, at least not before the end of the century. King the Unitarian and Hamilton the exiled Presbyterian (he was declared a heretic in 1869) were too radical to be comfortable partners with the regular churches.
In northern California, Protestant leaders seemed to be battling secularism and struggling with liberalism almost from the beginning. In southern California, traditional Anglo-Protestants seemed at first to gain a stronger foothold when that region began to develop rapidly after 1880. Yet by 1895 challenges from the even more radical metaphysical religionsChristian Science, New Thought, and Theosophyhad begun to undermine the hegemony of traditional Protestant beliefs. These are the third significant group of actors in the story. Liberals, who had already begun integrating some new ideas (for example, from science) into their beliefs, were most directly affected by the metaphysicians. But traditionalists too were challenged by the new movements, and even within conservative Protestantism one can detect evidence of alternative ways of thinkingnotably in the leadership of the holiness movement that coalesced around the Church of the Nazarene in Los Angeles. In short, by 1910 Protestantism in southern California had many liberals within its ranks and had to face a multitude of small, competing religious movements. Most of these were rooted in the same tradition as the earlier northern liberals, namely New England transcendentalism, Unitarianism, and popular Spiritualism.
The challenging movements together formed a distinctive popular tradition that appeared in various shapes and guises over the decades, achieving a clear institutionalization in the metaphysical religions mentioned above. Before 1900 the main features of this distinctive tradition had been well articulated: belief in an impersonal divine principle more than in a personal God; a focus on the individual's inner life developed through study, concentration, or contemplation; an aim of union with or perfect apprehension of the divine; little interest in social reform, political activity, or institution building (except sometimes their own churches); an approach to spiritual life through rational or transrational perception rather than emotional religiosity; and a belief in the possibility of continuing spiritual progress, even after death. A yet more secularized version of this tradition appeared in a kind of nature-mysticism, drawn from Emersonian Transcendentalism and exemplified most fully in John Muir.
The institutionalized segments of this alternative, mystically-inclined tradition remained small. By 1915 its chief expressions, the metaphysical religions, were counted as 5 to 6 percent of the Protestant population and less than 2 percent of the population as a whole. Yet their influence on white Protestants of California was strong; for decades to come, the many related groups who came to California would find congenial audiences there, as would religious missionaries to Americans from Asia. They did notwe should observe hereimmediately involve the many ethnically rooted Roman Catholics, Jews, blacks, Hispanics, or Asians. The struggle between traditionalists and mystics that we will portray was the history of the adjustment of one ethnic group, white Protestants of the East and Midwest, to their new environment. To be sure, Anglo-Protestants sometimes created mythologies of the others among whom they lived: they developed a nostalgic memory of Spanish California and encountered Asian thought in a mythologized form through such movements as Theosophy. Yet, while these myths undoubtedly nourished openness and tolerance in belief, they did not necessarily lead to relationships, religious or social, with Spanish-speaking or Asian neighbors.
Our reconstruction of developments, therefore, stays within the Anglo-Protestant camp. Even there, sources do not always permit us to trace clearly the development of the alternative tradition in relation to the regular denominations. From the nineteenth century there is evidence of a few important figures and debates plus widely scattered hints of the impact of new movements. After the turn of the century we find more systematic presentations, developed arguments, and some relations among individuals and groups that can be traced. In general, however, religious documents have not been so well kept in California as in the eastern states; in addition, popular movements with their less established character often do not leave clear traces. For these reasons the following chapters may seem more a series of essays than the story of a single clear development. Taken together, however, they form a coherent picture of significant religious formations in California.
For each set of materials I have tried to show how the California social situation, questions of religious and regional identity, specific personalities, and national trends interweave to create distinctive religious issues and attitudes in California. I hope this work will serve to suggest the importance in American religious history of locales, regions, and specific ethnic groups as well as national trends. It is precisely by more careful work in specific areas that we can bring forth the kind of comparisons that make national history interesting and meaningful. The writing of the religious history of the regions of the West has hardly begun; yet one day it will undoubtedly contribute new insights to our understanding of American history, American culture, and modern religion itself.
Engh, Michael. Frontier Faiths: Church, Temple, and Synagogue in Los Angeles, 1846-1888. University of New Mexico Press, 1992.
Reviewed by Roger D. Launius (historian, Washington, DC)
Between 1850 and 1890 the city of Los Angeles grew from about 1,500 to nearly 50,000 residents. Such striking population growth in such a compressed period brought radical dislocations in local politics, economics, society, and religion. "Frontier Faiths" analyzes the transformation of Los Angeles' religious life during that period--although some aspects of the political, economic, and social atmosphere are also illuminated.
Michael E Engh, S.J., in the faculty at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, has produced a useful monograph on the evolving interrelationships of the denominations in the area. It adds significantly to the understanding of the manner in which culturally diverse groups cooperated--and competed--when thrown together after dislocations brought on by military conquest and political annexation.
Engh's central themes revolve around how the religious community contributed to the creation of a unique urban culture. He notes that before the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo, Mexico recognized only Roman Catholicism as a legitimate religion. Suddenly, with annexation support of state religion was abolished and replaced with religious toleration. Over time, largely because of [Ango-American] migration to the city, Protestantism became the dominant religion. He traces this evolution in detail. Additionally, with strong sections on the Jewish and Chinese contributions to this development, Engh concludes with a discussion of the fall of Catholic culture and the rise of religious and ethnic diversity in Los Angeles.
"Frontier Faiths" is a useful case study in comparative American religion and how it helped to shape American society in one [geographical] area. It is one of several refreshing books to appear recently on the development of American religion. It should be of use to specialists interested in the development of American religion and culture during the nineteenth century.
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Add information from the Introduction of Gregory Singletonīs, Religion in the City of Angels: American Protestant Culture and Ubanization, Los Angeles, 1850-1930: pp. xiii to xxxi.
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Add information from Hollandīs The Religious Dimension in Hispanic Los Angeles: A Protestant Case Study (from chapter 5, "Anglo Americans in Southern California")
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Our Heritage and Our Hope:
the History of First Baptist Church of Los Angeles, California,
By Herbert L. Sutton
Sunday September 6, 1874: For the 6,500 persons who then made up the total population of Los Angeles, it probably was not much different from any other Sunday. But for the small group of Baptists who met on that day to organize a church, and for the more than 15,000 who have identified themselves with that church during the one hundred years following, it was a very significant day, for it was on that day that the First Baptist Church of Los Angeles was organized.
The town of Los Angeles pre-dated First Baptist Church by almost a century. The first Europeans had visited its location in 1769 when Portola and his company stopped overnight near the Indian village of Yang-na, on the way from Sand Diego to search for Monterey Bay. They arrived on the feast day of Our Lady of the Angels and gave the name of that day to the river on which they camped: Rio de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles de Porciuncula. A member of the expedition, Father Juan Crespi, wrote approvingly in his diary: "a most suitable site for a mission ... a delightful place among the trees on the river.
A dozen years had passed when Felipe de Neve, greatest of the Spanish governors of Alta Calironia, acted upon Father Crespi's recommendation and on September 4th, 1781, came from Mission San Gabriel to found a settlement which was given the name of the river on which it was located. The first residents were 11 couples and their 22 children.
On the other side of the continent a fledgeling republic was reaching the turning point in its break from Britain, as General George Washington and French Marshall de Rochambeau lay siege to Conrwallis at Yorktown.
FOR THE NEXT 70 YEARS, Los Angeles remained a peaceful village in an agricultural setting far from the mainstream of history. In 1850, the population was a mere 1610, but of these only 75 had come from the East and while most of the others were Mexican, there were also Blacks, California Indians, and Orientals. Thus at this early date, the field existed for a church whose gospel was international and interracial.
SUDDENLY the Queen of the Cow Counties was caught up in history. The War with Mexico began in April 1846, and the Mexican regime in California ended with the capitulation of Cahuenga in January 1847.
IT WAS NOT UNTIL 1870, when the population had grown to 5728, that the town had a modern hotel to house its visitors so modern that it had gas lights, running water piped to each floor, and even separate bathrooms for men and women! This was the 80 room Pico House, owned by Pio Pico, last of the Mexican governors.
SR. PICO financed the project by selling some 60,000 acres in San Fernando Valley to Isaac Lankershim. Deacon Lankershim participated in the organization of First Baptist Church; and it was a member of his family who presented the Church with its first silver Communion service now on display in the Hobbs Memorial Room.
THE DISCOVERY OF GOLD at Coloma in 1848 brought prosperity to the cattle ranches of Southern California. Los Angeles began to grow, but the behavior of its citizens evidenced the lack of religious influence and it became the most lawless town in the West. In 1853, with a population of only 2000, there was an average of a murder each day.
A measure of retribution came from the elements. Torrential rains and resultant floods and two terrible droughts in the period 1860-64 destroyed most of the cattle and brought economic disaster to their owners. The great ranchos were broken into small parcels by the money-lenders and sold to the thousands who swept in after the railroads began to operate.
AS EARLY AS 1853 there had been Baptist stirrings in the local area. In that year the Rev. John Freeman preached a sermon in Los Angeles, but apparently there were not enough Baptists, or even Protestants, to organize a church. In that year, however, a Baptist church was started at El Monte where most of the early emigrants had chosen to settle. This was the first Baptist church (and the first Protestant church as well) in all of Southern California.
FIVE YEARS after John Freeman preached in Los Angeles, a Presbyterian minister, William E, Boardman, tried to start a Presbyterian church, finding too few Presbyterians, he organized all of the Protestants into the "First Protestant Society of Los Angeles." Fifteen denominations were represented in its rather small membership. Mrs.Clara G. DuBois, who later joined First Baptist, was a member of this group and was chosen as its song leader. Mr. Boardman left in 1861, however, and without a pastor the church disbanded.
IN 1860 another effort was made to start a Baptist church in Los Angeles but this too failed. Richard C. Fryer, a lay Baptist preacher from Texas, who had organized the El Monte church, conducted services each Sunday in Los Angeles for about a year. These services were held in Schoolhouse No. 1, located at Second and Spring. Mrs. DuBois, one of the first school teachers in Los Angeles, taught here. High School courses started in 1873. In that year the first volunteer fire company was organized and the Chamber of Commerce was formed.
IN 1864, the first Protestant house of worship was erected: St. Athanasius Episcopal Church which later became St. Paul's Pro Cathedral. It was built on the southwest corner of Temple and New High Streets at the foot of Pound Cake Hill subsequently the location of the first Los Angeles High School.
SEPTEMBER 6, 1874
The situation in 1874 bore some resemblance to 1974. The world, momentarily, was at peace: The Franco-Prussian War had ended three years before. In the United States, the Civil War had concluded nine years earlier, but the ranklings and adjustments in its aftermath still continued. The country was in financial turmoil. "Boss" Tweed was on trial in New York City for election fraud. In July, the kidnapping of a 4-year old caused a national sensation. Locally, the bandit Vasquez had been captured in April at the home of "Greek George" near the present location of Hollywood. Public transportation was a need then as now, but in that year the first street railroad began to operate a horse-car line from the Plaza to Sixth and Pearl streets (now Figueroa).
As it relates to starting a church, however, 1874 was very different from 1974. Today religion is popular. It is comfortable to be a Christian and we proudly reveal our church association. Therefore it is hard for us to realize that in tfje wild town of Los Angeles a century ago, it was difficult even to profess Christianity let alone band with others to start a church. A Presbyterian minister who failed in such an effort wrote, "to be compelled to endure blasphemous denunciations of his divine Master, to live where society is disorganized, religion is scoffed at, where violence runs riot and life itself is unsafe. . . .is not calculated for the peaceful labors of one who follows unobtrusively the footsteps of the meek and lowly Savior."
Boisterous San Francisco was still the only sizeable community in the West. More people lived there than in the entire southern half of the State. It could be expected that Baptists in the big city would have a missionary interest in starting a church in the "cow-town" in the south. Four of the sponsoring group were from San Francisco: Deacon Isaac Lankershim, the Rev. Mr. and Mrs. John Francis and the Rev. Mr. Lee Key the latter three being Baptist missionaries.
The idea of starting the church, however, initiated with Dr. William Hobbs. Some time earlier, the Hobbs family had arrived in Los Angeles and, failing to find a Baptist church, had drawn together a group of a dozen or so who met regularly in each other's homes. Not long thereafter, inspired by the enthusiasm of the Hobbs, the group decided to take the daring step of organizing a church. Eight of the number sent for their church letters and the date was set for the organizational meeting.
It was probably at this point, that Dr. Hobbs decided to get help from the denomination and so wrote to San Francisco. Thus began an association with the Baptist denomination which has continued unbroken through the entire century.
Dr. Hobbs also contacted the minister of the closest Baptist church and asked his cooperation and assistance. This was the Rev. J. C. Curtis, pastor of the Los Nietos Baptist Church. Dr. Curtis had come from Iowa to San Bernardino in 1864, bringing his wife and ten children. Two years later, with the aid of Richard C. Fryer of El Monte, he had organized The Baptist Church of Jesus Christ of San Bernardino the second Baptist church to be established in Southern California. Mr. Curtis served as pastor for two years, then moved to the San Gabriel valley where he started the San Antonio Baptist Church, which in 1872 combined with the Los Nietos Baptist Church (This is now the First Baptist Church of Downey).
From the very beginning there was a touch of ecumenicalism. The organizational meeting on September 6th was held in the Zahn chapel, also called the German Methodist Church, located at what is now 433 South Spring Street where today stands the head office of the Title Insurance and Trust Company. In reality it was not a church building but a small chapel attached to the back of Zahn's one-story cottage. Dr. Johann Carl Zahn, who had just completed the building, had much in common with Dr. Hobbs. Both were physicians. Both were ordained ministers. Both had gone to Australia as missionaries. Neither was native to the United States, but both arrived in Los Angeles at about the same time and each started a church of his own faith.
SEPTEMBER 6, 1874
No one at that meeting could have dreamed that a century later, hundreds of people would be greatly interested in what took place so no one bothered to write an account. Fortunately the Clerks of the church have all kept records of the congregation's proceedings and these have been safely retained through the years, including the Minutes of that first meeting.
The Minutes show that the first item of business was the election of the Rev. Mr. Curtis as Chairman and T. D. Hancock as Clerk. Four of those present had brought letters from the Los Nietos church where Curtis served as pastor: Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Shirley; their daughter, Mrs. Annie Rose; and Mr. J.W. Patterson. In addition there were four others with letters: Mr. and Mrs. T. D. Hancock from Clinton, Missouri; and Elder and Mrs. Isaac N. Cooper from Pleasanton, Texas.
Unfortunately, there is no available biographical data of these early members, except of the Shirleys and of their daughter Annie who was grandmother of a present member Mrs. Walter English. The Shirleys originally lived in the South and came West to Sacramento in 1860 and to the local area in 1868. Annie Shirley had married Anderson Rose the following year and was only 20 when she became the youngest charter member of First Baptist. At the 70th anniversary of the church, she was honored as the only living charter member. She died at 94 74 years after having had part in organizing the church. Her memory has been perpetuated through the gift by her daughters of the Rose window in the west transept of the present sanctuary.
The organizational requirements having been completed, Dr. Hobbs was unanimously called to be Pastor. T. D. Hancock was elected Clerk and B. F. Shirley, Deacon. The minutes then state: "The doors of the church then being opened", Dr. and Mrs. Hobbs and J. T. Gower were received into membership. The charge was then given to Pastor, Deacon, and congregation by Mr. Curtis, followed by the sermon by Mr. Francis.
It is noteworthy, from the standpoint of the interracial character of today's church, that the Minutes conclude with this statement: "After services in the Chinese language by Brother Lee Key, the Church adjourned."
Thus on September 6, 1874, the First Baptist Church of Los Angeles came into being with a total of 11 members.
THE MINISTRY OF DR. AND MRS. WILLIAM HOBBS
Both of the Hobbs had been born in Nova Scotia where Dr. Hobbs also began his ministry. Early in his chosen career, he and his wife, Anna, felt the call to go to the foreign field as missionaries. In order to make his ministry more effective, Dr. Hobbs equipped himself with, what was for that time, a very good knowledge of medicine, surgery and dentistry. Although he was an ordained minister, his doctorate was in medicine. The Hobbs first went to Hawaii but remained there only a short time before going on to Australia. In Australia, they ministered mostly to the people living in the southern and eastern areas.
Some time later they came to Los Angeles and lost no time in making their influence felt in the community. Mrs. Hobbs, then 39, was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm. Within a short time she opened a private kindergarten where for several years she taught the children of many of the prominent families of that day.
Meetings of the new Church continued to be held in the Zahn chapel the Methodists having their Sunday service in German at 11:00 and the Baptists having theirs in the afternoon. There was strict adherence to the Baptist concept of the church as a group of Christians banded together to seek and do the will of God on the basis of an agreed upon covenant.
Of equal importance was a statement of faith, referred to in the covenant. Those who founded the church and those who joined it later were required to hold the beliefs stated in the confession of faith and to conduct their lives and maintain a relationship with God and each other as expressed in the covenant. (The covenant and statement of faith were from Pendleton's "Church Manual".)
Accordingly, the Articles of Faith were read from the pulpit each quarter. Covenant meetings, for the purpose of keeping the members' obligations alive, were held monthly, followed by the business meeting. As was the custom in Baptist churches of that day, Covenant meetings were on the Saturday preceding the first Sunday.
Those attending found these services deeply meaningful. The Minutes state: "Nearly all present participated in remarks of a Christian character and a precious sense of religious fellowship was enjoyed by all." Another time: "All present seemed to enjoy the presence of the Master; and nearly all took part in the exercise, including Some Visiting Brethren."
The first year saw only one baptism, in February 1875. The baptism of Brother Malone was administered with difficulty, using a water tank in the Zahn's frontyard and with the passers-by on Spring Street stopping to observe the unusual event. Subsequent baptisms were in the Los Angeles River when it was not too swift and muddy or too low and stagnant; otherwise the Zahn tank was used until 1880 when Dr. Zahn disposed of his Spring Street property. For the next two years use was made of a baptistry in a chapel in the home of Benjamin I. Coulter on Bunker Hill. Mr. Coulter was the founder of Coulter's Dry Goods Store and was also Pastor of the First Christian Church from 1881 to 1884. In 1882 they erected a church building on Temple Street and the baptistry there was available for First Baptist's use.
Most of the additions, however, were by letter. (One of these was Miss Gillis Workman from Missouri, of the well-known Workman family pioneers in this area.) In the first year the membership almost tripled, bringing the total to 30 before the first loss, when letters were granted to Dr. Joseph Costo and his wife Julia, on September 19, 1875 he having led the services upon a few occasions.
Even though funds were not sufficient to pay Dr. Hobbs a salary, the early missionary interest of the church was evidenced by special offerings "for the purpose of spreading the Gospel."
This item from the Evening Express of Saturday, December 5, 1874, reports that the Rev. Mr. John Francis and his Chinese assistant were again in the city and he would preach on the square near Temple Block the following morning at 10:30. This enabled them to attend the Church services that Sunday afternoon when Mr. Curtis of Los Nietos was the preacher. It was also on that day that Mrs. Dubois, the song leader of the old Community Church, joined First Baptist.
It became necessary for Dr. Hobbs to resign after serving as pastor for less than a year, but he still filled the pulpit upon occasion and both he and his wife continued active service as members. (Twenty-five years later, Mrs. Hobbs was still a member of the Church as was Mrs. Eugenia Cooper, another of the founding members.)
After the resignation was accepted, a committee of six were appointed to secure "a lot on which to build a Chapel and also to secure a pastor." The committed had its problems, for it was a decade before a church building was acquired, and for 15 months the Church remained pastorless, making little progress either spiritually or numerically.
1875-1880 THE MIRACLE OF SURVIVAL
For the young Church these were the years of trial and testing years of struggle, and unfortunately, strife. Certainly God willed that the Church had a mission and that it should not die as had the Community Church and many others which had started earlier. Two factors kept it from going under: One was the loyalty and perseverance of the Hobbs family. Their continuing activity and counsel was a major stabilizing influence.
The second saving factor was the rapid growth of the city. In 1876 the Southern Pacific railroad reached Los Angeles. The mild Southern California climate and its favorable effect on agricultural production received national publicity. Land once hard to sell, even at five dollars an acre, was being cut up into small tracts. The real estate boom had begun. While the influx was not as spectacular as a decade later, people began to arrive by the hundreds and soon doubled the population. Naturally some of the newcomers were Baptists but from various parts of the country and soon after arrival they affiliated with the new Church. The new members came from Missouri and Kansas, New York and Massachusetts, Louisiana and Texas and a dozen other states.
This heterogeneity, of itself, created problems. While it tended to make some people tolerant, it made others narrow and fearful of corrupting influences. Baptist doctrine and practice varied geographically and people came with divergent views as to how the affairs of the Church should be conducted. Also, those personal characteristics which they had in common were not such as to contribute to the success of a cooperative venture. Having left their homes, relatives and friends to emigrate to a locality about which they knew almost nothing, most of those who arrived in Los Angeles before 1880 could be characterized as one of two types. Either they had come seeking wealth hence were self-centered and of a strong mind or they had run away from a situation in which they were unhappy and restless and could not get along with their associates.
It is not surprising therefore that the business meetings frequently were stormy and the church did not act with harmony and agreement. Differences of opinion were involved in almost every consideration, usually resulting in a split decision.
The place and time of meetings caused arguments. Sunday services were changed to the Grange Hall, then to Leek's Hall (the B'nai B'rith congregation had worshipped there earlier), then back to Zahn's chapel, then to Union Hall and finally to the newly-built Good Templar's hall at 108 North Spring Street. The time of prayer meetings was changed from Thursday evening to Wednesday, then back to Thursday. The time of Covenant meetings and business meetings was repeatedly changed.
Personality clashes sometimes became vindictive. On the most stormy occasion, charges brought by the Deacon against the Clerk finally resulted in nine people being expelled, including the Deacon and the Treasurer who was also the chairman of the pulpit committee.
No matter how violent the turmoil though, there was recognitionof the Baptist principle that there is no hierarchy of authority above the church itself. At one time a resolution was proposed: "That this church call a Council of the Pastors and two brethren from each church within the bounds of this Association for the purpose of settling the existing difficulties within the Church." The resolution was not sustained, but it provided the motivation for the Church to handle the issue by a committee of its own members.
The search for a pastor who would be satisfactory to everyone was the basis for most of the dissension. Many were tried but none was given an unlimited call. A. Hitchcock, H. P. McKusick, S. S. Fisk, Winfield Scott, D. J. Pierce, Dr. H. I.Parker (who had been the first pastor at Santa Barbara and subsequently became pastor at Santa Ana), Henry Angel and the "Brothers" Brown, Jameson and Stewart (their first names are not shown in the records) each had his turn as minister for a brief term ranging from a few weeks to no more than 18 months.
While on the subject of preachers, mention must also be made of Isaac N. Cooper, one of the founding members and a lay minister from Southern Texas. When no other preacher was available, which occurred with some frequency, Elder Cooper was called upon to preach and to officiate at Covenant and business meetings. In fact, he was the Moderator at the meeting when charges were first brought against the Clerk. When the going became rough, he "was taken sick and had to retire from the chair. There being no presiding officer," the Minutes report, "the meeting closed in a somewhat irregular manner."
Actually the problem behind all of the problems was that the Church was starving for lack of funds. The Church was not alone in this plight. The nation was in its worst depression of the century and a local panic in 1875 caused bank failures and despair for everyone except Lucky Baldwin. The resultant depression lasted many years.
The rental of a place for worship amounted to ten to twenty dollars per month and for five years the Church was always in arrears for one or two month's rent. The real reason the Church did not call a permanent minister was that they could not afford even a modest $50 a month. Winfield Scott was invited only because the Home Mission Society agreed to pay $1000 of his year's salary.
Usually the Church did not invite a pastor, even for a short stay, unless the money was in sight to pay him. Pledges would be taken in advance to cover the expense. When this was not done, the minister had to wait for his money. S. S. Fisk preached April and May, 1876, and not until June was $91 subscribed to pay him. Of this amount, $40 came from "Sister" Lankershim and James B. Lankershim.
James B. Lankershim was the son of Isaac Lankershim who had participated in founding the church. James was the first president of the Los Angeles Athletic Club and is also noted as the builder of the Lankershim Hotel and the first seven-story building in the city. The item from the Evening Express of November 9, 1875, indicates that his wife gave the Church its first Communion service.
Therein lies a mystery which hours of research have not solved at the time of this writing. The gift was made in 1875, but according to the records in Los Angeles, J. B.was married in 1881 to the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Jones who lived in an adobe opposite the Plaza. Was the newspaper in error the donor really having been Mrs. Isaac Lankershim or had he married a San Francisco girl earlier who had died sometime between 1875 and 1881? The latter theory seems reasonable, as he was age 31 when he married Carolyn Jones.
The Baptist Ladies Society mentioned in the article was the first auxiliary group in the Church. They were responsible for preparing the Communion. In March of 1875 the Sunday School was started.
The first annual meeting was held on January 4th, 1877. Officers elected at that time were three Deacons, a Clerk and a Treasurer. By the end of that year, exactly 100 members had joined the Church since its start ten by baptism. Only three came into the Church during the entire year of 1878 and the Church roll was down to 66 most of whom were not very active. The Clerk lamented that only 10 attended the Covenant and business meeting in July.
It is interesting that neither the Trustees nor the Finance Committee were considered elected officers. Both groups existed at that time, but presumably on a pro-tem basis. Prior to having trustees, a House Chairman had performed their function. When that office was first created, a new member volunteered for the job, but his term of service and membership both ended when he failed to appear before the Church to defend against a charge of drunkenness.
Mistakenly, we have a nostalgic feeling toward the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But the "good old days" do not deserve approbation, whether considered internationally, nationally or locally, either secularly or religiously. Wars, riots, strikes, financial panics, high interest rates, ethnic-prejudices were the order of the day. The churches seemed concerned only with themselves and spent their efforts in internal bickering and fighting each other. In Los Angeles, too, the crying needs for Christian involvement were ignored: extreme poverty and pitiful living conditions, mistreatment and abuse of the poorer Mexicans, the Indians and the Chinese. We cannot be surprised that First Baptist does not seem to have been an exception. The extent of practice of Social Gospel was in the missionary offerings and the Deacon's fund for needy members.
Strict adherence to the approved theological dogma was a sign of the times, and non-acceptance was dealt with summarily. In July, 1880, the hand of fellowship was withdrawn from two members: one for "embracing error" (?) and the other for belief in infant baptism. A few years later, two Sisters were excluded for holding "unscriptural views on sanctification" and another "for not walking properly with the Church."
Just when its strength was at lowest ebb and the Church appeared to be doomed, the Lord sent an Angel whose first name was Henry. The Rev. Henry Angel, from the Trinity Baptist Church of New York City, began to serve as pastor in May 1878, and continued his tranquil leadership until his death a year and a half later. He never received a formal call to the Church, yet his ministry was essential to the miracle of survival. Nor was he paid a salary, although the Church did assume his funeral expenses (!) and placed an expression of appreciation in the newspaper.
One who knew him stated that he was "a man of godly spirit and sanctified wisdom" who performed "the function of the sacred office with great acceptance' until he was called to his reward on September 20, 1879." Three months later, Dr. Hobbs also suffered a stroke and died. For two years then until the Rev. P. W. Dorsey received the call the Church continued without the leadership of a pastor.
The bright spot at the start of the Eighties was provided by an evangelistic team of Dr. DeWitt and Mr. Maxham who were invited to conduct a series of meetings in 1880. They brought in 40 new members, but more important was DeWitt's constructive criticism. He chided the members for their lethargy and procrastination and pointed out that other local churches, younger than First Baptist were progressing and prospering. He proposed that they should "search for a pastor among the super-abundance of good men in the East -- many of whom are occupying smaller fields than they ought, and are willing and anxious to extend their labours."
The Church was stirred by his admonishment, but nevertheless it was May of the following year before they took positive action.
THE MINISTRY OF P. W. AND SUSAN DORSEY: 1881-1888
Whereas during the first seven years of its life the Church survived only by the grace of God, the next seven brought it to a state of strength and health that would augur its future as a great Church.
The economic situation in Los Angeles was now better. The Santa Fe railroad completed its line from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1885. There followed a rate war between the Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe, with tickets from the East costing as little as one dollar. This started a mass movement of people to Southern California which raised the population of the City to 60,000 in 1887 -- five times the figure of six years earlier. The Great Boom was on. The City spread in every direction and neighboring towns mushroomed up over night. The people who came were of a more stable character than those who had arrived earlier. They came because they were attracted to Southern California, not to get away from a painful past. And they came with money, not looking for it. The Depression was over and, for a time, Los Angeles prospered.
The Dorseys provided exactly the type of leadership to enable the Church to take full advantage of the situation. P. W. Dorsey was just graduating from the Rochester Seminary when he was invited by the Church to supply the pulpit for three months. In that era, very few preachers were seminary-trained, and in Southern California they were a rarity.
When Dorsey and his wife arrived in Los Angeles, the members promptly fell in love with them. Everyone was impressed with the graciousness, enthusiasm and energy of both Dorseys.
On August 4th, 1881, three months before he was ordained, he was called to be Pastor by a unanimous vote on the first ballot.
Mr. Dorsey was ordained on November 6th, with Dr. H. I. Parker, Pastor at Santa Ana, officiating. This was the same Dr. Parker who, four years before, had served First Baptist very briefly as Minister. Later, after retiring, he and Mrs. Parker became members of First Baptist.
The salary paid P. W. Dorsey certainly was not commensurate with Dorsey's value to the Church. During the first five years he was paid $100 per month, with assistance from the Home Mission Society for the first two years. After the fifth year his pay was raised to $125 monthly. Small though this may seem, no Baptist minister in the Southwest was paid more.
Susan Miller Dorsey graduated from Vassar in 1877, having earned the honor of Phi Beta Kappa. Harriet Robbins says, "She was brilliant, well-read, very gracious, considerate of others, a wise administrator and a most delightful person." Her career was in Education. She began as a teacher; then she served as Assistant Superintendent of Los Angeles Schools for seven years and Superintendent for nine years. In the opinion of a contemporary authority, she was "one of the outstanding educators in the country." Dorsey High School is named in her honor the only high school to have been named for a living person.
Regrettably, we do not have a picture of Mrs. Dorsey as she appeared when First Lady of First Baptist. This picture shows her with poet, Edwin Markham.
Probably the most important accomplishment of the Dorseys was the transformation they effected in the spirit of the Church. They quickly eliminated the lethargic attitude, and talk was replaced by action. Then the Dorseys' own generosity brought some members to follow their example and others were shamed into liberality. The Minutes report an instance of "reasoning" with a member to give financial support, and on other occasions the amounts of gifts and the names of non-givers were publicized!
Earlier the Church had been quite self-centered and more intent on the adherence of its members to dogmatic beliefs than on efforts to extend the Gospel and to be of service to others. True, there still were instances where the hand of fellowship was withdrawn for "embracing error," but the Pentecostal influence was bothering all Baptist churches. At First Baptist, most of the evidence points to an unselfish broadening of interest and activities.
This was demonstrated in the starting of mission churches in the outlying, newly-developed areas of the City. This was done to such an extent that leaders in the denomination referred to First Baptist as the "mother of churches."
Sometimes the beginning would be made with a Sunday School, and in most cases with a nucleus of members who lived in the neighborhood. When the group grew to a sufficient number, it would organize as a church, at which time First Baptist would release its members and also give a cash contribution toward a building. As many as 23 members were released for a single church and as much as $3000 was contributed.
During the Dorsey ministry, six of these mission groups were initiated. At least four became churches (East Los Angeles, Memorial, Calvary and Swedish) but due to changes in the City, not a single one has survived until today. In fact, every American Baptist church in the City today began in the 20th century except First and Second, the latter having been organized in 1885.
In December 1886, H. C. Bristol was employed as Assistant Pastor to do missionary work in the City. His salary of $1000 was largely paid by Mrs. I. Lankershim. After serving only seven months, poor health forced his resignation and A. W. Rider took his place. This was before the existence of the Los Angeles City Mission Society, which did not have its beginning until 1906.
The most spectacular achievement during Dorsey's ministry was the building of a house of worship on the northeast corner of Sixth and Fort Streets (now Broadway) where Silverwood's store has been located for many years. The total cost was $25,000 which was just twice the amount subscribed for the purpose a year and a half earlier. Yet, on April 12, 1884, the new building was dedicated, completely free of debt! Actually, the Church had been operating "in the black" only for the last two years of its first decade. (On February 2, 1882, the Treasurer had reported that, for the first time ever, all bills were paid and a balance of $88.34 on hand.)
The new building provided the largest seating capacity of any Protestant church in Southern California or of any Baptist church on the Pacific Coast. A letter inviting the Los Angeles Association to hold its annual meeting in the new building states, "To erect this house of worship in honor of our Master, was a remarkable task for us in view of the fact that we were only few in number [there were only 140 members] and limited in means and it was accomplished by the most liberal giving on the part of all and by increasing toil; and now each rejoices and thanks God for the part he has been permitted to take in it.
"As a Church, we feel that we are now for the first time, in shape to do effective work for the Master and we have large hopes and extended plans for the future."
Sixth and Fort Streets had not been the first site selected for the building. The first lot acquired had been at Fourth and Fort, but the Church decided against that location. That lot had been bought before the Church was incorporated and was purchased in the name of O. T. Barker as Trustee.
Obadiah Truax Barker (he preferred just "O. T.") was the founder of the present Barker Bros. He had arrived in Los Angeles in 1880 and, with a partner, started a furniture and carpet business on North Spring Street. When his partner retired, O. T. Barker and Sons moved to a store near the Pico House.
There were steps which were preliminary and necessary to construction of the building. In order to own property, the Church had to incorporate. This was finally achieved on May 8, 1882 five years after Trustees had been elected and charged with the task. The original document, which is on display in the Hobbs Room, states that the purposes of the Church are "religious and benevolent; to hold and conduct meetings for worship according to the rules, regulations and discipline of the Baptist church and to do such acts of charity and benevolence as may be deemed best by said associa tion and to acquire and hold all land and property that may be necessary for the business and objects of this association and burial grounds for its deceased members." The matter of burial grounds was important at the time because of the lack of a decent Protestant cemetery in early Los Angeles. Such as was available on Fort Hill and later at Ninth and Figueroa were sadly neglected and evoked bitter criticism in the local press. Ultimately the need was met by the Evergreen and Rosedale cemeteries.
Three of the five Trustees signed the Articles of Incorporation. The two whose signatures do not appear were O. T. Barker and R. L. Patton, manager of one of Lankershim's six great ranches in the San Fernando Valley. One of the signers was Isaac N. Cooper, charter member and lay preacher, Deacon and Moderator during the troubled Seventies. Texan Cooper was nearing the end of his years of faithful service to the Church. His death occurred two days after the new building was dedicated.
Another was James R. Millard who, in 1876, had joined the Church by letter from Ottawa, Kansas. Little is known of Mr. Millard other than that he had served as Clerk for a couple of years just preceding the coming of the Dorseys.
First of the three signers was the President of the Board, J. D. Bicknell. John Dustin Bicknell, born in Vermont in 1838, had joined First Baptist in 1876 by letter from Greenfield, Missouri, and had served as Clerk. He was a prominent attorney-at-law of the firm of Bicknell and White, later Bicknell, Gibson and Trask. His first partner, who was destined for national renown was Stephen M. White who became United States Senator and succeeded in locating Los Angeles' harbor at San Pedro against the formidable opposition of C. P. Huntington and the Southern Pacific.
John Bicknell's older brother was Frederick T. Bicknell M. D., president of the California Hospital and the California Health Resort. Dr. Bicknell's wife, Carrie, was an officer in the Ladies' Aid Society.
Later activities of John Bicknell were prophetic of First Baptist relationships 80 years later. He served as one of the original trustees of the Hollenbeck Home for the Aged, and was a member of the first non-partisan Board of Education selected by the citizens of Los Angeles. He was a leader in civic activities until his death in 1911.
Heading the list of laymen who sustained the Church during its critical and development period, however, should be the name of Isaac Lankershim. Probably the Church would not be in existence today had it not been for the steadying influence, the financial counsel and the generous benefactions of Lankershim and his family and business associates. We do not know, but we suspect, that a major part of the cost of the new building came from that source.
Isaac Lankershim, born in Bavaria, had driven a horse-drawn wagon from Missouri to northern California in the early Fifties, bringing with him, his wife, Annis, and baby son, James. Having been a farmer in Missouri, he became a rancher in the Bay area. Apparently he was successful, because in 15 years he came to Los Angeles and paid Pio Pico and his brother Andres $115,000 for the southern half of San Fernando Valley. Ignoring advice that wheat would not grow in Southern California, he planted thousands of acres and his harvests were so bountiful that he built a flour mill in Los Angeles and shipped the flour to Ejngland.
In November, 1881, he was appointed as a member of the committee to select a building site and was also elected a Trustee. Unfortunately, failing health forced his resignation two months later and he died within theyear.
Isaac Newton Van Nuys served as Trustee after Lankershim's death. He had come to Los Angeles from Monticello, New York in 1870 and was employed by Lankershim to manage his property. Van Nuys solidified the relationship by marrying the boss's daughter.
In addition to his agricultural and developmental work in San Fernando Valley, Mr. Van Nuys owned the Van Nuys Hotels and was vice-president of a local bank. (His death occurred in 1 921, his wife's in 1923.)
The Minutes for August 7, 1887, record that, "Through the Christian liberality of Mrs. Van Nuys, a handsome cement sidewalk has been laid in front of the Church." At a later meeting, recognition was accorded Mrs. Lankershim and Mrs. Van Nuys for their continuing generosity, "though not members of this Church." Assumably they never transferred their membership from the North because their ranch homes were so far from the City as to prevent regular attendance at First Baptist services.
Professor Alonzo C. Potter was another benefactor. (His picture will be seen later, as a member of the Official Board of 1900.) He and his wife, Delia, had united with the Church by letter from Fairfield, Iowa, in 1880. Both were active in the affairs of the Church, she as an officer in the Ladies' Aid and the Missionary Society, he as a Deacon and as a Trustee.
In 1886 Potter presented the Church with a fine organ, shipped from Boston the first pipe organ in Southern California. He also gave a piano for the use of the Sunday School. (The organ was later moved to Flower Street, then to the temporary structure on Sixth Street where it remains today, except for the presentation plaque which Dr. Henderson has recovered and placed with the Church memorabilia.)
On the last Sunday of August in 1887, Dorsey shocked the congregation at the conclusion of his sermon by announcing, "The last year has been especially trying to soul and body. As a result of all this, my nervous system shows signs of disease. I am suffering from an affliction of the right arm which I fear may terminate in paralysis." So, after six significant years, the Dorseys left.
Because the Church had reached respected status in the community, it was imperative to secure the best attainable talent for its Pastor. Almost immediately the Church took unanimous action to call Dr. H. M. Bixby of Providence, R. I., but sickness prevented him from responding. Other ministers were approached but it was 15 months before Dr. Read came to the pulpit. In the interim, A. W. Rider served commendably. After Dr. Read's arrival, Mr. Rider continued for a few months as Assistant Pastor, the first assistant pastor in Southern California. (Actually he served as Minister of Visitation, as does Dr. Dan Rider today! They are not related.) He then accepted a call to become Minister to the Memorial Baptist Church which First Baptist had started in 1886 under the leadership of Mr. Rider.
THE MINISTRY OF DANIEL AND LOVINA READ: 1888-1898
Having enjoyed success with a very young pastor, the Church surprisingly shifted to the other extreme and called a man on the eve of his retirement, and again made a discerning choice.
Daniel Read D. D., LL. D., was 63 years of age when he came to First Baptist, having been born in Orangeville, N. Y. on April 11, 1825. His father and grandfather were Baptist preachers and two sons followed in the tradition, one of whom preached at First Baptist while Read was Pastor.
Dr. Read was educated at Madison University. (Neither Orangeville nor Madison University exists today.) He had pastored a number of churches in New York and the Midwest, and for 14 years was president of Shurtleff College. Because of his wife's health, he left a pastorate in Waterloo, Iowa, to come to Redlands, and on December 2, 1888, began his service at First Baptist.
This evaluation of his efforts was written three years after his work at First Baptist concluded: "It was a most conspicuous blessing of heaven that a man after God's own heart, fully qualified to teach, to direct, and to sympathize in all matters pertaining to church work and individual life, should have been sent to us just at this Juncture of the church's history. . . . For nine years he devoted his thought and strength to the great work of developing in the church the highest form of Christian character, cultivating the missionary spirit, instilling the virtues of consecration, benevolence, and an unwavering loyalty to the Truth; making it the end and aim of his life to have the church ready to present to the Master at the last day, without spot or wrinkle."
That ecomium misses one important point. Dr. Read's accomplishments were in spite of financial curtailments. As in the Seventies, this period was plagued with a shortage of funds. As before, the trouble was not with the Church but with a recessive economy. The Great Boom which had started in 1885 in Southern California had run its course. At first it had brought well-intentioned settlers, but with increasing momentum it had attracted those who wished to gamble in real estate and some who swindled ruthlessly. Quickly it had become a wild, hysterical frenzy in which property changed hands daily even several times a day. Within two years the price of town lots had advanced 300% and more.
In a period of three hectic years, the Boom waxed and waned and in its wake left nothing but grief. Syndicates went broke and their failure resulted in loss of lifetime savings, bankruptcy and often in suicide. On the heels of this local disaster came the Panic of 1893, national in scope, and the depression which followed.
Aside from the financial situation, there was positive progress. The moral tone of the City had improved. The age of science and industry had begun and the benefits were noticeable in Los Angeles. Bell had invented the telephone in 1876 and local use began in 1882. With the advent of electrical power, cable cars replaced the horse cars except when heavy rains flooded out the power plant.
Los Angeles had become the first city in the United States to be exclusively lighted by electricity when, in 1884, arc lights were installed on seven 150 foot towers spread a mile or more apart. There was opposition, though, to electrical lighting. It was claimed that it caused optical illusions, produced color blindness, and was a menace to ladies' complexions! (Of course, history shows that any change meets with resistance. The Revised Version of the English Bible was completed by the scholars in 1885 but it was years before it was accepted for use by most churches.)
The work of First Baptist was not enhanced by the "modern improvements." Rather, it was seriously crippled by the impoverishment of its members due to the economic conditions. The total financial need of the Church was only about $5000 to $7000 per year, but deficits were almost continuous. In August 1892, for the first time since Dr. Read's arrival, the Church was free from indebtedness and his salary was increased to $150. This recovery was only temporary, however, and a year later conditions were so bad that Dr. Read voluntarily reduced his salary back to $125. Nevertheless the Church continued to grow in numbers as the City's population continued to increase. This growth in membership was the more remarkable considering that by 1895 there were a dozen Baptist churches in Los Angeles and its suburbs. During Dorsey's period the number had more than doubled, and this was again more than doubled while Read was Pastor. Nearly all of the additions were newcomers to the area. Here are figures for the membership at the first of the year, by 5-year periods:
1875. . . . . 13
1880. . . . . 65
1885. . . . 182
1890. . . . 349
1895. . . . 563
1900. . . . 928
Attendance was excellent. Whereas today the number attending any service is but a fraction of the membership, then the congregation at Sunday services, morning and evening, would regularly exceed the total membership. Upon occasion, the crowd on Sunday evening would fill the Church beyond its regular seating capacity of 450.
Partly, the good attendance may have been due to the fact that religion is more attractive during adversity. The principal reason certainly was that there were no counter-attractions. There was nothing else to do on Sunday! Also, as to the members, it was a Covenant obligation to support the Church, financially and in person. Covenant meetings were still held each month and anyone who failed to abide by his agreement was dropped from the roll.
More than 100 regularly attended the weekly Prayer meetings. In May 1894, a proposal to change the night of these meetings from Thursday to Wednesday was "carried by a large majority." Participation in these meetings proved so extensive that action had to be taken limiting the length of the service to an hour and a quarter. A prayer group also met each week during the day.
This was also the period of time when the Sunday School reached the acme of its effectiveness. As mentioned earlier, most churches started with a Sunday School and First Baptist may not have been an exception. The First Baptist Sunday School had been officially organized on March 28th, 1875 under the superintendency of Shepard Smith, but twenty years afterward, Anna Hobbs recalled that previous to its organization, "A few of the church members had assembled, with as many children as they could get together, at our residence on Alameda Street and had instituted the work of a Sunday School. These meetings were not held with perfect regularity, but they served to awaken an interest in the subject, and became the nucleus about which the subsequent organization crystallized"
Teachers at that early date included Mrs. Hobbs, Mrs. Zahn (a member of the German Methodist Church), Shepard Smith, Henry Angel, Isaac Cooper, James Millard and others. When P. W. Dorsey came, he assumed the superintendency for two years. This illustrates the prominent position held by the Sunday School in that era.
The Sunday School had an identity of its own, almost on equal terms with the Church. It was independently organized with a separate Constitution and By Laws. It elected its own complete corps of officers, of which only the superintendents and attendance at the Sunday School was phenomenal. In March 1892, the average was 266. In April a new record was set at 277. This was surpassed in May, and in June the total reached 313, almost equal to the Church membership.
Revival services also added new members to the Church rolls. Sometimes these were sponsored by First Baptist and other times they were in union with other churches and denominations. When the crowds were too large to be seated in one of the church buildings, the meetings would be held in Hazard's Pavilion on Fifth Street where the Temple Baptist Church property is now located.
By 1894 there were a score of Chinese who were members of First Baptist, brought into the fold through the Chinese Mission which the Church sponsored, beginning in the Dorsey era. The Mission was located at 608 North Main Street and was under the leadership of Emma Fitch, who had been employed as City Missionary to fill the vacancy when A. W. Rider left to become Pastor at Memorial.
Many Chinese laborers had come to Southern California after the building of the railways. By 1880 there were 20,000 Chinese in Southern California a sizeable part of the population. They ran laundries, worked as domestics, and produced and distributed nearly all of the vegetables for Los Angeles. They also developed the fishing industry and were the first laborers in the citrus groves.
Their treatment by the citizenry was deplorable. Historian Carey McWilliams reports, "Youngsters were given free license to stone the Chinese, upset their vegetable carts and laundry wagons, and to pull their Queues for good measure." Beginning at the time of the Panic of 1873, the Chinese were blamed for unemployment, depressed wages and bad business conditions. The political agitators who headed the Working-men's Party in California were responsible for this ever-increasing antipathy and they tried various ways to discourage both Chinese activity and immigration. One of their pamphlets read, "The Chinaman must leave the State of California. The white freeman with his wife and children cannot live in the same atmosphere as the Coolie slave. One or the other must leave the State and it must be the Chinaman."
It is much to the credit of the Church at that time that their spirit of Christian brotherhood kept them from heeding the rabble-rousers, even though such an attitude was very unpopular. First Baptist also sponsored a resolution adopted by the Southern California Baptist State Convention:
"Resolved, that as a Convention of Baptists we enter our decided and emphatic protest against the recent act of the House of Representatives in passing the Geary Chinese Restriction Bill, by which nearly all Chinamen are forever prohibited from landing upon our shores, or gaining a livelihood in the United States."
The resolution went on to denounce the Bill as "unamerican, unchristian and outrageous." As a matter of political expediency however, Congress passed the Bill and it became law.
The Convention had just been organized (April 21, 1892) and its first meeting, when the resolution was adopted, was in the First Baptist building. Fifty-three Baptist churches from four associations in Southern California united to form the Convention.
Just a month after the Convention, the Church published its first printed handbook and Directory. It contained names and addresses of the 400 members and was kept up-to-date by printed supplements.
At the time of a large meeting, such as that of the Convention, it was possible to roll back the big doors which separated the sanctuary from the Sunday School room, and thus enlarge the capacity to about 800. There were occasions when even this was not adequate for the crowd. Also, the Sunday School had outgrown its space. It is not surprising, therefore, that as early as 1892 there were stirrings to build a "more commodious house of worship." It was the decision, however, that no move would be made unless the cost could be met by the sale of the Sixth Street property. Since that was not possible at the time, the matter had to be tabled.
There were other disappointments in the period. One was the defection of the Church's first foreign missionary. Miss Adele Phillips had been proudly sent to Japan, but in 1893, support and the hand of fellowship were withdrawn because she had joined another denomination. This did not deter the missionary efforts of the Church. Contributions to both the Home and Foreign Mission Societies were substantial to the point that the Church was reputed for its generosity throughout the entire denomination. Benevolences usually ran a full third of the expenditures.
In May 1897, the Church contributed substantially toward repaying of the massive debt of the American Baptist missionary organization. The indebtedness amounted to $486,000, of which John D. Rockefeller pledged to pay $250,000 if the churches raised the balance.
Locally, other struggling churches were helped and there always were several missions to be supported, and their activities were expanding. The Chinese mission had classes every evening and the Berean Mission now operated an industrial training school.
The courses available in the public high school at that time were exclusively academic. Thus the Berean Mission met a real need, located as it was in the poorer south-central section of the City, by offering vocational training which would equip its students to get jobs. (The Church had borrowed the money for the building from the State Mission Board. The interest rate was 11%! If that sounds like the present, note that gold sold for more than $100 per ounce.)
Two of the missions started about this time, rather quickly became churches; the Central Avenue Mission became Bethel Baptist Church and the Court Circle Mission became Immanuel Baptist Church. Unfortunately, a year later, the latter was reported as having "gone to pieces because of animosity among its members."
In July 1897, the Pico Heights Mission was started, with Mrs. A. L. Lankershim (Isaac's widow) giving $50 toward its expenses. Mrs. Lankershim frequently gave to missionary projects and was also the donor of two additional plates and cups for the Communion set.
Another missionary program to which the Church gave regular support one which was peculiar to the times was the Chapel Car "Emmanuel." This was one of six such railroad cars owned by the American Baptist Publication Society this one serving the Far-western region. Its purpose was to visit towns without churches and to work among railroad men at division points. The effort was successful. Evangelists using the "Emmanuel" established or revived a number of small community churches and averaged over a hundred conversions per year.
Still another project which was given greater support, was not successful: the Los Angeles Baptist University. St. Vincent's College (now Loyola University) and the University of Southern California were both in existence at the time. Hopes were high that Baptists would have "a school worthy of ourselves, worthy of our denomination and the age, and worthy of the Master whom we serve."
Los Angeles Baptist University had opened its doors in the Fall of 1887 in a newly-constructed four-story building. The plant was too grandiose, the operating budget too high, and the response in enrollment fell short of expectations.
P. W. Dorsey became a financial agent for the University in 1893 and the Dorseys returned to membership at First Baptist, with Mrs. Dorsey resuming her career in the Los Angeles school system.
L. A. B. U. was nominally sponsored by the Los Angeles Association but among the church groups, First Baptist was the major supporter. For six years it struggled along, soaking up all of the money it could get, but like many other ventures of the time, it was unable to survive the economic depression of 1893. For a time it continued as an academy, even adding the inducement of a military department, but eventually it had to liquidate. At least alumni of the University of Redlands can find consolation in the demise of L. A. B. U. A second Baptist school in the area could not have been supported and would not have been proposed. Further, the campaign in 1907 to raise funds to establish the university at Redlands would have fallen short of the required goal had not the $60,000 of assets of the defunct college pushed the campaign over the top.
Many of the faculty and students of L. A. B. U. were members of First Baptist. Melville Dozier, a prominent layman in the Church and perennial chairman of the Deacons, served as president of the school's Board. (You will find him in the picture of First Baptist's Official Board of 1900.) Professor Dozier had come to California by way of Panama before the railroads and was one of the staff of three when a branch of the State Normal School opened here in 1882. He served as an instructor and administrator there for 22 years. (Merle Miller, a leader in today's Church, claims him as "Uncle Melville".)
To Dr. Read, the real calamity in the closing of the University was the loss of advanced education for young Baptists who were dedicated to become ministers and missionaries. To meet that need he started a training school of his own in the First Baptist building. The Southern California Baptist Training School began in September 1895, with 29 students and a volunteer faculty of six. Besides Bible studies, there were courses in Homiletics, Christian Culture, Systematic Theology, First Principles of Medical Science, and Elementary and Advanced English. The English courses were taught in the evening by Susan Dorsey. Dr. Read had this to say about her ability as a teacher: "By her rare skill and rarer patience and perseverance, she has secured a measure of proficiency on the part of her students which is beyond our most sanguine expectations." (By this time the Dorseys had separated and her husband had a pulpit in Waco, Texas.)
Considering that it operated on a few hundred dollars per year, the school was remarkably successful. In a few years it had graduates filling the pulpits in nearby towns, and four who had come out of the Chinese Mission had returned to China as missionaries, supported in their work by the school!
Dr. Read was a good organizer and a capable leader. We cannot appraise his preaching ability because there are no copies of any of his sermons extant, but apparently it was appreciated by the congregation. On one occasion they voted that he should repeat a sermon. The topic was "The Condition of the Dead between Death and Resurrection."
The culmination of Read's ministry was the new house of worship on Flower Street. The inadequacy of the Broadway building had prompted frequent efforts to move to an improved facility; but these always were thwarted by an insufficient price for the old property. Lack of money also precluded its remodeling and refurbishing.
In March 1897, the Church approved exchanging properties with the Simpson M. E. Tabernacle but the deal fell through when the Methodists were unable to pay the $10,000 boot which was a condition of the transfer.
Just a month later the Church accepted an offer from Chester Williams of $45,000 for their property, without the windows and contents of the building. This was $5,000 less than was wanted and needed for the construction and furnishing of the new edifice. In order to make the move without indebtedness, the $5,000 was raised at the close of the last Sunday service held in the Broadway building.
Thirty pieces of property were then considered by the Location committee; the first and decisive choice being the 130 foot frontage on the west side of Flower Street between 7th and 8th Streets, priced at $11,000.
Five sets of plans were submitted to the Building committee for their consideration. Here their first choice was too expensive and the ultimate selection favored the plans drawn by Henry I. Starbuck.
If the Church ever honors lay servants of its early days, I. N. Van Nuys should be given prime consideration. Although "a very busy man," he never refused an assignment and gave unsparingly of his time and money. He served regularly as a Trustee for a quarter of a century. He was a leader in the building of the first church and in the move to Flower Street. He was one of three who each gave $500 toward the $5,000 that had to be raised on that last Sunday morning before moving. (Three of his children, Annis, Kate and Bent are mentioned in Sunday School activities. For several years, Annis had the title of Librarian the first time that title appears in the records. Later, her sister Kate succeeded her in the office.)
The first Honorary Life Deacon was James Chapin. He had joined the Church by letter from Iowa on November 6, 1875, being the 33rd person to become a member. A score of years later he had become the patriarch because all of those ahead of him had passed on or moved away.
Alonzo C. Potter, the donor of the great organ, was the second Life Deacon. Although born in New York, he too had come from Iowa where he was known as "Professor" Potter, head of the Fairfield Conservatory of Music.
When Potter came to Los Angeles in 1879, he expanded his interests by buying four acres lying south and west of 7th and Figueroa for $8,000. (The Statler Hotel now stands on part of that property.) He built his home there, surrounded by a garden of exotic plants which became a showplace for visiting tourists.
D. K. Edwards (David Kitz-Miller Edwards) was another pillar of the Church, serving for many years as a Deacon, Trustee or other officer sometimes in a dual capacity. He was born in Tennessee in 1851 and taught in public school in Gonzaies (near Salinas) before coming to Los Angeles.
Deacon Edwards was associated with Max Newmark, first in the grain business, then as a partner in New-mark & Edwards (which acted as escrow agent whenever the Church bought or sold property.) He was a member of the City's first Board of Public Works and was on the Board at the time the bond issue was passed to build the Owens River aqueduct. Later, he was chairman of the County's Highway Commission and was on the Board of Education for four years.
For 25 years Edwards was a director on the Board of the Southern California Baptist Convention and was elected Honorary President. He was an early Trustee of the University of Redlands, 20 years a director of the Y. M. C. A., a director of the Chamber of Commerce and of two local banks.
Other laymen who have not been mentioned but who served notably in this era were: C. H. Barker (one of the "Barker Bros."). . . . W. F. Jacobs (Church Clerk for eight years). . . . W. G. Shaw. . . . Mr. and Mrs. F. J. Cressey (Captain Cressey was president of the Southern California Baptist Convention in 1896. She was superintendent of the Primary Department until her death, and it was the best organized department in the Sunday School. The program of their graduation exercises always took over a Sunday evening service.). . . . Richard Green. . . . Samuel S. Chase. . . . C. H. Brown. . . . C. C. Boynton. . . . E. C. Hurd (onetime owner of the first railway to Hollywood which he extended to Laurel Canyon). . . . Charles O. Adams. . . . Dr. F. M. Parker. . . . H. Haskell. . . . S. G. Bennett and C. A. Hubbard.
The burden having become too great for Dr. Read, past age 70 and in poor health, to carry alone, the Rev. J. Herndon Garnett of San Jose was called as Assistant Pastor at the start of 1896. Dr. Read once again reduced his salary (he received less at the end of his ministry than at the beginning) in order to help pay $100 a month to Garnett. All was well until October of the following year when, due to the illness of both Read and Garnett, Joseph Smale was employed as a supply at $75 monthly. To meet this, the salaries of the two sick men were cut to $75 during their illnesses.
On November 6, 1897 the cornerstone of the new building was laid, without ceremony because both pastors were ill. On December 22nd Garnett resigned because of health. On the 29th, Dr. Read's wife, Lovina, died; and on January 12, 1898 he resigned because as he said, "Through sickness, sorrow, bereavement and age, I am no longer able to do the work."
Dr. Read had served the longest term of any First Baptist minister before Dr. Francis. The Church named him as Pastor Emeritus and voted him a tribute of $75 a month for three months and $50 monthly for life. He went East to visit his children's families and died in Emporia, Kansas, on May 27, 1898. The funeral was in the new building which Dr. Read had not lived to see. He had made two last requests. One that showed him ahead of his time, was that instead of buying flowers, donations should be made to the Training School. The other was that Dr. A. J. Frost should preach the funeral sermon. (It is interesting that Dr. Frost might have become First Baptist's second pastor back in February 1876 had the Clerk sent correspondence as instructed by the Pulpit Committee.)
THE MINISTRY OF JOSEPH SMALE: 1898-1905
The Rev. Mr. Joseph Smale was called by the Church to be their Pastor on January 22, 1898, just three months after he had come to supply the pulpit and just ten days after Dr. Read's resignation. Undoubtedly Mr. Garnett would have received the call had not poor health already forced his resignation as Read's assistant. In accepting the call, Mr. Smale expressed this bit of philosophy which is as applicable now as it was then: "Reformation is not the first need of humanity, but regeneration. If you would have pure politics, clean government, a moral society with peace and contentment reigning, men must have new hearts, and they must let God work through them as they seek to do His will."
We have no biographical data on Smale except that he had been born in Cornwall, England on July 7, 1867; that he lived with his mother, Ann Smale and that he had come to Los Angeles from Prescott, Arizona. (Arizona was still a Territory, and Prescott was then a town of 4,000, supported by stock-raising, lumber and nearby Fort Whipple.) He had been married but had separated from his wife before coming to First Baptist.
At First Baptist, everyone was occupied with the construction of the new building, and Smale was on the spot and available. Even so, he was not swept in with enthusiasm: About 10% of the voting congregation were negative on the secret ballot and the Moderator was unable to get a unanimous standing vote of approval.
The final service on Broadway was in the evening of March 27, 1898. A lengthy program included several papers by members of the Church. Professor Dozier's topic was "Our Pastors" and Anna Hobbs, widow of the first Pastor, gave "Early Reminiscences." This would be a better history and more might be reported on Mr. Smale, if those papers were still in the records. (Fortunately, all of the Clerk's minutes have been preserved but there is reason to believe that all other material, including a Scrap Book, to which the Clerk sometimes refers, were carelessly left behind when moving to the present structure). The first service at 727 S. Flower Street was on April 3rd and the Dedication Service was a week later, followed by four days of evangelistic meetings.
Dr. Frost preached the dedicatory sermon. He had frequently been both a guest preacher and lecturer at the Church during Read's ministry. One of his lectures had been on his experiences at the Columbian World's Fair in Chicago, and a later one was on the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. With Dr. Read's death, Dr. Frost became the dean of Southern California Baptist ministers.
Mr. Smale was an evangelist at heart and his evening services were always directed to the "unsaved." A series of evangelistic meetings lasting one to four weeks, with an outside speaker, were held about twice each year.
Dwight L. Moody was invited for one of the evangelistic series, but the building's capacity of 2000 was far too small for the crowds he attracted, so that after two nights the remaining meetings had to be held in Hazard's Pavilion.
A most unique meeting was held in the new building at the turn of the century, a plan which originated "in the fertile brain and kindly heart" of Mr. Smale.
All other Baptist churches in Southern California were invited to attend this Twentieth Century Baptist Conference, which began in the morning of the last day of 1900 and continued on into the new century. Forty churches were represented..The program included 35 speakers, and a midnight baptism of two Chinese.
Music was a significant part of these special events, as it was of the regular services from the time the Church had a worshipful place of meeting. There is a record of paid soloists as early as 1885 when a Miss Bush and a Mr. Nay were hired at $16 per month and $2 per week respectively. There was no law requiring equal pay for both sexes then.
It seems that at times music was given priority even over preaching. At the same meeting when Dr. Read voluntarily cut his salary by $25 a month, the Church voted to engage a chorister and an organist for a total of $40 a month. The Music Committee always was given an allowance of five dollars monthly for the purchase of music. In 1903, George H. Williams was employed full time with the title "Music Director and Sunday School Missionary."
The Sunday School had an orchestra of from fifteen to twenty instruments and sometimes played at the regular services certainly always on Children's Day. On some special occasions outside musicians were used. For example, at an annual reception for new members, Lowinski's orchestra was brought in.
Some changes in practice coincided with the move to Flower Street. There would be no names on pews in the sanctuary, but this action "was not intended to discourage regular sittings."
The use of the common cup at Communion ended. Dr. M. E. Spinks, a member, used the argument of sanitation, and won the argument by presenting sufficient trays of individual glasses.
From the economic standpoint, conditions were good in this period. After recovery from the Panic of 1893, there were about ten years of relative prosperity. This was reflected in the financial picture of the Church. Total annual expenditures soon exceeded the $10,000 mark. By 1902 they surpassed $15,000 of which over one half was in benevolences.
This was before the invention of that essential tool for the planning and control of spending: the budget. Possibly because of this lack, the outgo always exceeded the income, and the inevitable result each year was a deficit of a thousand dollars or more, a considerable figure in relation to the total operating cost. An appeal after the Sunday morning sermon would yield pledges for the major part of, or sometimes exceeding, the amount asked for. Today's pledges are cancelable at any time but, then it was not so. The job of "Collector" (now refined to Financial Secretary) was to inform each member of his payment status, and to get the money in. If reminders failed, and the deficit was growing, retired or unemployed members would be hired as assistant collectors, sometimes paid on a per diem basis and sometimes paid 10% of the take.
Benevolences were entirely by special offering but pledges were taken annually for current expenses. This procedure was finally changed in September 1903 when dual weekly envelopes were adopted. At that time a separate envelope was provided for a "secret" freewill offering for the Pastor. This peculiar practice came at a time of financial emergency within the Church, and Mr. Smale elected to relinquish his regular salary. The situation that brought that about will be discussed later.
Because of its large membership, including some who were affluent, the Church was able to give financial assistance to those in unfortunate circumstances. The records do not show a single refusal to help. Even in the early days with a small and impecunious congregation, a collection was taken at the end of nearly every service for a poor widow, a hungry family, an injured Chinese, or a "colored brother" out of work. These were outside the membership but there were no government programs then to aid the poor.
In 1901 a sizeable offering was collected for the 10,000 who were left homeless by the Jacksonville fire, - an amount proportionately equivalent to that recently sent to the Nicaraguan earthquake victims.
Gifts within the denomination were especially generous. The Church obligated itself to pay a third of the existing debt of the Southern California Convention. It did thiswhen their own deficit was more than the amount they were giving away. Under the same circumstances they paid off the remaining indebtedness of the Alhambra Baptist Church. A little later, four other churches were helped to build houses of worship. Two of them were small town churches many miles away from the City.
Colportage, like the Chapel Car, was a missionary endeavor which has passed away with time. The colporteur, usually a retired or churchless minister or licentiate, circulated from house to house across the countryside, giving away tracts, and supporting his evangelism with the sale of Bibles, religious literature and scriptural wall mottoes. In 1902 First Baptist purchased a team of horses for Brother Fred Vrigstead and set him up as a colporteur; sustaining him whenever his sales did not cover his expenses.
The Training School which was so successful under Dr. Read continued for a time but faded out after the Convention declined to take it over.
The Berean mission and industrial training school ended more suddenly when the property was sold to the Mt. Zion Baptist Church which had been started by the Second Baptist Church.
The proceeds of the sale were "to be held sacred. . . . for local missions." Ultimately most of the money went toward a building for the Calvary Baptist Church in Boyle Heights which had been formed by combining the Hebron Mission and the Occidental Heights Church. (The original campus of Occidental College was in Boyle Heights.)
In the meantime a new industrial school and home had started. It was not a church institution but its founder and its initial leadership came from within First Baptist. The Rev. Uriah Gregory D. D., chose to devote his mature years to his long-cherished idea of a home and school for homeless boys between the ages of 8 and 14. His school, then called The Industrial Home Society, was located in Artesia. On its Board were Joseph Smale, C. H. Barker, Prof. Dozier and S. I. Merrill.
Each boy had a quarter acre of ground which he planted and cultivated in his spare time. He was credited with 10% of the marketed value if his deportment was good. The discipline was firm. Dr. Gregory describes the system:
"Each week day is divided by tap of the bell into regular exercises of two hours length, thus systematizing the time and activities of the boys, which they enjoy greatly, leaving them no time for wicked devices, bringing them always under the watchful eye of a kind and beloved friend.'
After the assassination of President McKinley in 1901, S. I. Merrill who was connected with the wheat harvest on the Merchants and Manufacturers Association, persuaded the constituents of that organization to donate, as a memorial, $50,000 to equip and enlarge the school. Its name was changed to the McKinley Boys Home and it moved to Gardena and later to the San Fernando Valley.
The Chinese Mission continued to flourish and the salaries of the superintendent (usually a woman) and her Chinese assistant were paid by the Church. In February 1903 the First Chinese Baptist Church was organized with First Baptist rrrembers but the Mission continued to function.
Also in 1903 two new missions were started: the Spanish Settlement Evangelical Mission and the Grace Mission. The latter, at 905 Temple Street, was organized and operated by a group Trom the Church who called themselves "The Young Men's Mission Band."
Despite all of ihis local activity, foreign missions were not neglected. Five members were supported in foreign fields. Three of these were medical missionaries.
Dr. E. W. Witten and his daughter worked in the vicinity of Cairo and later at Haifa. Esther Hargrave was located at Caracas. Two doctors who were members were commissioned, .upon recommendation of the Church, by the Southern Baptists and sent to China. A farewell fete was held for them, and just prior to that occasion they became a wedded couple. They were Dr. Alice Johnson and Dr. Charles Hayes.
That great benefactor of missionary causes, Mrs. Annis L. Lankershim, "passed to her heavenly home" on June 6, 1901. The annual letter to the Association paid her this tribute:
"Though not a member of this Church, she was so identified with its history and its efforts, that we have ever regarded her as one of our number. . . . She has gone to the reward of the faithful saint, and has left behind her a memory fragrant of good works and loving kindness"
That same annual letter reveals that members were still being excluded for various reasons: "The hand of discipline has not been withheld, but has been firmly and conscientiously employed, some nineteen members having required the reluctant exercise of this unpleasant function."
Also in that letter is the report that W. F. Jacobs who had served as Church Clerk for eight years, "had been stricken down, almost without warning in the prime of his young manhood." This strange comment, written by Mr. Smale, follows:
"Death has come again within our doors. We believe that in this inscrutable and startling providence, God has some serious and needed lesson.... and we should enjoin upon each other the necessity of rigid self-examination to ascertain whether we are personally in perfect accord with the Divine Mind in all that relates to our personal characters and our attitude to our Master's work."
Mr. Jacobs and Mrs. F. J. Cressey, whose death had also occurred, had both had their difficulties with Mr. Smale. Therefore Smale's cryptic comment was interpreted by many as a pronouncement that the deaths were God's judgment for failure to support the Pastor. That was the beginning of the lamentable period of First Baptist history.
Looking only at the first four years of Rev. Smale's ministry, indisputably he would deserve a favorable rating. He was completely dedicated to his task, a tireless worker and a captivating preacher. The accomplishments had been many and the failures few. In the light of that evidence alone he could not be blamed for what followed.
On the other hand, elements of his personality created problems which greater experience might have obviated. He was very young only 30 when he came to First Baptist and he followed a mature and experienced man. He was extremely self-confident and had a strong and unyielding will. He did not hesitate to make an enemy and thereafter never tried to heal the wound. His admirers considered him "the true ambassador of God". Those whom he had injured used the terms: "unfriendly", "injudicious", "arbitrary", "arrogant", "dictatorial" and "vindictive", and referred to his supporters as "Smalites". No doubt some blame should attach to the Church too, for their hasty decision to name him as Pastor and for ignoring the opposition which initially existed among the leadership.
Not long after the Jacobs episode, a group of lay leaders asked Smale to resign but he refused them. Their request was without official action and was made privately. In fact no one else knew about it until Mr. Smale himself told of it some months later when he accused them of having been "actuated by the devil." It did, however, cause him to resolve to clear out his opposition.
In August 1902, Mr. Smale took the initiative with a letter to all members, reminding them that 21 had voted against him originally, that this opposition had never ceased, and that he now would require a vote of confidence if he were to remain as Pastor. Mr. Smale wanted the division to show by a standing vote. A secret ballot prevailed but resulted in 260 favoring continuance of the existing pastoral relations, with 108 against.
The lay leaders who were in opposition had not been allowed to express their viewpoint and demanded to be heard. Three business meetings were held within the span of a week, the shortest one lasting four and one-half hours! For eleven hours straight, everyone who wished, aired their complaints. Then Mr. Smaie, the spellbinder, was given his opportunity for rebuttal. He was "amazed that his utterances behind closed doors would be dragged into the public," but he answered the charges, person by person. The Clerk reported:
"While our Pastor was speaking the weight of the complaints had been almost perceptibly vanishing and the turning of sympathy toward him could well nigh be felt."
The letter to the Association sent a week later, and which showed a membership of 1091, conveyed this description of the events: .
"Great was the chaos, but the hand of our God was stretched forth. . .. The blessing came and.... once again we stand a solid phalanx for our Lord"
Mr. Smale was not satisfied that the reign of peace would be lasting, and pressed his advantage now that his opponents had been identified. A resolution was adopted that all should get in harmony or get out. A Committee of Twelve were appointed to call on the dissenting members and find out their intentions. Within three weeks the Committee was back with a partial report by the majority, specifying 22 members who should be asked to "resume their covenant obligations" within two weeks or the hand of fellowship would be withdrawn.
Although the majority report was adopted, it was by a mere two-to-one margin. Two weeks later the penalty clause in the previous action was deleted, again by a two-to-one margin but this time with the majority on the other side. Rev. Smale realized that his control was deteriorating rapidly and presumably decided to attack the problem in a more subtle way. Working with his wealthy and good friend, Robert Burdette, a new church was organized into which the dissatisfied members could happily move.
On July 22, 1903, 116 letters were granted to unite with Temple Baptist Church in a single unanimous action, without comment or discussion. Evidently there was no bitterness or hard feelings. Before Temple Auditorium was completed, Mr. Burdette and his people used First Baptist's baptistry, without the usual charge, and also a room in which to hold their prayer meetings. In the months that followed, at least another hundred left, mostly attracted to Temple. By October the number of members had dropped to 867. The real loss though, was not in the number but in the quality. The departures included nearly the entire lay leadership of the Church, the Association and the Convention.
In March of the following year, after preaching a series of four sermons answering the question "Is there eternal punishment for those who die Christ-less?", Mr. Smale found it necessary to take an extended vacation to recover his health. In August he left with his mother for a trip to England, Greece, Egypt and the Holy Land. During most of the absence, Dr. Thomas Baldwin was acting pastor.
On their return in May 1905, 500 attended "the largest reception ever given in the history of the Church." The Social Hall was decorated with palms and all kinds of flowers, including 750 carnations. Besides numerous speeches of welcome, Mr. Smale was given a purse with $150 in gold. On the following Sunday Mr. Smale preached on "The Great Welsh Revival" and the congregation deemed it "a remarkable service, long to be remembered." It commenced at 11:00 a.m. and closed at 2:15 p.m. The next two nights Mr. Smale spoke on the same topic and on Wednesday night "was to have spoken on the Welsh Revival, but the Spirit led the meeting and no chance was given. The Spirit has come upon some of the membership in a remarkable way".
Sunday morning brought a similar experience:
"At the close of the first hymn. . .. one member remained standing and witnessed that she had been filled with the Spirit. Then followed testimony, prayer and praise until about 1:30. The Pastor had no opportunity to preach."
That evening the noted Baptist evangelist, Rev. A. P. Graves, was on the platform and asked Smale to forgive him "for having grieved him". Those present viewed this as "showing how the Holy Spirit is at work making clean the House of God."
This was the beginning of fifteen successive weeks of such revival services, twice each day at 2:30 and 7:45. The slogan was "Pentecost has not yet come, but is coming." It was not an evangelistic effort to gain new converts but was intended to restore the Church of the first century and to bring to those who were already Christians the mysticism and exhilaration of the Pentecostal experience.
All other activities of the Church were neglected or abandoned. Free will offerings replaced pledges and were insufficient to meet the current expenses. As an economy measure, the services of the choir director were discontinued and that brought forth the first protest.
Professor Melville Dozier had stood with the Pastor two years before, but now he sided with the choir in favoring retention of a paid director. He and his wife also objected to the noise and confusion of the meetings, and asked that members of other churches should go to their own services on Wednesday nights, and leave First Baptist to its own members for the one night, at least.
At a meeting following the Sunday morning service, it was voted to give Professor Dozier a dismissal letter, which he refused to accept unless the whole Church voted it at a petitioned meeting. That evening Mr. Smale offered his resignation and it was accepted by the majority! Mr. Smale's ministry of over seven years was ended and he said he was "a rejected man". The Clerk closed the Minutes with, "May God have mercy on this Church for rejecting His anointed."
A Church always pays more than once for the sin of dissension. Within two weeks, 190 members had requested open letters to transfer elsewhere. These included most of the "second team" of officers as well as 26 of the Chinese and 14 of the Mexican members. The new slate of officers elected at the Annual Meeting held the following Tuesday (September 19, 1905) listed only three who had ever held office before.
Among the members who left were charter member Mrs. Eugenia Cooper and two of the Church missionaries: Esther Hargrave, the missionary to Venezuela, and Rev, Huen Cho of the local Chinese Mission.
The Period of October 1905 to August 1907, including the Brief Ministry of Stephen A. Northrop, D.D.
It was not easy to find a satisfactory replacement for Mr. Smale. Locally the reputation of the Church had suffered badly and certainly no Baptist minister in Southern California would consider the post. The membership had dropped below 700 and finances were in poor shape. Nevertheless, before the end of the year the Pulpit Committee, of which Professor Dozier was the chairman, proposed consideration of Dr. Northrop of Kansas City, Missouri. He was invited out and preached twice, after which the Church voted a call, with the annual salary specified at $2500 the highest which had ever been paid. This time there was a unanimous affirmation.
The Rev. Stephen A. Northrop, D.D. met the requirements of age and experience which Mr. Smale had lacked. He had been in the ministry for more than a quarter century. Biographical data about either him or Mrs. Northrop are lacking and we have no pictures. (Almost all of the pictures before the era of Dr. Francis have been obtained from sources outside the official Church records.)
Dr. Northrop recognized the disturbed and contentious condition of the members and his prime intention was to calm the agitation and restore peace and confidence. Had his term been longer he might have succeeded. In fact, the departure to other churches ended and occasionally some who had left earlier would return. The number on the rolls went down to 627 but this was due to a "cleanup" in which 77 inactive persons were dropped. The financial situation worsened. The business climate was not as good as it had been, and there were 40% less members to support the operation. Besides the expenses went up instead of down and were exceeding the income by $200 per month. It was necessary to borrow money, and one of the members was hired at 40Ē an hour to canvass the non-paying membership. The Chinese and Spanish Missions continued to do well and a French Mission was also started under the supervision of Rev. Timothy Tetrault.
On May 14, 1906, at a meeting held at First Baptist with ten local churches represented, the Los Angeles Baptist City Mission Society finally came into being. Its purpose was to unite all of the Baptist efforts within the City in a single planned program of expansion. Concern for such a project had first been voiced by First Baptist in 1890 and was repeatedly proposed during Dr. Read's pastorate. Mr. Smale, however, prevented the launching of the proposal in 1902, saying he could not work with the man who was likely to be in charge of the organization.
This resistance by Mr. Smale was one of the complaints cited against him and so the final impetus for getting the Society in operation came from laymen who had moved over to Temple. With Smale gone, First Baptist wholeheartedly supported the organization and even provided its first office in the north tower of the Flower Street building. They also donated a lot on East First Street. Naturally, though, there were occasions when there was disagreement concerning projects already started by First Baptist.
The San Francisco earthquake occurred April 18, 1906 but there is no record of a collection being taken for the sufferers. Perhaps it was because San Francisco was looked upon as a modern Sodom whose inhabitants were not worthy of aid. Surely it was not because of the financial situation. Just a few months earlier money had been raised "for the destitute Jews in Russia who had lost all in the last disturbance." (Now, Russia will not let the Jews leave. Then, they were driving them out by persecution.)
Mrs. I. N. Van Nuys had succeeded her mother as benefactor. When the Church needed new hymnals, she pledged to pay for a hundred, but three hundred were ordered and she settled the entire bill.
In January 1907, Miss Mary C. Merritt was added to the staff as Church and Sunday School Missionary. Her salary was paid by an anonymous donor.
Dr. Northrop became the victim of his own resolve to bring peace and harmony to the troubled Church. While still in Kansas City, he had had the pecuniary burden resulting from the long terminal illness and death of his father, which was more than his meager salary could bear. After coming to Los Angeles, he had received a dunning letter for the remainder of the indebtedness, - a mere $23 which he immediately paid. The letter accused him of laxity in paying his bills. (Installment payments and personal loans had not yet come into vogue.) Unfortunately, a copy of the letter surreptitiously came into the hands of the Board of Deacons who brought it before the Church Council. The Council exonerated the Pastor, but he insisted upon resigning rather than contribute to the contention that already existed. In his resignation speech he appealed for peace and love and unity and loyalty. "Many of the people were in tears." He left the first of May 1907 and returned to a pastorate in Missouri.
The Chairman of the Deacons, Professor Melville Dozier, was only indirectly responsible but the members blamed him for the loss. They failed to elect him to the new Pulpit Committee though he was the first one nominated; and at the next annual election he almost missed being retained on the Board of Deacons. (Incidentally, Professor Dozier's brother, Dr. Barton Dozier, had opposed the professor in the first Smale controversy and had gone to Temple. Barton's wife had been the first woman member of the official board.) Rev. W. F. Irvine, who was a member, was elected "Acting Pastor" during the interim, and a few months later became assistant Pastor under Dr. Henry.
THE MINISTRY OF DR. J. Q. A. HENRY and MARGARET HENRY: 1907-1912
The Henrys had been well-known at First Baptist for many years. As early as 1892 he had "preached an eloquent sermon to a large audience." He had just completed an evangelistic series at the Church when the members decided that he was the man to lift them out of their spiritual depression. He became Pastor on August 11, 1907.
John Quincy Adams Henry, a direct descendant of Patrick Henry, began his life on a frontier farm in southeastern Iowa. At the age of 18, while teaching school in Indiana and studying to become a lawyer, he received a sudden and dramatic conversion and an uncontrollable desire to tell others of his change of heart. Within two months more than two-thirds of his ninety students were definitely converted. After further education at the University of Chicago and Union Theological Seminary, he was ordained as a Baptist Minister on July 2, 1880. He had several pastorates, concluding with five years at the First Baptist Church of San Francisco. While there he became identified with efforts for temperance, Sabbath legislation, civic reform, and youth education and welfare.
In the interim years between the San Francisco pastorate and the call to Los Angeles, Dr. Henry engaged in full-time evangelistic and temperance work. He was invited for a three month's mission in England but the great campaign throughout the British Isles stretched out to a full six years. The head of the National Free Church Council of the United Kingdom the organization which had invited Dr. Henry was impressed by his eloquence:
"The Lord made him in view of the needs of the day. He took a piece out of Vesuvius, a cross-section of an earthquake, a side light out of a tornado, and mixed them up with the gift of prophecy and the grace of enthusiasm and sent him to stir us up."
Dr. Henry's wife, Margaret Weddell Henry, was the daughter of a Baptist minister and a graduate of Chicago Female College. (Her brother, also a Baptist minister, preached at First Baptist during a month when Dr. Henry was away.) She was described as "the perfect complement of the man whom she so ably and strenuously helps." Her gracious and tactful way of dealing with new converts made her presence essential in evangelistic missions. Her gift of winning women and children to Christ was continually in evidence.
She was also prominent outside of her husband's work. For years she was vice-president of the Women's American Baptist Home Mission Society and continued to serve as Pacific Coast representative of that Society, as chairwoman of the California Board, and as president of the Federation of Women's Circles. In Los Angeles she worked closely with the Chinese people, First Baptist having over 100 Chinese members in 1910.
The Henry's had a son, William Mellors Henry (he was called "Mellors" then,) who attended Los Angeles High School at the time but was destined to give prominence to the family name for years to come.
Deacon William L. Stanton, a staunch Southerner who had fought for the Confederacy when he was 17, had brought his family, including daughter Corinne, to Los Angeles and First Baptist in 1903. It disturbed him that Pastor Henry, despite a good Virginia family name, was a Northerner. When Dr. Henry, in a Memorial Day sermon, referred to the "War of the Rebellion" it almost caused a recurrence of hostilities. (It was not until Margaret Mitchell published "Gone with the Wind" that the War was properly reported.)
The situation worsened when Corinne and the "preacher's kid" became interested in each other. When Mellors performed the lead in the L. A. High School play in 1909 at the Belasco Theater, "The Girl I Left Behind Me", Corinne defied her parent's admonition not to be seen in theaters and sneaked off to go with Dr. and Mrs. Henry to the afternoon performance.
In the days when both sexes competed together in tennis, Corinne was L. A. High School tennis champion. To teach her "to become a lady" and also to thwart the romance, Corinne was sent back to Atlanta to the Cox College and Conservatory. (Her mother was a Cox.) Tennis was being played in Atlanta but not yet by "ladies". So Corinne teamed up with "Bitsy" Grant's father and won the Atlanta Men's Doubles tennis title in 1914. In September of that same year, Corinne and Bill Henry were married, and Dr. Henry performed the ceremony.
Bill had graduated from Occidental College and was working for the "Los Angeles Times" at the time of his marriage. He became Sports Editor and later a columnist, war correspondent and Washington correspondent. He had a pioneer interest in aviation and helped Donald Douglas found the Douglas Aircraft Company. He was official announcer for the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He became a television commentator and in 1956 he introduced Chet Huntley to David Brinkley. Shortly before his death, in 1970, he arranged for his personal papers, books and other memorabilia to be given to the Occidental College library.
The Rose Window in the north of the sanctuary is a memorial from Bill and Corinne to their parents. They are also represented in the Church today by their daughter, Patricia Henry Yeomans, who is an active worker in the Church.
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Dr. Henry was aware that there existed the same state of affairs that had hampered his predecessors. At his very first Council meeting he "made a strong address demanding absolute harmony and devotion to the Church" by the official board. A week later the Council was so hopelessly and bitterly divided on a question before them that Dr. Henry had the whole matter tabled. There is repeated evidence that the fires of dissension were smoldering, ready at any moment to break into flame. Finally, Dr. Henry held a series of ten meetings "to deepen and extend the spiritual interest". The situation seems to have been relieved. The touchy problem was still the lack of funds for current expenses. The borrowed money had all been used in the first few months after Dr. Henry's arrival. At this point Dr. Henry insisted upon a budget. This first simple budget is an interesting contrast to today's list of nearly a hundred items totalling nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year:
Pastor's salary - $250 per month
Sexton's salary - 50
Interest - 30
Electric lights - 30
Printing - 50
Insurance - 19
Music - 75
Repairs, phone, taxes, misc. - 26
$530 x 12 = $6,360.
Modest as it was, the budget exceeded the income by more than $150 a month. The shortage was recovered in two ways besides reducing expenses. (Dr. Henry refused an increase in salary which would have meant cutting the funds for music.)
Whenever the deficit became sizeable, one of the trustees would voice an appeal after the Sunday morning sermon. The resultant offering and pledges would amount to as much as a thousand dollars.
The second method was a more lasting alleviative. The Board of Deacons were instructed to inquire of applicants for membership as to their intentions in respect to financial support. Any response except a promise to contribute regularly to the extent of ability was a basis to deny admission. This did not seem to deter the growth in membership. During Dr. Henry's term the roll increased by almost 50% to 933.
As usual, the inability to meet current expenses was not reflected in benevolent giving. The Southern California Convention was assisted by an average of a thousand dollars each year. Redlands College, or Redlands University as it soon became, received as much as $2000 in a single donation.
A large sum was raised in response to the appeal of Russell C. Calhoun for the Colored Industrial Institute at Eatonville, Florida, of which, he was the head. Mr. Calhoun and his work were commended to First Baptist by Booker T. Washington, then president of Tuskegee Institute.
Mrs. Leona Munson, who today lives in Vista Tower, has been a member of First Baptist longer than anyone else. She came forward on October 2, 1907, the same day that the Henry family brought their letters from Yonkers, NY. She holds that record only because Dr. Henry was somewhat hard of hearing, at least upon occasion. Actually she had been a Baptist before coming to Los Angeles a year earlier, but had been discouraged by the Smale controversy and had temporarily joined the Tropico Methodist Church near where she lived in Glendale. When she appeared before First Baptist's Board of Deacons, they looked upon her Methodist interlude as inexcusable backsliding which prompted their objection. Dr. Henry was presiding, and his impaired hearing seemed to cause him to misconstrue their objection, and the young lady was approved along with the other applicants.
Weymouth Crowell, destined to have tremendous influence on First Baptist's future, began to assume importance. He and his wife had entered in January 1903 from First Baptist, Pasadena, but had stayed in the background during the turmoil. In 1908 he was elected a trustee and a year later became Treasurer. Both Mrs. Munson and Gertrude Carter (daughter-in-law of Dr. Henry's successor) remember Crowell for his personal generosity a good trait for a church treasurer.
The titles of Dr. Henry's sermons were unique for his day. Instead of stating a theological subject, as had those of his predecessors, they were contemporary and catchy even sometimes containing a pun and stimulated interest in what he was going to say. For example:
Pharaoh's Hard Heart, or How the Devil Deforms Men
The Midnight Sons, or Prodigals Up to Date
How Los Angeles Whitewashes the Devil
The Women with the Serpent's Tongue
Ought the Bible to Be in the Schools?
Danger Ahead! Stop, Look, Listen
Rattlesnakes and Repentance
In Japan, on the way to New Zealand, the Henrys were entertained by the mother and sisters of Japanese members of First Baptist. (The Japanese then were as unpopular in California as the Chinese had been earlier, and for the same reason. Japanese students had been excluded from the public schools in San Francisco and a treaty with Japan prevented further immigration of workers from Japan.)
The letter sent to the Association in October 1909 said:
"We wish to bear public testimony to the great work which this consecrated and fearless servant of God has done among us. ... A very prosperous year spiritually and temporally.. . . Perhaps no other year in the history of this Church has witnessed a greater and more healthy growth along all lines. We are thankful. . . . that our Church is again coming into its rightful place of influence and leadership in Southern California."
A month later, however, Dr. Henry announced that he would leave at the end of the year. His first love was evangelism and he had accepted an invitation for a year or more of such work in New Zealand. He received more than 5000 confessions of faith in that campaign.
Mrs. Henry died June 25, 1912, while Bill was still in college. Her husband's death came almost exactly ten years later. Both were interred at Inglewood Cemetery, with services at First Baptist.
THE MINISTRY OF CASSIUS and MARTHA CARTER: 1912-1914
Cassius Morton Carter was a Hoosier, born February 23, 1861, in Livonia, a small town in Southern Indiana. On graduation from Franklin College in 1887, he had his further training at Southern Baptist Seminary at Louisville and at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and served his internship at the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church. Before going to Muncie he had pastorates at Mitchell, near his birthplace, and at Lafayette. Also he had served the State Convention there, as editor of The Indiana Baptist, and as author of the Convention constitution a document which he had composed so well that it was used as a model by other Conventions.
He had met Martha Noble when they were classmates at Franklin and they were married in 1889. She was always working with him in his church activities. She was an excellent speaker, and at First Baptist led the prayer meetings when her husband was incapacitated for a time because of an automobile accident. She always taught in the Sunday School and also served for a period as the Superintendent. There were three children: two daughters, Louise and Helen, and a son, W. Noble Carter. In 1913, at a First Baptist wedding, Louise married Ralph Cole, the Y. M. C. A. World Secretary for Boys' Work.
Noble Carter, some years later after he had earned an "M.D." came back to practice in Los Angeles and married Deacon W. A. Brown's daughter, Gertrude. Dr. and Mrs. Noble Carter are active in the Church today.
The Carters had travelled extensively, both in this country and abroad, including a 30-day trip in Palestine on horseback. This background of travel provided material for many sermon-lectures. Interest would be attracted and held by the description of a journey and then the listener's thoughts would be deftly drawn to the religious lesson. These sermons in the form of a travelogue were a Sunday evening feature when outsiders were likely to be present. Topics included: "The Grand Canyon of the Colorado", "The Oberammergau Passion Play", "Among the Alps in Switzerland" and "Rome the Eternal City".
Another Sunday evening series was directed to young men and women. The general subject was "The Voyage of Life" but only two of the topics are recorded. The first was "Building the Craft" and a later one was called "Shooting the Rapids."
Evangelistic meetings were much in vogue in all Protestant churches. Like Dr. Henry, Dr. Carter was an evangelist and he held two weeks of nightly meetings at which he was the preacher. A series was also held which was led by Herbert Booth and his sister and her two children. First Baptist also cooperated with the other denominations in bringing Gypsy Smith to the City.
The famous "Billy" Sunday spoke at First Baptist Church in July, 1913. The building was jammed with 2000 people and it was estimated that an equal number were turned away.