Feast of Helen Barrett Montgomery (July 31)   3 comments

Above:  Helen Barrett Montgomery

Image in the Public Domain

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HELEN BARRETT MONTGOMERY (JULY 31, 1861-OCTOBER 19, 1934)

U.S. Northern Baptist President, Social Reformer, Biblical Translator, and Supporter of Foreign Missions

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Jesus Christ is the great Emancipator of woman.  He alone among the founders of the great religions of the world looked upon men and women with level eyes, seeing not their differences, but their oneness, their humanity.

–Helen Barrett Montgomery, at the Baptist World Congress (1923)

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Helen Barrett Montgomery comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year With American Saints (2006).

Helen Barrett Montgomery blazed trails for women in Christianity in the United States of America.  Helen Barrett, born in Kingsville, Ohio, on July 31, 1861, was a daughter of educators Amos Judson Barrett (d. 1889) and Emily Barrows (Barrett).  The family moved to Rochester, New York, in 1874; Amos matriculated at Rochester Theological Seminary.  He went on to serve as the pastor of Lake Avenue (Memorial) Baptist Church, Rochester, New York (1876-1889).

Helen became an educator.  She graduated from Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, in 1884.  She had mastered Greek.  Our saint, a teacher in Rochester, New York, then in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, married William A. Montgomery. a businessman of Rochester, on September 6, 1887.  The couple adopted a daughter, Edith Montgomery.

Montgomery was a Christian feminist.  She, a suffragette, remained active at Lake Avenue (Memorial) Baptist Church for more than four decades.  The congregation licensed our saint to preach in 1892.  Montgomery also taught a Sunday School class for women for forty-four years.  She also served as a delegate to annual conventions of the Northern Baptist Convention (now the American Baptist Churches U.S.A.), organized in 1907.  Our saint, elected the President of the Northern Baptist Convention in 1921, became the first female leader of a denomination in the United States of America.  Montgomery also served as the President of the Women’s American Baptist Foreign Mission Society.  Our saint, a theological Modernist, helped to fend off the fundamentalist faction of the denomination.  Northern Baptist fundamentalists favored an official confession.  Montgomery championed the Baptist principle of liberty.  Much of the fundamentalist wing of the Northern Baptist Convention broke away.  Schismatic groups included the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (1932) and the Conservative Baptist Association of America (1947).

Montgomery, a progressive and a reformer, worked with Susan B. Anthony in founding the Rochester chapter of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union.  Our saint, chapter president (1893-1911), helped impoverished women and children, frequently immigrants.  Tangible improvements included health clinics, a legal aid office, and playgrounds.

At a time when few women held public office, Montgomery spent a decade (1899-1909) on the Rochester School Board.  She helped to introduce vocational training, kindergarten, and health education.

Montgomery and Susan B. Anthony helped to make the University of Rochester co-educational.  They and the university trustees agreed that, if Montgomery and Anthony raised $50,000 ($1,574,901.72 in 2020 currency) by 1900, the university would become co-educational.  The women succeeded, and the university admitted female students in 1900.  However, the university operated a separate campus for women from 1930 to 1955.

Montgomery’s published works included:

  1. Life in Old Florence (1895);
  2. Christus Redemptor:  An Official Study of the Island World of the Pacific (1906);
  3. How to Use Christian Redemptor:  An Outline Study of the Island World of the Pacific (1906);
  4. How to Use Gospel in Latin Lands (1907);
  5. The Empire of the East (1908);
  6. Western Women in Eastern Lands:  An Outline History of Woman’s Work in Foreign Missions (1910);
  7. How to Use:  A Handbook of Suggestions to Accompany the Text Book The Light of the World:  An Outline of Christianity and Non-Christian Religions, by Robert E. Speer (1911);
  8. How to Use:  A Handbook to Accompany China’s New Day (1912);
  9. Following the Sunrise:  A Century of Baptist Missions, 1813-1913 (1913);
  10. The King’s Highway:  A Study of Present Conditions of the Foreign Field (1915);
  11. Our Neighbor Japan:  A Book for Adult Classes in the Sunday School (1917);
  12. How to Use Our Textbook Women Workers of the Orient:  A Handbook of Suggestions (1918);
  13. The Bible and Missions (1920);
  14. A Woman’s Life and the World’s Work (1921);
  15. Prayer and Missions (1924);
  16. The Centenary Translation of the New Testament, a.k.a. the Montgomery New Testament (1924); and
  17. From Jerusalem to Jerusalem (1929).

Montgomery was the second woman to translate the New Testament.  Julia Evelina Smith self-published her translation, The Holy Bible:  Containing the Old and New Testaments, Translated Literally from the Original Tongues in 1876.  The Northern Baptist Convention published Montgomery’s Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924).  The translation’s genesis was necessity; extant translations proved unsatisfactory to our saint and unintelligible to many younger people.

Montgomery, an indefatigable supporter of foreign missions and a philanthropist, died in Summit, New Jersey, on October 19, 1934.  She was 73 years old.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 9, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTUS TOLTON, PIONEERING AFRICAN-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN RUDOLPH AHLE AND JOHANN GEORG AHLE, GERMAN LUTHERAN ORGANISTS AND COMPOSERS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF GORKUM, HOLLAND, 1572

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GRANT, BRITISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT AND HYMN WRITER

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Almighty God, we praise you for the men and women you have sent

to call the Church to its tasks and renew its life

[such as your servant Helen Barrett Montgomery].

Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,

whose voices will give strength to your Church and proclaim the reality of your kingdom;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Mark 10:35-45

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

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