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The “Country Life Movement” and the American Churches

  • Merwin Swanson (a1)
Extract

The progressive movement in the United States was a complex set of reforms during the first decades of the twentieth century. Progressives like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson focused on the control of the new economic forces in American society by regulating railroad rates or by breaking up large monopolies. Slums, political corruption, and red-light districts troubled the consciences of other progressives such as Jane Addams and Walter Rauschenbusch. These urban progressives believed that an older, rural America produced a sense of community among rural people which mitigated such social problems, and thought that community-oriented settlement houses and churches in the cities could recreate the rural feeling that individuals were a part of their neighborhoods, and urban neighbors then could attack urban problems as a community. Other progressives, such as the anti-vice committees of New York City, wanted laws to recreate the moral standards which social pressures in the old rural communities had maintained informally. The Progressive Era also included a “country life movement” which shared many of its analyses and plans for reform with the urban progressives, but applied them to rural America.

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1. Hudson, Winthrop, American Protestantism (Chicago and London, 1961), pp. 140143; and Marty, Martin E., Righteous Empire: The Protestant Experience in America. (New York, 1970), pp. 204208.

2. Cremin, Lawrence A., The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education, 1876–1957 (New York, 1961), pp. 8285; and Davis, Allen F., Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements and the Progressive Movement, 1890–1914 (New York, London, Toronto, 1967), p. 16.

3. Swanson, Merwin, “The American Country Life Movement, 1900–1940,” Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1972, Chapters 1 and 2. Bowers, William L. presents a somewhat more broadly defined country life movement in The Country Life in America, 1900–1920 (Port Washington, N.Y. and London, 1974).

4. Ellsworth, Clayton, “Theodore Roosevelt's Country Life Commission,” Agricultural History 34 (1960): 155172;Tweton, D. Jerome, “Progressivism Discovers the Farm: The Country Life Commission of 1908,” in Essays on Western History in Honor of Elwyn B. Robinson (Grand Forks, 1970), pp. 6271; and “Report of the Country Life Commission: Special Message from the President of the United States Transmitting the Report of the Country Life Commission.” United States Senate Document No. 705, Sixtieth Congress, Second Session, pp. 13–41.

5. C. S. Barrett to Liberty Hyde Bailey (January 16, 1909), Box Correspondence 3, Bailey Papers, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, New York; and Liberty Hyde Bailey to Kenyon L. Butterfield (October 1, 1908), Box 11, Butterfield Papers, Library of Congress, hereafter Butterfield Papers.

6. des, Edmund. Brunner, , As Now Remembered: The Interesting Life of an Average Man (Private Printing, 1968), p. 23. copy in Archives of the Moravian Brethren Church, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, hereafter, Moravian Archives.

7. Schneider, Herbert Wallace, Religion in 20th Century America (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1952), pp. 7273;Earp, Edwin, The Rural Church Movement (New York, Cincinnati, 1914), pp. 97103; and Eastman, Fred, “Recreation and the Country Church,” The Survey 21 (1913): 76.

8. Wilson, Warren H., “The Church and the Rural Community,” American Journal of Sociology 16 (1911): 668693;Wells, George Frederick, “Efficient Church Union for the Country Town,” Methodist Review 31 (1915): 911919; and Hargreaves, John Robert, “The Rural Community and Church Federation,” American Journal of Sociology 20 (09, 1914): 447460.

9. Kolb, J. H., “A Rural Church Conference Program for Town and Country Clergyman,” Journal of Social Forces 1 (05, 1923): 437439.

10. Hester, Seth William, “The Life and Works of Warren H. Wilson and Their Significance in the Beginning of the Rural Church Movement in America,” Ph.D. diss., Drew Theological Seminary, 1946, pp. 16, 3035, and 65; and Wilson, Warren, Quaker Hill: A Sociological Study (New York, 1907), p. 1.

11. Hester, , “Life and Works of Warren H. Wilson,” pp. 2728.

12. Ibid., p. 48; “Department of Church and Country Life,” 190th Annual Report of the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., pp. 4041;Rich, Mark, The Rural Church Movement (Columbia, Missouri, 1957), pp. 5354; and Schneider, , Religion in 20th Century America, p. 74.

13. Wilson, Warren, ed., The Church and Country Life (New York, 1912), especially the pamphlet entitled “Ohio Rural Life Survey;” and “Department of Church and Country Life,” 110th Annual Report of the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1912, pp. 1315.

14. Ibid., “Department of Church and Country Life;” “The Village of the Open Country,” 113th Annual Report of the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1915, pp. 6770;Wilson, Warren H., The Church of the Open Country: A Study of the Church for the Working Farmer (New York, 1911), pp. 2225 and 2829; and Wilson, Warren H., The Evolution of a Country Community: A Study in Religious Sociology (Boston, New York, and Chicago, 1912), chapters 13–15.

15. Brunner, , As Now Remembered, pp. 2223, and 4142;Brunner, , Cooperation in Coopersburg (New York, 1916), pp. 2740; “Report of the Country Church Commission and Home Mission Council to the Provisional Synod, June 18, 1913,” Appendix Q, American Provisional Synod, pp. 159–170; and “The Provisional Elders' Conference, Minutes of the Conference, April 9, 1912-July 2, 1913,” p. 47, Moravian Archives.

16. “Report of the Country Church Commission and Home Mission Council to the Provisional Synod, June 18, 1913,” Appendix Q, American Provisional Synod, p. 159; Anna B. Taft, “Women's Service to the Community,” B. R. Ruall, “The Country Rural Church, Rural Parish,” and Helen Oppenlander, “Eight Weeks Club,” pamphlets 6, 10, and 8 (circa 1915), Moravian Church Commission, Box X170, YMCA Historical Library, New York City; “Report of the Country Church Commission and Home Mission Council to the Provincial Synod, June 18, 1913,” Appendix Q, American Provincial Synod, p. 164; and H. E. Stocker and Edmund deS. Brunner, “Survey of Graceham, Frederick County, Maryland,” pamphlet no. 11, Moravian Country Church Commission, 1915, Moravian Archives.

17. Journal of the 26th Delegated General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, May, 1912, p. 691.

18. Journal of the 27th Delegated General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, May, 1916, pp. 642–643; and “Department of Rural Work: Report of the Board of Home Missions and Church Extension,” Journal of the 28th Delegated General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, May, 1920,. pp. 10991101.

19. Ibid., p. 1102; and Vogt, Paul, “Report of the Superintendent of the Department of Rural Work,” Annual Report of the Board of Home Missions and Church Extension of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1919, pp. 6471.

20. “Cooperation for Country Life,” Country Church Bulletin Number 2 (March 1912), Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, enclosure in George Frederick Wells to Kenyon L. Butterfield (March 27, 1912), Box 9, Butterfield Papers.

21. Gill, Charles O. and Pinchot, Gifford, The Country Church: The Decline of Its Influence and the Remedies (New York, 1913), pp. 330, 4253, and passim; and Gifford Pinchot to Henry Wallace, Kenyon L. Butterfield, Warren H. Wilson, and T. N. Carver (June 13, 1914), Box 2071, Pinchot Papers, Library of Congress, hereafter Pinchot Papers.

22. Pinchot, Gifford, “Report of the Commission on the Church and Country Life to the Quadrennial Meeting of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America…” (1916), pp. 24, Box 2071, Pinchot Papers; Vogt, Paul, ed., Church and Country Life: Report of the Conference Held by the Commission on Church and Country Life Under the Authority of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, November 8, 1915 (New York, 1916), pp. v–xi; and Gill, Charles O. and Pinchot, Gifford, Six Thousand Country Churches (New York, 1919).

23. Vogt, ed., Church and Country Life; and “Publicity Stories Sent Out in Connection with the National Conference of the Commission of Church and Country Life,” Columbus, Ohio (11 810, 1915), Box 2071, Pinchot Papers.

24. “Board of Home Missions,” Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., August, 1913, Proceedings of the 125th General Assembly, p. 188;Hester, , “Life and Works of Warren H. Wilson…,” p. 81;Wilson, Warren H., “The New Home Missions: Rural Reconstruction,” 144th Annual Report of the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., pp. 108110; and “Churches and Country Life Work,” 148th Annual Report, Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1920, pp. 6168.

25. Brunner, , As Now Remembered, pp. 49 and 61;Brunner, , “Edmund deS. Brunner,” autobiographical sketch in Lowry Nelson, Rural Sociology: Its Origins and Growth in the United States (Minneapolis, 1969), p. 175;“Country Church,” Journal of the Provincial Synod of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church in North America, June, 1920, p. 48;“Report of the Country Church Commission of the Moravian Church for the Years 1920–1925 to the Provincial Synod, June 12, 1925,” Journal of the Provincial Synod of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church in North America, 1925, pp. 2573;“Report of the Country Church Commission to the Provincial Synod, June 12, 1930,” Journal of the 23rd Synod of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church in North America, June 12–30, pp. 219223; and Journal of the 24th Synod of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church in North America, 1936, passim.

26. “Report No. 4: Allocation of Rural Missionary Territory,” in “Home Missions,” Journal of the 29th Delegated General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, May, 1924, p. 642;Dawber, Mark, “Rural Work,” “Christianizing the Country,” and “The Rural Church,” in Journals of the 1928, 1932, and 1936 Delegated Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church, pp. 13081318, 12641267, and 178183; and Harkness, Georgia, The Methodist Church in Social Thought and Action–A Summary (New York and Nashville, 1964).

27. “An Emergency Appeal to the Country Churches of America: By the Commission of Church and Country Life of the Federal Council of Churches …,” (June 25, 1917), Gifford Pinchot to Frank Mason North (February 20, 1917), and “Amount of Money Invested by Gifford Pinchot in the Country Church Movement,” Box 2071, Pinchot Papers; and “Rural Life Sunday,” (1931), Box 29, Butterfield Papers.

28. Sanderson, Dwight, “Religion and Rural Culture,” The Survey 53 (1924): 329331;Butterfield, Kenyon L., “A Challenge to the Christian Farmer,” Religion in Country Life, ACLA Conference Proceedings, 1924, pp. 19; and Butterfield, , “Philosophy of Continuing Education for the Churches,” Adult Education and Rural Life, ACLA Conference Proceedings, 1932, pp. 4148.

29. Foreign missions work was the only important exception to this decline, Swanson, , “The American Country Life Movement,” pp. 325336.

30. Brunner, Edmund deS., The Larger Parish: A Movement or an Enthusiasm (New York, 1934); and Felton, Ralph A., “The Rural Parish of the Future,” The Missionary Voice 20 (1930): 1617. Other Protestant churches also involved themselves in the country life movement in ways which differed only in detail. For a list of other churches and departmental supervisors, see Wilson, Warren H., “The Church and the Country Life Movement,” Journal of Social Forces 2 (1923): 2329. Jews and Roman Catholics also had rural programs. The Jewish program was a back-to-the-land movement with strong and anti-urban overtones. Roman Catholics were closer to the Protestant ideas, yet an independent phenomenon; see Witte, Raymond, S.M., “Twenty-five Years of Crusading: A History of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference,” Ph.D. diss., St. Louis University 1946.

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Church History
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