A Two Year Search for the American Literary Churchman

In spring 2015 I was in the midst of a research project and I hit a dead end. That semester I was enrolled in a Doctoral Research Seminar, a course that requires graduates to develop and complete an article/chapter length research paper. For my project, I decided to focus on the subject of ordination, specifically the ordination of deaf people in the Episcopal Church.

As I worked through archival documents and periodicals, however, several sources directed me to a newspaper article in the American Literary Churchman. In November 1883, for instance, the Standard of the Cross noted, “Old objections to the admission of Deaf-Mutes to the Priesthood have been given fresh currency, as was to be expected… It is our esteemed contemporary, the Literary Churchman, who draws up the brief…” Edward Allen Fay, editor of the American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, referenced the article in January 1884, “The American Literary Churchman of November 1st criticizes the ordination of Messrs. Syle and Mann on the ground that it was a violation of Church canons…” 

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the ordination of deaf men in the Episcopal Church was publicly discussed and debated. Objections to deaf ordination took several forms. Sources indicated that the article in the American Literary Churchman was particularly influential, even as it renewed existing arguments on the subject.

After several weeks of library and archive visits, some extensive googling, and emailing multiple archivists, however, I was unable to locate any copies of the publication. At GMU history graduate students have a dedicated History Librarian for cases such as this, and even with George’s help, I was stumped. I completed the paper that spring, but since then I’ve visited archives in Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, and the National Episcopal Archives in Texas. Each time I inquired about the American Literary Churchman and failed to locate it. 

Recently, as I returned to my research on the subject for a chapter of my dissertation, I renewed my determination to find it. Utilizing google book searches, I managed glean additional information about the publication. A screenshot of a digitized book. Black text on a white background. The emphasized passage reads, ".... and the American Literary Churchman (1881-85) had a brief life in Baltimore."From A History of American Magazines (1938), I learned that it was published in Baltimore between 1881-1885. In Rowell’s American Newspaper Directory (1884), I identified that it was published a few times a month. I added these bits of information this to my search terms, which led me to Methods of Historical Study, Issues 1-12 (1884), which noted that the periodical was published biweekly in Baltimore by Rev. William Kirkus.

Aged paper with printed text. Emphasized text in the middle reads, "American Literary Churchman. Baltimore. 1-5, Ag 1881-F 1885|| NNHi v1 no4, O 1847, MdBE [1-3]-5, NNG"After checking library holdings in Baltimore and contacting the archivist there with no success, I contacted George at GMU. Working from the Union List of Serials in Libraries in the United States and Canada, George figured out that three libraries had carried the American Literary Churchman as late as 1965: the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, the New York Historical Society, and the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York. I quickly fired off emails and crossed my fingers. 

The Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and The New York Historical Society replied quickly; neither carried the publication. Within an hour, however, the Library Manager/Technical Services Librarian of the Christoph Keller, Jr. Library at the General Theological Seminary in New York, sent a response. Not only did they carry the publication, working from the information in my email, the librarian had located the article and attached photographs.

If there is a lesson to be taken from this two year ordeal, it’s this: focused and patient searching can take you part of the way- but the expertise and experience of archivists and librarians makes it possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *