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.

Records and Relocation

On July 1, 1875, Austin Ward Mann, a deaf lay missionary held religious services in sign language for deaf people in the basement of St. James’ Church in Chicago, Illinois. From this service, a mission was founded in the city that would offer spiritual guidance, support, and gathering space to deaf people for over 100 years.

Across this period the Mission was served by at least three deaf ministers, meetings and events were led by a number of deaf lay readers, and members of the congregation supported the mission as members of the vestry and church guilds. Though the Mission had a solid foundation, for most of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it lacked a physical structure.

Intermittent services were held in St. James, St. Clements, Trinity, and Grace Churches through the 1880s. In the 1890s Rev. Mann attempted to raise funds and support for a chapel and parish house. In 1908, Rev. George Flick moved to Chicago, expanding the Mission by initiating weekly services and organizing church agencies. Despite efforts by the Bishop and clergy to locate a suitable building the Mission continued to operate in borrowed chapels, basements, and meeting rooms until 1915. Under the sustained leadership of Flick, the Mission acquired St. John’s English Lutheran Church in January of that year. Renovations converted the building into a space suitable for the sensory preferences of clergy and laity and the Mission “flourished.” Fifteen years later, however, the congregation again [Flick, ‘Story of All Angels’ Mission’]. Once again, the mission was temporarily housed in borrowed church spaces in the city.

The challenges that the priests in charge of the deaf ministry in Chicago faced in the struggle to firmly plant the congregation are many; financial concerns, location, building size, maintenance, renovations, and the competition of Rev. Hasenstab’s Methodist ministry in the city. Larger historical trends also influenced the relocation of All Angels’ Mission to the Deaf, including attitudes toward deafness, barriers to employment, and ideas about race. These challenges, however, are echoed in the histories of Missions across the United States.

The challenge to the historian, however, is that the frequent movement of itinerant ministers and the relocation of missions results in a scattering of documents and materials related to this ministry across church and diocesan archives. For instance, Mann, a missionary with seemingly boundless energy, regularly offered services in six states. As the clergyman-in-charge of the midwest, he traveled by train using postcards and newspaper announcements to manage his schedule as he moved between missions, schools, and large deaf community events in the US, Canada, and the UK. His travel produced a particular type of historical record; reports that offer limited insight. The sacramental registers, pamphlets, guild reports, posters, and other documents that are associated with the activities of the church are noticeably missing.

Several sources refer to a detailed record book used by Mann. In his August 1906 report to the Diocese of Chicago, he wrote, “A record has been kept in a suitable book of 500 pages. The last page was filled a few days ago, and another book purchased. The records show upwards of 5,300 services held in 419 different parishes; nearly 1,000 baptisms and 900 confirmations.” [pg 12] This record book is invaluable, offering considerable insight into his activities across multiple dioceses. It is, however, also missing.

Despite efforts to locate this rich source of information about Mann’s activities, the record book remains elusive. Though the evidence of his ministry is abundant in diocesan archives across the country, none I’ve contacted have this book preserved in their holdings. Nor does the expansive archives at Gallaudet University. This challenge is not unique to the history of the Deaf Episcopal Ministry – historians struggle with a scarcity of sources from every time period and across many fields of interest. The difficulty is compounded, however, by the unique circumstances of this religious organization. Frequent movement makes preservation difficult without concerted effort. Given the divided attentions of  the clergy, the distributed nature of the Episcopal church, financial burdens, and linguistic/cultural divisions, the records of clergy and congregation may not have been preserved by traditional means. For me, the search continues.

Dissertation Blog

As my attention shifts from the reading and writing associated with coursework and comprehensive exams to the reading and writing associated with my dissertation, the nature of this blog is changing. I will begin use this space to document and explore the process of creating a hybrid digital dissertation.

It will serve as a place to think and write as I work to unravel some of the more difficult and complex ideas, particularly those relating to language, culture, religion and disability. I’m hoping to engage in a dialogue about these subjects and this space offers an opportunity to open my work up to this feedback. With time I expect my thinking to become more refined and this blog will serve to document these developments.

The project also necessitates the creation of a robust database that will serve as the foundation for the digital mapping component of my dissertation. The digital map will be layered with different types of data to visualize the spatial dynamics of deaf worship and explore the ways in which deaf sacred space moved beyond the church building as members expressed and explored aspects of their religious, linguistic, and cultural communities. Creating this map will necessitate that I make a series of interpretive decisions that will shape the final project in significant ways. As I work through the complexity of these choices, I will use this space to document the steps I’ve undertaken and begin to articulate justifications. I hope this will both help to hone my skill in describing my digital project (for the dissertation) and serve as useful content for others interested in undertaking digital mapping projects.