Archive for the ‘Social Darwinism’ Tag

Feast of Octavia Hill (August 13)   1 comment

Above:  Octavia Hill, by John Singer Sargent

Image in the Public Domain

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OCTAVIA HILL (DECEMBER 3, 1838-AUGUST 13, 1912)

English Social Reformer

Octavia Hill comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via The Church of England.

Hill devoted most of her long life to helping poor people.  She was simultaneously of her time and ahead of it.  Our saint, for example, opposed women’s suffrage; she accepted the “separate spheres” theory, then a societal norm.  Hill, who did much to provide affordable housing for poor people, also opposed affordable public housing.  Furthermore, her opposition to government programs to help the impoverished extended to social services and social security.  Yet Hill did much to create the National Trust, preserving green areas and places of historical interest for the common good.

One can acknowledge the good a person did while partially disagreeing with him or her.

Hill, born in Wisbach, Isle of Ely, England, Cambridgeshire, on December 3, 1838, came from a once-prosperous family.  Her father was James Hill, a corn merchant and a former banker.  James Hill, twice widowed, had five sons and daughter when he married his former governess, Caroline Southwood Smith, in 1835.  By 1840, he had collapsed mentally and gone bankrupt.  Caroline’s father, Dr. James Southwood Smith, provided for the family financially and emotionally.  He helped to raise his granddaughter, Octavia, eighth daughter and tenth child of James Hill.

Our saint’s upbringing informed the rest of her life.  The grandfather’s influence in Octavia’s life became obvious over time.  He, a pioneer in urban sanitary reform, took a great interests in social problems, such as affordable urban housing and child labor in mines.  Caroline Hill’s special interest in progressive education also influenced our saint.  Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-1872), a family friend and a leader in the Christian Socialist movement, added her influences, too.

Hill grew up to become quite a formidable, functional presence.  Friend Henrietta Barnett (1844-1913) noted our saint’s obliviousness to fashion.  Others considered Hill ruthless and despotic.  Frederick Temple (1821-1902) encountered our saint while he was still the Bishop of London (1885-1896).  At an ecclesiastical meeting, she spoke for about half an hour.  The future Archbishop of Canterbury recalled,

I never had such a beating in all my life.

Hill worked for the improvement of the lives and circumstances of poor people starting when she was 14 years old.  At that young age, she began to lead a workroom for a guild providing employment for poor school children.  She taught these women how to make toys for children.  Our saint knew these children and their terrible living conditions.  Throughout the rest of her life, making and maintaining a personal connection with those she helped was crucial in her mind.  For example, the impersonal nature of public housing was why she opposed it.

Hill also emphasized teaching self-reliance.  She approved any well-intentioned effort (especially public) she perceived as threatening self-reliance.  Yet Hill was no “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” person.  And she was obviously not a Social Darwinist, one who insisted that the wealthy were superior because they were rich, and, therefore, owed the less fortunate nothing.  To the contrary, our saint affirmed that the more fortunate must never ignore their obligations to the poor.

That sense of obligation, combined with a moral critique of legislative attempts to provide affordable housing, led her to provide affordable housing.  When our saint learned of the shortage of affordable housing for poor people for whom and to whom she was accountable, she started providing affordable housing.  With the help of friend John Ruskin (1819-1900), another humanitarian, she became a land lady at Paradise Place, Marylebone, London, in 1865.  Over the years, the number of cottages, initially three, increased.  Ruskin used his inheritance to acquire cottages for rent; Hill managed them.  Our saint and her rent collectors (all female) doubled as social workers.  Hill was building a community.

As the years passed, Hill managed more communities in London.  She worked hard, as did her employees.  So did her tenants.  In fact, Hill overworked herself.  After collapsing in 1877, our saint had to rest for several months.

Hill, demanding of herself and others, also recognized the importance of access to open spaces and the blue sky, especially in the cases of the urban poor.  Therefore, our saint worked to conserve open, green spices.  She coined the term “Green Belt,” lobbied and helped to conserve and preserve London suburban woodlands, and laid the foundation for the National Trust, founded in 1893.  Furthermore, Hill lobbied against any encroachment of industrialization upon natural beauty in certain areas.  Proposed construction of railroads in some places aroused her formidable ire.

As years passed, Hill’s influence spread.  Others in England and abroad copied her model for providing affordable housing.

Our saint, aged 81 years, died in Marylebone, London, on August 13, 1912.

The lack of affordable housing remains a major problem around the world.  It is a major problem in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, where I live.  The local unified government is working with the private sector to alleviate the matter.  How to provide affordable housing in the optimal matter is a quandary for which more than one proper solution exists.  Local circumstances are always germane.  What works well in one place may not work well somewhere else.  The solution for which Octavia Hill advocated for which she put into effect, therefore, may fit in some localities yet not in others.  General principles are timeless.  Yet the mechanics of putting them into effect are not.  So be it.

But let us–you, O reader, and I–remember Octavia Hill as one who did something, did it well, and made a major, positive difference in the lives of vulnerable people where and when she was.  May we, empowered by grace, what out saint did–leave our corner of the world better than we found it.  That is our task.  That is also the task of those who will come after us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 5, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF KARL RAHNER, JESUIT PRIEST AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF AMBROSE PHILLIPPS DE LISLE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CONVERT, SPIRITUAL WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF SPIRITUAL WRITINGS; FOUNDER OF MOUNT SAINT BERNARD ABBEY

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER MACASSOLI OF VIGEVANO, FRANCISCAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT EUSEBIUS OF CREMONA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ION COSTIST, FRANCISCAN LAY BROTHER

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Lord God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served,

and to give his life for the life of the world.

Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom

the world offers no comfort and little help.

Through us give hope to the hopeless,

peace to the troubled, 

and rest to the weary;

through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-14

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 37

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Feast of Lyman Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Henry Ward Beecher (July 1)   2 comments

Above:  A Partial Beecher Family Tree

Image by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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LYMAN BEECHER (OCTOBER 12, 1775-JANUARY 10, 1863)

U.S. Congregationalist and Presbyterian Minister, and Abolitionist

father of

HARRIET ELIZABETH BEECHER STOWE (JUNE 14, 1812-JULY 1, 1896)

U.S. Novelist, Hymn Writer, and Abolitionist

sister of

HENRY WARD BEECHER (JUNE 24, 1813-MARCH 8, 1887)

U.S. Presbyterian and Congregationalist Minister, and Abolitionist

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A FAMILY STORY

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INTRODUCTION

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In The Episcopal Church July 1 is the Feast of Harriet Beecher Stowe, listed as a “Writer and Prophetic Witness.”  In Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), in which her feast debuted, and A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations (2016), the successor volume, the collect for her feast is:

Gracious God, we thank you for the witness of Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose fiction inspired thousands with compassion of the shame and sufferings of enslaved peoples, and who enriched her writings with the cadences of The Book of Common Prayer.  Help us, like her, to strive for your justice, that our eyes may see the glory of your Son, Jesus Christ, when he comes to reign with you and the Holy Spirit in reconciliation and peace, one God, now and always.  Amen.

The assigned readings in Holy Women, Holy Men (2010) are Isaiah 26:7-13, Psalm 94:16-23, 1 Peter 3:1-12, and Matthew 23:1-12.  A Great Cloud of Witnesses (2016) provides more options.

One cannot tell the story of Harriet Beecher Stowe properly without considering her relatives, however.  Thus, here in my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, I expand the feast to include her father (Lyman) and one of her brothers (Henry Ward).

The 1962 edition of The Encyclopedia Americana, an essential source for this post, includes an article for the Beecher family plus an article each for Lyman, Harriet, and Henry Ward, as well as for four other Beechers, all children of Lyman.  Very quickly then, and for the sake of thoroughness, he other four are:  Catharine Esther Beecher (1800-1878), Edward Beecher (1803-1895), James Chaplin Beecher (1828-1886), and Thomas Kinnicutt Beecher (1824-1900).

Catharine Esther Beecher (September 6, 1800-May 12, 1878) was an educator.  She operated a girls’ school in Hartford, Connecticut, from 1824 to 1832, and another one (with Harriet’s help) at Cincinnati, Ohio, from 1832 to 1837.  Catharine also helped to organize the Ladies Society for Promoting Education in the West, which founded schools in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois.  She was also a vocal opponent of the Jacksonian policy of Indian Removal.

Edward Beecher (August 27, 1803-July 28, 1895) became a Congregationalist minister, seminary professor and president, writer, and missionary.

James Chaplin Beecher (January 8, 1828-August 25, 1886) also became a Congregationalist minister.  He, a chaplain in Hong Kong prior to the U.S. Civil War, served the Union cause first as a chaplain and finally as a brevet brigadier general.  After the war he returned to parish ministry.

Thomas Kinnicutt Beecher (February 10, 1824-March 14, 1900), brother of James Chaplain Beecher and half-brother of Catherine Esther Beecher, also became a Congregationalist minister.  He was also a U.S. Army chaplain during the Civil War, a philanthropist, a lecturer, and an author of juvenile stories.

The Beechers were a remarkable family.

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LYMAN AND ROXANA

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Lyman Beecher, born in New Haven, Connecticut, on October 12, 1775, became the patriarch of an influential family.  His father was a blacksmith.  At the age of 18 years Lyman matriculated at Yale College.  After graduating in 1797, he studied theology privately under the tutelage of President Timothy Dwight until 1798.  That year Lyman became the supply pastor of a Congregationalist church at East Hampton, Long Island; there he remained until 1810.  Our saint, ordained in 1799, preached the funeral for Alexander Hamilton in 1804.

Lyman married three times. His first wife was Roxana Foote (d. September 24, 1816) who operated a girls’ school.  He was also the mother of Catharine Esther (b. 1800), Edward (b. 1803), Harriet (b. 1812), and Henry Ward (b. 1813), among others.  The birthplace of the last two Beechers listed was Litchfield, Connecticut.

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RAISING A FAMILY AND FIGHTING UNITARIANISM

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Lyman’s second wife was Harriet Porter, with whom he had more children, including James Chaplin (b. 1828) and Thomas Kinnicutt (b. 1824).  He had thirteen children, eleven of whom lived to adulthood.  Harriet was child number six; Henry Ward was child number seven.

Harriet Elizabeth Beecher (1812-1896), after her mother died in 1816, grew up in the household of her grandmother in Guilford, Connecticut, for some years.  Harriet was back in Litchfield by her late childhood.  There, at the age of 12 years, she wrote an essay on the topic, “Can the Immortality of the Soul Be Proved by the Light of Nature?”  She answered in the affirmative.  Her father, who argued to the contrary, found her essay impressive.  Harriet continued her education at the girls’ school her sister Catharine had founded and operated at Hartford.  Then Harriet joined the faculty there.

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) studied at the Boston Latin School then at Mount Pleasant School, Amherst, Massachusetts, before matriculating at Amherst College (Class of 1834).  He was well on his way to becoming a prominent minister.

Lyman, active in campaigns against intemperance, also organized Bible and missionary societies.  In 1826 he left Litchfield, Connecticut, to become the pastor of Hanover Street Church, Boston, Massachusetts, and to inveigh against the rising tide of Unitarianism.  He remained in Boston until 1832.

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ABOLITIONIST ACTIVISM

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Lyman accepted the presidency of Lane Theological Seminary, Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1832.  He remained in that post (as well as that of Chair of Sacred Theology) for 20 years.  Those were decades filled with controversies both theological and political.  For the first of the two decades Lyman also doubled as the pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati.

Also in 1832, Catharine and Harriet moved to Cincinnati, where they spent a girls’ school, which they operated for five years.

In 1833 a controversy over abolitionism almost destroyed Lane Theological Seminary.  Certain slaveholders from Kentucky eve threatened violence.  The crisis resulted in a gag order (passed by trustees) and an exodus of antislavery students to the new Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, founded at that time.  Some antislavery students returned to Lane, and Lyman and Calvin E. Stowe spent the better part of two decades trying to rebuild the seminary.

Stowe became Lyman’s son-in-law in 1836, when he married Harriet.  The home of Calvin E. and Harriet Beecher Stowe at Cincinnati was a station of the Underground Railroad.  In 1850 Calvin accepted a faculty position at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine.  Then he taught at Andover Theological Seminary from 1852 to 1864. Harriet was a prolific writer, with more than 40 titles to her credit.  Her most famous and influential work was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published as a serial in 1851 ad 1852.

Lyman was a New School Presbyterian.  The conflict between the Old School and the New School divided the original Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (reorganized from the old Synod of New York and Philadelphia in 1789) in 1837 and 1838.  Before then, however, it led to a heresy trial for Lyman in 1835.  The verdict was in his favor.

To Lyman’s left was his seventh child, Henry Ward, who studied at Lane Theological Seminary after graduating from Amherst College in 1834.  As the author of the article about Henry Ward in the 1962 edition of The Encyclopedia Americana wrote, the son objected to his father’s

sulfurous theology.

Henry Ward, editor of an abolitionist newspaper in Cincinnati in 1837, married Eunice White Bullard (1812-1897) that year.  From 1837 to 1839 he was pastor of a church in rural Lawrenceburg, Indiana.  Then, form 1839 to 1847, he was the senior pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana, a large congregation.  From 1847 to 1887 Henry Ward was the senior pastor (and first pastor) of Plymouth Congregational Church, Brooklyn, New York, which grew into a larger church.  Henry Ward, who emphasized the love, not the judgment, of God, was, according to Mark A. Noll,

the Billy Graham of his era.

America’s God:  From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2002), 427

Henry Ward Beecher, although a moderate abolitionist, was, in some ways, still revolutionary.  He preached against slavery and quoted the Bible while doing so, but argued that a Sharps rifle was more persuasive to many slaveholders.  Thus, in the middle and late 1850s, as Kansas bled amid vigilante violence, Henry Ward raised funds to equip antislavery settlers with Sharps rifles, which became know as “Beecher’s Bibles.”  Henry Ward, unambiguous in his support of the Union cause during the Civil War, went so far as to place, in his words, the “whole guilt” for that war on Confederate leaders in 1865.

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REST IN PEACE, LYMAN BEECHER

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Lyman retired to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1852.  His last years were difficult, for what the author of the article about him in the 1962 edition of The Encyclopedia Americana called

paralysis of the brain

overtook the great man.  In other words, he suffered from dementia–perhaps Alzheimer’s Disease.  Lyman died in Brooklyn on January 10, 1863.  He was 87 years old.

The author of that article praised Lyman’s scholarship, oratory, and theological orthodoxy while noting the great man’s “humorous audacities of speech” and “racy and picturesque wit” that “often shocked dignified propriety.”  Lyman Beecher must have been an interesting and wonderful man to know.

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THE BILLY GRAHAM OF HIS ERA

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Henry Ward Beecher was, according to some, a heretic.  (Then again, who is not?)  He emphasized the love of God and rejected penal substitutionary atonement.  The deity of that theory, he argued, was

barbaric, heinous, and hideous.

Henry Ward seems to have become more radical with age, going so far as to support women’s suffrage and argue that Christianity and Evolution were mutually compatible.  While opposing slavery he had already employed an argument against the verbal inspiration of the Bible, a volume many supporters of the Peculiar Institution of the South quoted chapter and verse.  Furthermore, Henry Ward vigorously opposed the nativist politics of Chinese exclusion, failing in preventing yet at least delaying the passage of that law until 1882.  Our saint, a member of the Republican Party since 1854 (the year of its founding), caused quite a controversy when he campaigned and quoted for Democrat (Stephen) Grover Cleveland for President in 1884.

Henry Ward was a prolific writer.  His published works included volumes of prayers and sermons.  In 1855 he edited the Plymouth Collection of Hymns, an influential hymnal.  From 1861 to 1863 Henry Ward edited the Independent.  In 1870 he founded the Christian Union, which he edited until 1881.  Our saint also wrote the Life of Jesus the Christ.

Yet Henry Ward Beecher was, in some ways, a troublesome figure.  He was, for example, a Social Darwinist.  Philandering was also a motif in his life.  The latter damaged his reputation at the end of his life.  In 1875 Henry Ward went on trial for having allegedly committed adultery with Elizabeth Tilton, the wife of Theodore Tilton, his successor as editor of the Independent.  The court acquitted Henry Ward and the leadership of Plymouth Congregational Church supported him, but he lost much credibility and public influence in the national scandal.

Henry Ward Beecher died in Brooklyn on March 8, 1887.  He was 73 years old.

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THE STOWES

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Harriet Beecher Stowe and Calvin E. Stowe kept a winter home near Jacksonville, Florida, from 1867 to 1884.  They helped to convince the Freedmen’s Bureau to establish a school for former slaves in the area.  The family also helped to found the Episcopal Church of Our Savior, for African Americans.  The Stowes, once Presbyterians, ended their days as Episcopalians.

After Calvin died on August 22, 1886, Harried moved in with daughters in Hartford, Connecticut.  Her twilight years were like those of her father–beset with dementia.  It was a cruel fate for such a great woman.  She died on July 1, 1896, aged 84 years.

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CONCLUSION

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The legacies of Lyman Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Henry Ward Beecher have enriched the United States and the world.  In the case of Harriet, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has certainly echoed down the corridors of time–more prominently than her excellent hymns, for sure.  These saints, like all of us, had shortcomings, but their virtues outweighed their vices.  Their virtues contributed to the end of chattel slavery in the United States of America.

That is impressive.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

GENOCIDE REMEMBRANCE

THE FEAST OF SAINT EGBERT OF LINDISFARNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK; AND SAINT ADALBERT OF EGMONT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT FIDELIS OF SIGMARINGEN, CAPUCHIN FRIAR AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MELLITUS, BISHOP OF LONDON AND ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

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

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

Help us like your servants

Lyman Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Henry Ward Beecher,

to work for justice among people and nations,

to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60

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