Feast of Ellen Gates Starr (March 20)   3 comments

Above:  Ellen Gates Starr, Between 1915 and 1917

Image Creator = Bain News Service

Image Source = Library of Congress

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ELLEN GATES STARR (MARCH 19, 1859-FEBRUARY 10, 1940)

U.S. Episcopalian then Roman Catholic Activist and Social Reformer

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I became a Socialist because I was a Christian.  The Christian religion teaches that all men are to be regarded as brothers, that no one should wish to profit by the loss or disadvantage of others; as all winners must do under a competitive system; that none should enjoy “two coats” while others are coatless; that, in effect, “none should have cake til all have bread.”  “Civilized” life is in grotesque contrast to all this.  All the individual, acting individualistically, is helpless to modify it very much….”Society” or “the state” must see to it that strangers are entertained; that the hungry are fed and the destitute provided for.  Does it?

–Ellen Gates Starr, quoted in G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006), 470

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Ellen Gates Starr was more than a social reformer, although she was that.  She was a social revolutionary.  Perhaps her Unitarian upbringing contributed to her social conscience.  American Unitarianism did have a reputation for being on the vanguard of social justice efforts.  Throughout her life, whether Starr was in her Unitarian, Episcopalian, or Roman Catholic phase, social justice was an integral part of her faith.  Our saint, born in Laona, Illinois, on March 19, 1859, was a daughter of Allen Starr and Susan Gates Child (Starr).  Ellen was a classmate of Jane Addams (1860-1935) at Rockford Female Seminary in 1877-1878.  Their collaboration began.

Starr, who joined The Episcopal Church in 1883, worked with Addams to help the poor, especially immigrants.  The two women toured Europe, studying efforts to help the poor, in 1888.  Upon returning to Chicago, they founded Hull House in 1889.  The model for Hull House was Toynbee Hall, a settlement house in London.  Hull House began by offering educational opportunities, as well as concerts and other cultural enrichment programs.

Starr objected to the ills of industrialization and worked for a better society.  She worked to improve the working conditions in factories.  She advocated to end child labor.  Starr organized labor strikes and went to jail for doing so at least once.  She embraced Christian Socialism.  Our saint also developed an interest in the arts and crafts movement, going as far as to found the Chicago Society of Arts and Crafts in 1897.

Starr had a long-term interest in Roman Catholicism.  Her faith wedded doctrines, prayer, and sacraments to social activism.  In 1894 our saint joined the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross, founded by Emily Malbone Morgan (1862-1937) in 1884.  Starr finally converted to Roman Catholicism in 1920.  Starr, in failing health during her final years, moved to a convent of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus in Suffern, New York, in 1931.  The sisters took care of our saint for the rest of her life.  She, aged 80 years, died on February 10, 1940.

My Western culture (especially the conservative portion of it) overemphasizes individualism.  Biblical ethics contain both individual and collective elements; moral responsibility is both individual and collective.  Many instances of “you” and “your” in the Bible are plural.  This is more obvious in languages with different words for singular and plural second-person pronouns.

Starr understood the collective aspects of Biblical ethics.  She grasped both collective and individual responsibility.  Our saint was correct; how much one person can do is minor compared to what we can do together.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 22, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN JULIAN, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF ALEXANDER MEN, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1990

THE FEAST OF LADISLAO BATTHÁNY-STRATTMANN, AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PHYSICIAN AND PHILANTHROPIST

THE FEAST OF LOUISE CECILIA FLEMING, AFRICAN-AMERICAN BAPTIST MISSIONARY AND PHYSICIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT VINCENT PALLOTTI, FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY FOR THE CATHOLIC APOSTOLATE, THE UNION OF CATHOLIC APOSTOLATE, AND THE SISTERS OF THE CATHOLIC APOSTOLATE

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Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us [like your servant Ellen Gates Starr] to use our freedom to bring justice among people and nations,

to the glory of your name; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-14

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 37

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3 responses to “Feast of Ellen Gates Starr (March 20)

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  1. Such an interesting woman! She must have been a force in her time!

  2. Pingback: Feast of Samuel and Henrietta Barnett (June 17) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  3. Pingback: Feast of Paul Hanly Furfey (June 30) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

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