Bryn Athyn: The Founding of a Religious Community in the Gilded Age
Senior Research Essay. Bryn Athyn College
of the New Church, 1994.
Chapter 1: Nineteenth Century America
Chapter 2: Cities in the "Gilded Age"
Chapter 3: Religion in the "Gilded Age"
Chapter 4: The New Church in the "Gilded Age"
Chapter 5: The Move to the Country
Communities as a rule fail. Failure has been predicted
of this movement, but we do not believe there will be failure. ...we believe
that the truths which we have, and which we shall endeavor to ultimate
will protect us from errors which have caused the failure of other communities.
(John Pitcairn, College Letters, no. 13, 12).
When John Pitcairn spoke these words on June 19, 1892, the establishment of a suburban New Church community seemed imminent.1 If that had been the case, the movement to the Bryn Athyn settlement might not have been particularly remarkable.2 In fact, it may have been similar to many other moves to the suburbs in America during the 1890s, had it not been for two events: the financial panic of 1893 and the development of feelings of dissent among key leaders in the church that led to a protracted struggle to define the structure of the New Church community. This struggle was resolved on January 23, 1897 and the final movement to the country followed slightly thereafter. This paper will focus on the initial impetus for a move to the country, the problems that arose, and the reasons why this community was able to remain, mature and prosper. This development, although it has its own unique New Church aspects, can be seen as part of the American drama of the nineteenth century.
America traditionally had been the land of open spaces, but this freedom gradually came to an end during the nineteenth century. In 1890, the frontier was declared officially closed by the United States Census Bureau and the people of America had to find new outlets for their desire to expand. The frontier had been steadily shrinking since the time of the Civil War, when the industrial civilization of the North conquered the agricultural world of the South and the future direction of the nation was set in motion. It was called industrialization. Railroads spread across the untamed areas of the frontier making it possible for these isolated areas to join the large markets and new industrial orientation of the cities. Yet, Americans had long harbored a dislike of cities. They were confining and fostered interdependence. This animosity fed into a resistance to urbanization in the last decades of the nineteenth century. This opposition is seen most clearly in the Granger and Populist movements.
Despite this antagonism, cities continued to grow. As they became larger and more unattractive, due in part to heavy industrialization, many people longed to escape their confining barriers and return to the freedom of the countryside. As a result, the first large scale suburbanization of the nation began during the 1890s.
To understand this suburbanization movement, it is necessary to examine American city life during the latter part of the nineteenth century. This era was known as the "Gilded Age" because it was prosperous and relatively peaceful. The United States was involved in no major wars and manufacturing was on the rise. This brought wealth to the nation which in turn led to abundance in nearly all areas of middle and upper-class life. The newly rich industrialists built houses that were lush and ornate, clothing followed a similar vein and cities were growing larger everyday. Unfortunately, these prosperous conditions created many problems. America looked so attractive and inviting that large numbers of immigrants entered the country at this time. Although they were largely peasant farmers, there was nowhere for them to work but the factories and nowhere for them to live but the cities. Enterprising factory owners found that these immigrants were willing to work for very small wages and proceeded to take advantage of this situation. As a result, immigrants crowded into run-down sections of the city adding to the already dense populations. Also, because of this new cheap labor source, native born factory workers were forced to work for lower wages or not at all. This added to their anger concerning overly demanding working conditions. These workers joined together in unions and began to rise up against their employers to demand better working conditions, higher wages, and job security. This led to an increased amount of turbulence and violence in the cites.
The members of the Advent Society were not immune to these industrial tensions and they, like other Americans, began to seek relief from the problems of the city. The 1890s saw the first of several waves of suburbanization in America that has continued up to the present day. Railroads were beginning to be fully utilized and this made a commute into the city possible, while allowing people to raise their families in a peaceful country environment. For example, a group of communities was established on the outskirts of Philadelphia along the railroad line leading west. These communities became known as the "Main Line" because of their location along the railroad. The New Church community in Bryn Athyn was established along the Newtown railroad line leading out of Philadelphia to the northeast.
The violence and confinement of cities were not the only things that gave the members of the Advent Society the desire to establish their own country community. As cities grew they became increasingly cosmopolitan. People from all races and ethnic backgrounds were now living in the same space. These people brought with them their own cultures and religious practices. These new religions broadened the American religious environment, but this environment was also changing in ways that made the people of the Advent Society uncomfortable.
The scientific advances of the nineteenth century had undermined the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. This forced many people to rethink their ideas about religion and brought about a shift in the religious climate. Some people turned away from religion altogether. Science was becoming the new source of ultimate answers to life's problems for these people. Others, known as religious liberals, were able to incorporate these new scientific concepts in to their belief systems. Still others embraced a form of religious zeal which manifested itself in the Social Gospel. Their idea was to love their neighbors and help them wherever possible. Some religious denominations rejected these new scientific theories and kept to a rigid, fundamentalist interpretation of religion. These people believed that a strict lifestyle, based on the teachings of the Bible, would protect them from the corrupted morals of the scientific age. The members of the Advent Society also did not want those who had turned away from religion to influence the beliefs of their young. The answer to these problems, so evident in city life, lay in a separation from them by establishing their own religious community.
The founders of the Bryn Athyn community were not the only ones who wanted to protect their youth from corruption from the secularized world. Religious education took on a new importance during this period. A religious education could instill the "proper" ideas in youth so that when they had to make their way in the world they would be protected from its irreverent ways.
Education in general made great advances during the second half of the nineteenth century. There was an information explosion as a result of the intellectual pursuits of the previous century. This led schools to expand their curriculum from the basic "three Rs" to include social studies and advanced sciences. This push for better education led to the founding and funding of a large number of private schools during the last part of the nineteenth century.
A group of New Church people, who were to form the General Church of Pennsylvania, founded their own Academy during this period. They felt that the beliefs of the New Church could be incorporated into all subjects of education. If youth were instructed in this way, then they would have the tools they needed to make informed decisions about life from their faith and would be more apt to remain loyal to the church. Many people came to believe that the ideal environment for this Academy was a private religious community where religion and social life would be exclusively New Church.
Given this background knowledge, it is then possible to explain how the general cultural of the 1890s, the conditions in the cities, and the religious and intellectual mood of the day specifically affected the people of the Advent Society. These conditions motivated them to move away from the city into the surrounding countryside. These motivations fall into two basic categories: practical and religious. On the practical side, the general American culture of the late nineteenth century was becoming increasingly lavish. This created an atmosphere of self-indulgence that the people of the Advent Society did not want to become a part of their lives. Thus, by removing themselves from the city, the members of the Advent Society could escape what they perceived to be an immoderate lifestyle and practice a simpler and more moral way of life. Also, the oppressive and disorderly state of the cities provided the stimulus for the idea of moving to the freedom of the surrounding countryside. At this time, the ideal of a private home and yard became part of the American dream, a dream in which New Church people shared. The country was beautiful, clean and open; there was enough room for everyone to have fresh air and personal space.
Regarding the religious motivations for the move, the shift in religious views during the "Gilded Age" frightened the people of the New Church because it brought with it the specter of atheism of which they wanted no part. Even before the move, the people of the Advent Society had begun to separate themselves socially from those of the "Old Church".3 The members of the Advent Society thought that the beliefs of the "Old Church" people were based on perverted truths and they did not want these ideas to infect them. The Advent Society began to strive more and more toward a "distinctive" New Church social life. This eventually culminated in the idea of moving completely out of the sphere of the "Old Church" into their own restricted community. Drawing on the idea of shared affections as the basis of heavenly society depicted in the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, the founders of the Bryn Athyn community believed that by dwelling in their own exclusive society they would be living with others with similar affections just as they would in heaven. They were convinced that this was a more proper way of living because in such a community they would be working together to achieve a particular use just as any society in heaven would. The particular use of their society was to be the development and maintenance of the New Church on earth, and the means of performing this use was New Church education. In its own unique environment, New Church education could thrive and remain uncorrupted by the influences of the "Old Church".
However, the move to the country was not a unanimous decision nor did it happen smoothly. In 1892, plans were set for the construction of school buildings at the country site. The financial crisis of 1893 caused a nationwide depression that forced the postponement of these building plans. This setback allowed time for doubt to creep into the minds of a few key leaders concerning the wisdom of the move to the country. Their doubt caused them to question the motivations of those who were planning and managing the move to the country. The doubters believed the move was a ploy on the part of certain individuals, mainly upper class lay men, to gain control of the fledgling religious movement for themselves. This difference in perception eventually led to a confrontation between the supporters of the move and the opposition. As a result of this confrontation, doubt was removed concerning the motives of those who favored a move to the country. This confrontation compelled the members of the Advent Society to reexamine their motives for leaving the city. Perhaps the struggle surrounding this decision strengthened their commitment to the idea of a private religious community, ultimately helping them to succeed where others had failed.
Nineteenth Century America
The New Church community of Bryn Athyn was founded in the last decade of the nineteenth century. In order to center that development in historical context, it will be useful to paint a broad picture of the century, focusing on those aspects which culminated in a flight from the city. This picture includes these aspects: two very different conceptions of the national economy, agriculture vs. industry; the conflict of these conceptions; and, finally, the triumph of industrialization which accelerated urbanization. This picture can be drawn from various theories concerning nineteenth century America.
Theories Concerning Westward Expansion
One of the most prominent theories concerning nineteenth
century experience was put forward by Frederick Turner in 1893. Turner's
The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession and the
advance of American settlement westward, explain American development
(Taylor 1972, 3).
Turner's thesis holds that the frontier offered American's freedom and independence that was unavailable in settled, overcrowded Europe (Taylor 1972, 5). People came to America to get away from the dense populations and restrictive laws of Europe. This trend continued after they settled in America, for whenever a significant amount of people moved into an area of land, a new area of land would be opened beyond it which offered freedom and open space. Gradually, as industry grew, the open space diminished and the economy of the nation no longer focused on agriculture. From economic necessity, people rapidly began to move into the city. There was great resistance to this movement and many tried to refocus the nation on an agricultural economy. There remained a longing for the freedom and independence of country life. Therefore, as soon as they could afford to, many people moved out of the city to the open space of suburbia.
In contrast to the Turner Thesis, it can be argued that the
motivations for westward expansion did not involve a visionary dream of
freedom but a desire for prosperity. As Michael Kammen points out: ".
. . [America offered] greater freedom, opportunity, and bounty than was
ever offered to man in all of known history (Kammen 1972, 114)." Naturally,
when this great "bounty" began to diminish as more people crowded
into the settled areas, there was a push toward the open lands of the West.
This land was free to all who would stake a claim, and so, for decades,
offered the promise of economic prosperity to Americans. In the words of
No oppressed lower class could be created in a community
in which any young man with reasonable nerve and luck might hope to be
an independent farmer before he was thirty (Paxson 1932, 158).
By 1890, this dream of achieving individual prosperity through farming had come to an end. After the Civil War, the focus of the national economy had shifted from agriculture to industry making farming an unprofitable enterprise. The city was now the place where Paxson's young man could hope to earn a comfortable living. As a consequence, people began to abandon their farms for the urban life. Cities grew so quickly that it was unclear how to control newly arriving populations. These new arrivals had few job skills and could find work only in low paying factory jobs. They could not afford well maintained apartment complexes, and, as a result, the places they lived became shabby and run-down. This lower-class was ever expanding and more and more sections of the city lapsed into squalor. Cities were no longer seen as places of prosperity but as places of the poor and oppressed. To achieve that "bounty" that America had promised, it became necessary to escape from the city into the beauty of the surrounding countryside where all that could be seen was prosperity and happiness.
This change from an agricultural society to an industrial one was gradual. In the beginning of the nineteenth century there was a seemingly unlimited supply of free land in America, plenty for all to earn a comfortable farmer's living. When the eastern seaboard became more densely populated and cities started to expand, it seemed natural for many to move westward to the open land across the Appalachians. However, settling in this area was difficult because it meant that one had to be self-sufficient. The trip across the mountains was made on horseback or by wagon. It was not practical to return to the civilization of the coast for the luxuries of life or even to market crops. In spite of this, as the population continued to expand, people chose to settle in the new region. Gradually, these young settlements grew into civilized towns and became more populated. Due to this increase in population, roads were used more often and, therefore, became larger and more well traveled. This improved transportation considerably and soon the region became fairly civilized.
Around the 1840s, the region immediately west of the Appalachians had been conquered, and there was no open space for easterners who wanted to share in America's promised "bounty". These people decided to make an even more perilous journey and settle on the West Coast. Some went to the Oregon territory to farm the newly opened land there. Others went to California to see if they could achieve instant prosperity through gold mining. The West Coast too, soon became relatively more populated and cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco were founded. This left only the vast area between the Mississippi River and California that remained largely unsettled and offered free land and prosperity to all.
This pattern of settlement was true for the northern region of the nation, but in the South the pattern was slightly different. There were few large cities in the South that took attention away from the agricultural economy. The South was full of fertile soil and rivers on which to transport crops. As a consequence, these people had never needed to be self sufficient because there was usually a nearby market where they could purchase the items that they did not grow or make themselves. This made it possible for southerners to specialize in the big cash crops of tobacco, rice and cotton. As the land became settled, large farms called plantations expanded westward along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico keeping populations near water and the fertile soil it provided. This agricultural lifestyle proved extremely profitable for southerners and they had no interest in giving up their lands to manufacturing and urbanization. They did not need to be part of industry because they could afford to purchase everything that it provided.
The Triumph of Industrialism
By the middle of the century, two distinct economies had arisen in America. In the North, where most of the larger cities were located, the economy was based on industry. In the South, where there was much fertile land and a longer growing season, the economy was based on agriculture. Conflict grew between these societies and ways of life which eventually escalated into the Civil War. The North emerged victorious from this conflict. As a consequence, the government of the reunified nation was controlled by the powers of the North and industrialization. Soon, the entire nation was focused on expanding and developing industry. Perhaps the industry they focused on the most was that of the railroad because it was needed to open communication and transportation between cities all over the country.
Railroads became popular at about the middle of the century. They linked city to city allowing goods to be easily transported between them. Manufacturers were no longer limited to the small market of their particular city but could transport their goods over great distances to reach people throughout the nation. In this way, railroads encouraged industry to expand. Soon, a railroad was laid linking the east and west coasts expanding communication and transportation across the continent. This railroad also made it possible for the region in between the Mississippi and California to open for settlement. Railroads soon covered the vast prairies of the trans-Mississippi West so that between 1870 and 1890 the population of the region went from 6,877,000 to 16, 775,000 (Dulles 1959, 50). Before the railroad network developed, it had been difficult to maintain such a large population because there were few rivers in the area on which farmers could transport their crops through the vast plains to market. Also, these regions had not proved particularly easy to cultivate in the past, but industry had provided advances in farm machinery using steam power that made this task much easier (Russell 1973, 146). The railroad network proved so efficient that soon nearly the entire frontier was settled and there was little free land left in the nation. In 1889, the government opened up the former Indian Territory of Oklahoma for settlement and there was a violent rush on the land. People would stop at nothing to stake their claim on the land because it had grown so scarce (Claitor 1990, 92). In 1890, as a result of the disappearance of free land, the United States Census Bureau declared that the unsettled area "...[had] been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there [could] hardly be said to be a frontier line (Dulles 1959, 51)." With this statement the frontier was officially closed.
Though the railroads had contributed greatly to the progress of the nation, they also contributed to the development of many problems. Unfortunately, railroads were exploited by their owners for personal profit. These owners saw that the farmers were dependent on railroads to make a living; without railroads the farmers would have been powerless to get their crops to market. There was usually only one railroad within wagon distance of a farm so that whatever price it charged ,the farmer was forced to pay. These prices usually did not change even if the price of grain went down, and as a result, farmers made less and less money (Furnas 1969, 797). From the farmers' point of view, industry had not advanced the nation but made it greedy and selfish. It was increasingly difficult for farmers to make a living, and so they were ready to join "any panacea no matter how far fetched" it seemed to bring the nation away from the evils of industry (Beals 1968, 4). These farmers banned together in organizations designed to fight control by industry.
Reactions to Industrial Society
The most prominent organization of farmers was the Grange. The members of the Grange wanted to petition the government for regulation of railroad rates. Farmers rallied around the movement so that by 1875 the more than 2,500,000 Grangers had elected many of their members to public office where they were able to push through legislation that set limits on railroad charges (Beals 1968, 68). The Grangers also attempted to boycott railroad and industrial control by owning their own grain elevators, manufacturing their own farm machinery and even sewing machines (Furnas 1969, 798). Through these efforts, they hoped to put control back in the hands of the farmers and give them a fair chance at earning a living. Despite the enthusiasm for the movement, its power did not last long and by the middle of the 1880s the influence of the organization had died out. This was due in part to internal management conflicts, but also was the result of continued railroad pressure which eventually convinced the supreme courts of many states to overturn railroad regulation acts which put the farmers right back where they had started (Beals 1968, 71).
Another rural movement against industry control was Populism. Populism sought to bring about governmental reform founded on the basic rights of man. They desired to take government control from the wealthy and give it to the people to give them a chance to earn a comfortable living. The means for this action was public control of utilities and transportation and direct issue of money by the government based on a silver standard (Clanton 1991, 167). Farmers longed for this new silver standard because it would lower the value of money and, thereby, lessen the value of their debts to the business world. This new silver standard would also decrease the wealth and power of business leaders whose income was based on a gold standard (Furnas 1969, 799). Though it consisted largely of rural farmers, there was some degree of social diversity in the movement. Some industrial workers belonged to the Populist movement because it supported the rights of labor to organize and fight against unfair working conditions (Clanton 1990, 135). Populism had a large following and even had several presidential candidates. However, the movement never gained enough influence to achieve real governmental reform.
Despite these efforts against industrialization, the face of the nation had transformed radically during the nineteenth century. There was no longer a frontier to settle and conquer. In fact, people in ever larger numbers were moving off of their unsuccessful farms and into the new opportunities for wealth provided by the city. The new growth and prosperity of the nation was centered around the city and its industries. The days of the open plain were over and new frontiers began to be explored. "The new frontier[s] [were] the machine, science, [and] technology... (Beals 1968, 3)." Yet, these new frontiers brought with them the many unattractive aspects of an industrializing city. As a result, many people began to retreat back to the countryside where prosperity and beauty were bountiful. This retreat ended in the establishment of many suburban communities such as Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.
Cities in the "Gilded Age"
It was the city dweller whose manner of living
was chiefly affected during the 1880s and 1890s. In the hectic changes
that characterized the city, life became so colorful, so variegated, and,
withal, so artificial, that it has been fittingly termed 'the gilded age'
(Faulkner 1944, 471).
The source of the nation's wealth in the last decade of the nineteenth century was the industrial city. This wealth was shared by the upper-class industrialists and middle-class businessmen, but the common laborer received little benefit from it. The upper-classes of society indulged in their new wealth and created the appearance of an extremely successful nation. This promise of American prosperity attracted more and more immigrants from Europe.
These immigrants went to work in the factories and the surplus labor allowed businesses to pay workers very low wages. As a result, a large part of the population sunk into poverty and crowded into rundown sections of the city. The new labor force displaced many of the more highly paid workers. These displaced workers banned together against industry and formed unions to organize strikes against industries that cut wages or provided unsafe working conditions. These strikes were often violent and this added to the increasingly unpleasant aspects of city life. Factory pollution, increased traffic and swelling populations were making cites dirty and hot.
Despite attempts by local governments to beautify their cities, many people began to take advantage of progress in railroad technology which allowed them to commute relatively cheaply and comfortably to the city from a home several miles out in the country. The country life gave these people the opportunity to escape and ignore all of the harsh conditions of their time and focus only on the appearance of prosperity they had created. They lived in a truly "Gilded Age".
Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner were the first to use the term "Gilded Age" in their co-authored, satirical novel of American life, The Gilded Age, written in 1873 (Faulkner 1944, 477). Twain and Warner used this term to point out that the seeming prosperity of the day was only a thin veneer. From this perspective, the late nineteenth century was filled with a great deal of poverty and desolation; to all outward appearances, they were beautiful, filled with every variety of entertainment, and even seemed to offer opportunity to all.
The "Gilded Age" is generally defined as the period from the end of the Civil War through the turn of the century. There was a great deal of new scientific development during this time period that led to improvements in the every day life of most people adding to the outward appearance of prosperity and well-being. City dwellers were able to enjoy the luxury provided by incandescent light bulbs, improved plumbing, gas stoves, washing machines, packaged cereal, canned foods and even egg beaters (Dulles 1959, 91). The United States Patent Office granted over 400,000 patents between 1860 and 1890 "in every field, in every industry, in every trade (Russell 1973, 134)." These new inventions gave Americans who could afford to purchase them more leisure time. The better light provided by electricity, as opposed to candles, gave people more hours of light to accomplish their tasks and even provided several extra hours of personal time. Cooking was also less time consuming since food could now be prepackaged and cooked over a safe, reliable gas stove. The use of these new gadgets and inventions added to the appearance of prosperity at this time because they suddenly lessened the burdens of each individual.
New leisure time led to new forms of entertainment. Social clubs were one outlet for this personal time. There was a club for nearly every group in society from the manufacturers' club to the womens' club to the German club (Wolf 1990, 254). For the very rich, these clubs became more than just social gathering places. These people formed clubs in the country with spacious lawns for the enjoyment of outdoor sports. There were many new outdoor sports to be enjoyed, including golf, baseball, tennis and lacrosse (Furnas 1969, 813) Some of these sports were also able to be enjoyed by the less affluent members of society in the form of spectator sports. Though these people could not afford to join the country clubs and participate in sports themselves, they could release their pent up energies that had been bred by "sedentary" city life through cheering on others. (Claitor, 1990, 172). Perhaps the most widespread new sports craze was bicycling. Bicycles began as a toy of the wealthy, but soon new manufacturing techniques made them cheaper to produce, and so affordable to the masses. Bicycles were viewed as not only a good form of exercise, but as a practical way to get to work (Furnas 1969, 812). These new amusements contributed to the "gilt" of the age because they allowed people to be happy and enjoy themselves and forget about the problems of their nation.
Another way that people spent their new leisure time was in preparing and attending the many large scale celebrations of the age. Philadelphia had grand festivities to commemorate the centennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1876, the centennial of the Constitution in 1887 and the bicentennial of the city in 1882 (Wolf 1990, 241). Chicago, however, outdid all of these celebrations with its World Columbian Exhibition of 1893 which celebrated the four-hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World. Chicago built its famous "White City" for this occasion. This was a section of the city containing buildings constructed in neoclassical style from white marble adorned by numerous columns and statues (Furnas 1969, 763). These and other celebrations also contributed to the nation's appearance of prosperity by displaying its wealth and culture .
These were not the only grandiose exhibitions of wealth at the time. The architectural style of the day was turning to elaborate revivals of classical forms. Architects like John Carrere and Thomas Hastings who were "trained in the grandiloquent pseudo-classicisms" were among the most popular builders of the day (Furnas 1969, 787). Carrere and Hastings used their talents to construct the New York Public Library, Arlington, Virginia's Memorial Theater and a string of Florida resort hotels.4 These flamboyant architectural styles contributed to the display of success and prosperity that characterized the "Gilded Age".
It was not only the outside of the buildings, but the inside that was a conspicuous display of economic status. Homes were filled with "Victorian clutter" which consisted, in part, of picture albums, china dogs, painted pillows, porcelain figurines, painted plates and brass candle holders (Blay 1960, 24). These rooms appeared heavy and dark because they contained elegantly carved and upholstered furniture closed in by large, thick curtains (Faulkner 1944, 472). These rooms were thought to be the epitome of good taste, permanence and prosperity to the people of this age (Claitor 1990, 116). Apparently, the more objects and materials that could be brought together into one space the better. This ornate style carried over even into ladies fashions which consisted of voluminous skirts, thick jackets and heavy jewelry (Wolf 1990, 256). The styles of the day followed the general appearances and displays of wealth.
Clearly, the nation as a whole appeared to be thriving during the "Gilded Age". The signs of success were everywhere. However, as will be shown, the lower-class shared in only a small part of this prosperity. While the upper-class industrialists had incomes of between fifteen and thirty million dollars annually, the lower-class laborers earned only between three and five-hundred dollars per year. (Baltzell 1964, 110). This upper-class provided the most ostentatious display of prosperity but also offered the greatest hope for economic success because so many of them had built themselves up from working-class backgrounds. The men of this upper-class became known as the Robber Barons.
The Robber Barons
The Robber Barons were a group of wealthy industrialists who made their fortunes during the "Gilded Age". They were involved in many different industries, some new and some old, but all enhanced by the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution. Some industries that proved profitable included railroads, steel and oil (Dulles 1959, 54). These industries were an integral part of the nations new economy. Railroads brought goods to everyone from everywhere and so were in high demand. Steel was the material out of which new buildings and equipment were made, and oil was the fuel for all of this new machinery.
Men like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller, who were poor immigrants, saw the potential of these industries and managed to get involved with them from their earliest beginnings (Furnas 1969, 163). The Robber Barons were able to invest in these industries before their value was realized. As these industries increased in importance, their investors' fortunes and power increased. These men became a model for the poor; they had started from nothing and worked their way to the top. The Robber Barons had realized the promise of American opportunity.
The Robber Barons did believe in returning some of this wealth to the nation from which it had come. They contributed large sums to higher education and many colleges and universities were founded that now bear their names such as the (Joseph) Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania or (Andrew) Carnegie-Mellon University. Andrew Carnegie also established many libraries for public use and education (Faulkner 1944, 474). Most of the Robber Barons were also churchmen and used their fortunes for the maintenance and development of their sects. John D. Rockefeller believed that his money was "a gift of God" and so it was his duty to use this money for God's will (Josephson, 1932, 325).
The Advent Society was fortunate enough to have one of these wealthy industrialists in its congregation. John Pitcairn and his family emigrated form Scotland when he was a young child. When they came to America 1846, the Pitcairns joined the New Church and John was baptized into the faith (Gladish 1989, 3). The Pitcairn family was not wealthy but John was able to use his earnings to invest in the oil and plate glass industries. He became a very wealthy man, on par with the Robber Barons. Pitcairn also believed in using his money for the advancement of his religion. He donated the greater portion of the funds that were used to endow the Academy of the New Church and also paid for the relocation of this school to the Bryn Athyn settlement (Journal July 23, 1891). However, unlike many other industrialists of the day, Pitcairn was well known for his scrupulous business practices (Gladish 1989, 1).
Most of the Robber Barons turned to manipulative business practices in order to secure their success. They did this by reducing competition through combining their industries to control most markets. In the face of such powerful companies that could offer customers whatever services they required, small business could not compete. Thus, the models of opportunity were doing all that they could to keep themselves in power, which limited the opportunities of others. The Robber Barons held exclusive control over trade in certain markets for decades before legislation was passed that curtailed their power. In the meantime, these men remained at the top of their fields, controlling the economy of the nation.
Despite this success, these men were not immediately accepted into the higher social strata of society. The older money of the nation, people who had inherited their fortunes from a long line of wealthy ancestors, felt that the newly rich industrialists were uncultured and unworthy of social acceptance. The Robber Barons combated this snub by creating their own social life which consisted largely of proving how wonderful and well-off they were. Huge gala balls, decorated as elaborately as possible, were thrown nearly every week. On one occasion, the room was filled with exotic songbirds and swans floated on a lake in the center of it all (Dulles 1959, 92). There were many similar displays, for instance, as Matthew Josephson relates:
At one [dinner], each lady present, opening her napkin,
found a gold bracelet with the monogram of the host. At another, cigarettes
rolled in one-hundred dollar bills were passed around after the coffee
and consumed with an authentic thrill... (Josephson, 1932, 338).
Another way for the Robber Barons to display their wealth and ensure their status and stability was to build large homes and buy country estates (Jackson 1985, 88). These mansions followed the neoclassical styles of the day and were constructed in a retrospective French style, in Tudoristic half timber, or from marble and Bedford stone (Furnas 1969, 772).5 Many of these large mansions still stand today as a reminder of this ostentatious age. This lavish display of wealth was what the "Gilded Age" was all about: the external appearance of prosperity. Eventually, these nouveau riche industrialist families became the old money and were, of course, accepted by high society (Baltzell 1971, 109-124). Thus, the need to display wealth as proof of status was alleviated.
In sharp contrast to this luxury was the state of the
industrial worker. The wretched conditions in which these people lived
were due, in large part, to the industrialist himself. Industrialists
were out to make money and they saw the opportunity to do that through
paying their labor low wages. This forced many families to put their children
to work in order to have enough money to survive (Claitor 1990, 132).
Under these conditions, there was little chance for economic advancement
and the dream of rising from the bottom of society was not often realized.
The Robber Barons seemed to have no sympathy for the poor roots from which
they had come. Matthew Josephson summed up the Robber Barons' attitude
toward their workers as follows.
Little heed was paid for the quarters in which workers and their
families resided, the food they ate or the water they drank. (Josephson
Essentially, the workers were left to fend for themselves in all matters of health and safety. If this meant that many of them died from crime and disease, the Robber Barons took no responsibility.
The industrial work force was made up largely of immigrants who had come to America in huge waves during the late nineteenth century. Many came with nothing on which to live and would take any job, no matter how low paying, in order to survive. The situation only got worse as machines took over more of the workers' tasks and performed them faster than a worker ever could. This gave the industrialists an excuse to lower wages even further, and large portions of the population sank into poverty. The desolate situation made the apparent prosperity seem nothing more than a thin covering over a large sink hole.
The more immigrants that arrived, the more desperate the problem became. Between 1880 and 1920, 23,500,000 immigrants entered the United States, a figure double the size of the previous forty years (Claitor 1990, 54). These immigrants were of different ethnic origins than previous immigrants had been. Prior to 1880 most immigrants had come from northern Europe; after 1880 people started to come to America from eastern and southern Europe as well (Furnas, 1959, 835). The Industrial Revolution had made it easier for these new immigrants to travel to America because of improved transportation. Trains now ran into the interiors of the nations of Europe making it much faster and simpler for people to reach a sea port (Claitor 1990, 54).
But why did so many come? The answer is that America offered prosperity and freedom to these people. In their own lands, this well- being did not seem possible. In fact, there were many things that threatened their well-being, such as religious persecution, compulsory military service, famine and poverty (Blay 1960, 227). America seemed to have none of these problems and many people desired to leave their homelands for the hope of freedom and prosperity. Some immigrants, particularly the Italians, wanted to bring a portion of this wealth back to there own countries. These people went to America in their youth but always planned on returning to their own land after they had earned enough money to live on in their own country (Furnas 1969, 837). However, this hope of prosperity did not yield all that was promised. Immigrants did often find conditions that were better than what they had endured in their homelands but they still lived below the poverty level.
Immigrants could afford nothing more than the barest subsistence
housing and they often crowded two or three families into one family spaces.
For the the most part they made their homes in tenements which were small
buildings that Foster Dulles describes as:
...closely packed together, five or six stories high, with little light
and less ventilation. Plumbing facilities were primitive. The rooms were
small, halls and stairways always dark and fire was a constant danger
(Dulles 1959, 93).
Employers did nothing to alleviate these conditions. In
fact, some of these tenements were company owned, such as Steel Baron
Andrew Carnegie's "Painter's Row" in Pittsburgh. This section
of town, as described by Matthew Josephson, consisted of:
...five hundred people living in back to back houses without ventilation,
having cellar kitchens, dark, overcrowded sleeping quarters, no drinking
water whatsoever, and no sanitary accommodations worth the name (Josephson
It is no wonder that these slums were constantly the sight of epidemic diseases. Typhoid, scarlet fever, cholera, small pox and tuberculosis were among the most prominent (Blay 1960, 34). Clearly, these immigrants were not a part of the "gilt" of happiness and prosperity that characterized this age.
Nevertheless, even these horrible conditions were better than some of the slums of the European countries, and so the immigrants kept coming. In the old countries, cities were centuries older than in America. These ancient cities did not adapt well to the modern conveniences. Many people lived in hovels with no plumbing or electricity along streets that were piled high with garbage and waste. Others did not live in cities at all but struggled to survive on infertile farms with no hope of rising out of their life of sweat and toil (Furnas 1969, 836). They came to America for the dream of something better and, to them, what they found was an improvement even though it was not perfect.
Immigrants were not only kept out of the economic prosperity of the day, but they were also socially ostracized. There were a variety of reasons for this. One reason was because the new immigrants had a different language and culture than the Americans, unlike many earlier northern European immigrants (Claitor 1990, 54). As a consequence, it was difficult for them to blend naturally into their new society. Instead, they clung together for safety in small enclaves of their home culture, such as the Italian section of South Philadelphia or the Jewish section of New York City (Furnas 1969, 836). Another reason for the social ostracism was the fact that most of the new immigrants were Catholic or Jewish. There had been a strong resistance to these religions in America since its earliest settlement (Furnas 1969, 837).
Immigrants were also socially ostracized because they were willing to accept the low wages that industrialists offered them. Native-born American laborers had been asking for higher wages and better working conditions for decades, but the immigrants came along and undermined this whole effort through their willingness to work for low wages. Native-born workers felt betrayed by the immigrants and so would not accept them socially. Added to this was the fact that these native-born workers often lost their jobs to cheap immigrant labor. As a result of this threat to their livelihood, labor began to organize led by the second generation Americans whose parents had emigrated from northern Europe and England (Furnas 1969, 838). Violent strikes began to ravage and shock the nation.
During the 1870s, laborers became aware of the deplorable conditions in which they were being asked to work. To counter this, they joined together in unions, such as the Knights of Labor, which were organizations designed to bring grievances to the attention of employers. When employers would not heed their calls for reform, these organizations arranged for the workers to strike. This meant that the workers would refuse to work until the employer complied with their demands or agreed to a reasonable compromise.
In 1877, such a strike broke out in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania against the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad because the company had recently cut wages but at the same time made their employees run double the amount of cars on freight trains (Josephson 1934, 365). The strike turned violent, and the fighting and vandalism caused five million dollars worth of damage. Eventually, the local militia had to be called out to put an end to the frenzy. These workers were not successful in getting the company to raise their wage and eventually returned to work out of economic necessity.
However, this strike did alert workers nationwide to the possibility of fighting back against their oppressive employers. The Knights of Labor union, which had organized the strike, added many new members to its ranks after it was over, and this gave the organization greater power. As a result, in 1885, the Knights of Labor led three separate strikes against railroads through five different states. During one of these strikes, in St. Louis, Missouri, the local military again had to be called out to quell the violence (Blay 1960, 182). The Knights of Labor did not achieve many great successes against industry, but they had succeeded in arousing national awareness about the miserable working conditions of the industrial laborer.
There were many other worker's unions that organized strikes in the 1880s. In 1885, there were a total of 645 strikes and this number increased to 1400 in 1886 (Blay 1960, 182). Strikes were becoming an increasing threat until 1886, when the famous Haymarket riot in Chicago sent the nation into a panic. The riot took place at a union rally in May of 1886. On May 3, the police had broken up a labor meeting rather brutally which put the unionists on the defensive. The police arrived again on May 4, which angered the people. There was a scuffle and a bomb was thrown (Sennet 1969, 389). Foreigners were blamed for the attack, even though this has never been proven, and unionists became identified as immigrants even though this accusation was, for the most part, untrue (Blay 1960, 185). When the news spread to the rest of the nation, there was a public outcry against labor unions which resulted in more violence and upheaval. After the Haymarket riot, the government attempted to curb the power of the new unions through injunctions that forbid worker to strike (Josephson 1932, 367). Despite these measures, unions continued to grow.
In 1892, there was a strike at Andrew Carnegie's steel plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania. A gun battle even broke out between the strikers and the strikebreakers requiring federal troops to step in and end the violence (Clanton 1991, 133). In 1893, the famous Pullman strike occurred in Illinois. Wages for the Pullman Train Car Company employees were cut, but rents on company owned houses did not follow suit. Railroad workers across the state joined the Pullman workers in their fight by refusing to operate any train containing a Pullman car. The entire north was paralyzed by this action because nearly all trains contained these cars (Claitor 1990, 133).
Union movements had affected the population of the entire nation adversely at one time or another. As a result, public opinion turned against unions and the problems that came with them. The more conservative elements of society saw the unions as a communistic threat that would destroy capitalism and private property (Gaustad 1983, 117). Others feared the violence that labor unions used to achieve their ends. Cities were becoming dangerous places and many people longed to escape from these conditions.
There were many other reasons that the city was becoming an unpleasant place to live in the 1890s. Cities had become over crowded, dirty and polluted in the last few decades. This was the result of the rapid city growth experienced during the "Gilded Age". In the last two decades, the urban population of the United States doubled from 15,000,000 to 30,000,000 people (Dulles 1959, 89). The city of Philadelphia alone grew from 674, 000 to 1,047,000 from 1880 to 1890 (Paxson, 1932, 173). New urban populations sparked rapid building and expansion across the nation. In Philadelphia, the City Hall and the Reading Railroad terminal, to name only a few, were part of this building craze (Wolf 1990, 245). These new buildings were being built larger and more elaborately than ever. For the first time, skyscrapers began to appear in the skylines of American cities. These multi-storied buildings allowed more people to occupy one space of land and helped city populations to swell beyond their limits (Faulkner 1959, 37).
With this rapid expansion came many problems. The new
utility and transportation companies found out how valuable their services
were and capitalized on this situation. The owners of these companies
tended to ally with each other and other money powers to control the government
of their cities (Wolf 1990, 237). They had little sympathy for the urban
poor and were interested mainly in how government could be manipulated
for their own advantage. As a result, many city services went untended
and conditions became worse for the average citizen. In fact, in the words
of Harold Faulkner:
...streets went unpaved; garbage and sewage removal
were left to accident and time; water supplies were allowed to become
polluted; and conditions in slums rapidly sank to appalling levels of
human degradation (Faulkner 1959, 22).
Even law enforcement officials were controlled by these new powers, which made it almost impossible for people to take legal action to change the situation (Faulkner 1959, 24).
Another problem was the general unhealthy climate of the city. As has been shown, the slums of the cities bred disease, but the city as a whole was an unhealthy place to live. The life expectancy of a city dweller was much lower than that of a person who lived in the country. It was even claimed that if there was not a continuous inflow of new inhabitants to the cities that they would have soon become depopulated due to the high death rate (Jackson 1985, 69).
In addition to this, the traffic congestion created by the new transportation systems made it unpleasant and even dangerous to get around in the city. The problem stemmed from the fact that there were several different transportation systems competing for the same street space: railroads, horse cars, trolleys and old fashioned horse and wagons.
There were more railroads than ever streaming into the cites as a result of improved technology. Steel cars had replaced wooden ones, and a new efficient hand braking system had been developed that made railroads safer and easier to control (Russell 1973, 140). There were also horse cars or omnibuses which consisted of a horse pulling a passenger car over rails (Jackson 1985, 39). Many of these horses were replaced by electric cables in the 1880s which were faster, cheaper and provided a smoother, more comfortable ride (Jackson 1985, 107). There were also interurbans which were trains that ran from the city to the surrounding towns on electric rails. These trains made the city much more accessible to the country dweller who journeyed into the city and added another body to the traffic congestion (Furnas 1969, 802).
These new transportation systems added to the problems
of the city in other ways as well. Railroads, along with other industries,
contributed a great deal of pollution to the cities as Kenneth Jackson
Industry in the steam era when railroads offered the best method
of shipping, tended to concentrate as close to the distribution points
as possible. Smokestacks belched soot into the air of every city, and
nearby sections soon turned to slums. No one with options wanted to live
in close proximity to important railroad lines or to heavy industry (Jackson
These things provide further explanation as to why, by the 1890s, "Americans were taking a good hard look at the emerging metropolises and they did not like what they saw (Claitor 1990, 152)." The problems of the city seemed so overwhelming that people began to leave them for the peaceful beauty of the countryside. With this, the first large scale suburbanization movement in the United States began.
As more people crowded together in public spaces, families
sought to protect home life by building private spaces, conviviality and
group interaction, despite the massive growth of fraternal societies in
the late nineteenth century, gave way to new ways of thinking about the
family, the house and the yard, and, ultimately, to new ways of building
cities (Jackson 1985, 47)
These new ways of building cites involved the layout of suburbs. Nineteenth century cities had not provided for these areas but Americans gradually created their own. At first, city governments, who did not want to lose constituents, attempted to make cities more attractive and livable. The centennial exhibition in Philadelphia and the Colombian Exposition in Chicago provided excellent opportunities for these cites to revitalize themselves. Chicago's White City provided its inhabitants a pleasant environment with gardens and parks in which to relax and enjoy themselves (Claitor 1990, 152). Philadelphia also built many new buildings for its public to admire and use in their daily life (Wolf 1990, 246). Many city governments attempted to keep cities pleasant and attractive through annexing unused land. Parks were built on this land or it was left open to alleviate congestion (Gottdiener 1977, 21). Despite these efforts, cities became more and more crowded until there was scarcely any space left between the buildings (Wolf 1990, 250). Beautification efforts had failed. Those who could afford to began to build their homes in the country, away from the unattractive aspects of the city but close enough to commute to their places of business.
In Philadelphia, for example, as early as the 1860s, the wealthy began to abandon their large downtown mansions for the wider avenues and larger front porches of Germantown, Frankford and Chestnut Hill (Wolf 1990, 250). Downtown locations were no longer as pleasant as the unpolluted air and uncrowded streets on the edge of town (Baltzell 1964, 121). As transportation improved, in the 1870s and 1880s, Philadelphians were able to move even further from the center of town out the main railroad line leading west. They settled in the communities of Ardmore, Media and others now known as the "Main Line" (Jackson 1985, 9). However, the coat of commuting to work from the suburbs was still quite high, $35-$150 per year (Jackson 1985, 101). As a consequence, suburban populations consisted mainly of the upper-class members of society.
These wealthy people constructed idyllic environments for their new homes. Throughout the country, there were dozens of park style developments with cobble stone streets and picturesque windy avenues closed in by stone walls and iron gates to promote their exclusiveness (Furnas 1969, 818). The first of these communities was "Stewart's Folly" or Garden City, New York, founded in 1869 by A.T. Stewart. At first, the community was unsuccessful, but then a country club with a golf course and tennis courts was added and the town thrived (Furnas 1969, 818). These new communities were to be year round residences, not just summer resorts which had previously been built on the country estates of the wealthy (Baltzell 1964, 117).
Thus began the mass exodus from the overbearing city,
an exodus of which Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania became a part. The country
life offered escape and freedom from the varied problems of the city.
In the words of Kenneth Jackson:
...suburbia, pure and unfettered and bathed
by sunlight and fresh air, offered the exiting prospect that disorder,
prostitution and mayhem could be kept at a distance, far away in the festering
metropolis (Jackson 1985, 70)
This is the suburbia that Americans started to desire in the late nineteenth century. Through acting on this ideal they could effectively turn their backs on the ambiguities inherent in the lifestyle of the "Gilded Age". The perfect American life began to be viewed as the quiet suburban lifestyle of privacy and purity.
Religion in the "Gilded Age"
After the Civil War, America, a nation where religion had always played an important role in defining society, was thrust into a new era of urban civilization. In this environment, the place and future of religion were no longer self-evident. This crisis was felt across the protestant denominations whose strength was found in rural America. This crisis affected the New Church as well. As the forces of secularization became more apparent, a desire arose among the members of the Advent Society to found a religious Academy where the place of religion in all aspects of life would be made evident. To maintain the purity and integrity of this religious Academy, the decision was made to found a New Church community.
Before the Civil war, the New Church had been a relatively loosely structured organization. Various locations of the Church had taken leadership at different times but on the whole, the organization of the New Church differed little from the rest of protestant America. After the War, when religion began to lose some of its cultural authority, a certain faction within the New Church desired to create a stronger institution to protect their religious heritage. The Academy movement came into being as a result of this initiative. It stressed education as the key to remaining strong in faith and fighting against the religious crisis of the age. A New Church organization was established which emphasized authority from God through the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.
The New Church was not the only denomination to react to the changing state of society. Before the Civil war, religion had a large impact in defining the social and cultural institutions of the nation. The predominantly rural nation had a strong belief in God and His providence and this guided them in their everyday lives. The Civil War shook the faith of many, because religion did not seem to provide an answer to this disastrous situation. The new industrial society which emerged after the war emphasized wealth and status. There was little place for traditional faith in this society because it offered no answers to the new moral and ethical dilemmas of industrial society. The inadequacy of traditional Christianity to fulfill the religious, moral and spiritual needs of industrial society led to questions concerning its value and place in the nation.
Some reacted to this crisis by completely turning away from religion and found in science the keys to the purpose and order of society. In a scientific world, God was no longer necessary. Another segment of society, known as religious liberals, tried to incorporate science into their religious beliefs. Science often appeared to be in direct opposition to religious positions, but liberals adapted traditional conceptions of God to fit these scientific ideas. Others tried to reach beyond the scope of older conceptions of religion through aid to the poor and helpless. These people founded the movement known as the Social Gospel. Still others tried to increase the authority of religion in the face of the crisis. This manifested itself in religious revivals, dramatic, powerful sermons and also through the denial of the scientific discoveries of the age in favor of the Bible's literal interpretation of the world and its creation. Many religious academies were founded by zealous Christians during this period. They hoped these academies would keep their young from being drawn into the spiritual crisis by instructing them in the truths of religion. Education in general experienced great growth during the last decades of the nineteenth century because its potential to mold young minds in ways beyond basic instruction in the three "Rs" was realized. The New Church was a part of this culture and as such was effected by it. Both the founding of the Academy and the move to Bryn Athyn fit the pattern of the broader cultural response to the secularization of American society.
The Breakdown of Faith
Catherine Albanese points out that the title "Gilded Age" was also appropriate for the religious climate of the day because "beneath the glittering surface of society there was a sense of spiritual malaise (Albanese 1981, 101)." The acceptance of new scientific knowledge contributed to this "malaise" because science had challenged the traditional conception of God and the authority of the Bible. The result was that a lot of people stopped coming to church. Many also left the Church because the God that was being promoted was a fearful and vengeful God. This God offered little sympathy and comfort in the modern age and so, many left the established Church in search of something more uplifting (Carpenter 1971, 46). Another factor in the weakening of the Church was the factionalism which resulted from the Civil War. During this conflict, each of the major churches was split into northern and southern divisions and the strength of each diminished organization was thereby weakened (Ahlstrom 1972, 733). Francis Weisenburger includes these factors in his analysis of why people began to turn away from the established Christian Churches in the "Gilded Age". He also includes several other reasons, such as the hypocritical lifestyles of the supposed God fearing men in the Church, the fact that sermons were just plain dull, and the fact that people had to strictly observe the Sabbath to the point where children were not even allowed to play outside on this day (Weisenburger 1959, 40-46). What all of these ideas point to is that people were reexamining what the church organizations had to offer and saw that it was very lacking. Religion offered them no comfort nor enjoyment nor compensation for the suffering they had endured during the Civil War. Instead, Americans indulged in the new pleasures of the day. Going to a baseball game or to the theater proved to be a much more enjoyable experience than sitting still in a hard wooden pew, listening to a sermon which seemed to say that everyone, including themselves, was going to hell because they were so sinful (Weisenburger, 1959, 46). These attitudes encouraged the secularization of society.
The Impact of Scholarship
Science was a major factor in this secularization. Martin Marty summed up the idea quite well when he said that by the 1890s, "Science had dissipated into myth or legend much of what once seemed substantial reality (Marty 1986, 30)." With many ideas cast into doubt, it is little wonder that people began to leave the Church and turn to the substantial proofs of science to find true nature of reality.
Geology was one of the new sciences that questioned the integrity of the Bible. Geologists had discovered a fossil record that pointed to a much older origin of the Earth than had been previously thought (Ahlstrom 1972, 766). This directly contradicted the Bible's evidence that the Earth was only about six thousand years old. If this new evidence was accepted, it appeared that a part of the Bible had to be rejected, and if one part of the Bible could be rejected as untrue, then other portions or perhaps the entire Bible might also be false. This idea led to further confusion concerning the place of religion in society.
Another scholarly pursuit that threatened to undermine religion in the nineteenth century was Biblical criticism. Basically, it was decided that the Bible could be analyzed and examined as any other work of literature (Ahlstrom 1972, 772). In Germany, in 1840, J.G. Palfrey hypothesized that the Bible was a compilation of at least two separate sources (Weisenburger 1959, 80). From this idea, other scholars followed until it was eventually thought that the Bible was made up of four separate sources put together by one compiler well after the days of Moses (Carpenter 1971, 39). This brought into question the Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible. If Moses had not written these books under God's Divine Dictate, then what authority did they have?
It was also pointed out that many events of the Bible could never have occurred in the manner depicted. For example, in 1862, John Colenso pointed out that it would have been impossible for so many people to exist in the wilderness of Arabia for forty years (Weisenburger 1959, 81). In the late nineteenth century, Robert Ingersoll tried to bring these ideas to the common people through lectures and books where he pointed out such things as the impossibility of Joshua commanding the sun to stand still (Weisenburger 1959, 88).
Added to these scholarly pursuits was the theory of evolution. This theory, made famous by Charles Darwin, held that all creatures had evolved from a single cell. If this idea were accepted, the Bible's account of Creation had to be false. In fact, Darwinism took away any need for a deity at all since the laws of nature could keep the universe in balance (Weisenburger, 59, 63). This idea was repugnant to many since it implied that humans and animals were equals in the eyes of nature (Carpenter 1971, 50).
As a result, there were many who refuted Darwin's ideas. At first, Darwinism was rejected on a purely scientific basis which held that no concrete evidence had been produced to substantiate Darwin's theories. Particularly absent was the fossil evidence for the missing links between species (Weisenburger 1959, 63). Later, Darwinism was rejected on a purely religious basis because his ideas were thought to be atheistic and contrived for no other purpose than to disprove the existence of God.
There were ministers who tried to incorporate Darwin's ideas into their religion (Marty 1986, 35). These ministers felt that evolution was God's method of advancing his creation. Acceptance of these new scientific ideas was known as "liberal" theology.
"The task, as Liberalism, or in its more extreme form, Modernism, saw it, was to reconcile the Christian Gospel to the modern world (Albanese 1981, 103)." The world was changing rapidly during the "Gilded Age" and something was needed to bridge the gap between the old, puritanical culture and the industrial age. Liberal theology set out to accomplish this through updating God to modern needs. "The liberal theologian's God was a God of love - intimate, imminent, and concerned about human welfare (McDannell 1986, 18)." This God was not only loving, He was a part of nature and its laws. This incorporated all the ideas of science into a conception of God, making Him truly a part of the modern era.
Liberalism did not in itself encourage any real solution to the moral problems of the age; it only explained the nature of reality. In fact, many liberals ignored the plight of the poor because they were content with their own station and place in the world. "...Liberalism often encouraged complacency and self-satisfaction. It throve mightily among the most conservative classes of people (Ahlstrom 1972, 788)." There were extreme branches of the liberal movement. "Modernists" wanted to use the new theology to accept and embrace all religions. They believed that each religion had something valuable to contribute and could be brought into harmony under a universal theology. The Modernists' ideas eventually culminated in the World Parliament of Religions, in 1893, which was designed as a forum for all religions to share their beliefs with one another (Marty 1986, 17).
Interestingly, one of the organizers of this event was a New Churchman named Charles Bonney. Though Bonney did not belong to the Advent Society, they also both shared some of the Modernists' views about the spread of religion. The members of the Advent Society believed that it was important to share their religion with the entire globe. The establishment of New Church societies in the Asian lands was met with much excitement and celebration during this era (Schreck 1891, 64).
In addition to the Modernists, there was another extreme branch of liberalism which emphasized ethics and morality and believed that bringing the "Kingdom of God" on earth was possible if people would work together to raise others out of poverty and desolation (Albanese 1981, 106). This branch eventually became its own movement known as the Social Gospel.
The Social Gospel
People of the Social Gospel movement saw the effect of
modern city life on some Americans and felt it was their Christian duty
to change it. These people saw the importance that lay in the fate of
The city was the site of the emerging civilization. Its fate
would determine the fate of the nation and the world. Its styles and contours
would shape the intellect, culture and morality of the twentieth century.
To evade the problems of the new urbanism was to be disengaged from the
future (White 1976, 56).
Raising the economic status of the poor was vital to the future
of the entire nation because if one segment of society lived in such a
wretched state, then the society as a whole was made worse (Paxson 1932,
174). To change this situation, people who followed the Social Gospel
focused not on the hereafter but on the here and now (Faulkner 1959, 29).
The Bible dealt mainly with the after world and how to achieve salvation,
The ideas of the Social Gospel were based on the conviction that
the saving of society was useless without a parallel effort to Christianize
the urban environment (Baltzell 1964, 161).
This movement did attempt to bring Christianity and its dream of salvation to the urban poor, but, the Bible was not written in the industrial age and so did not have the answers to the moral problems of capitalistic society. "[The people of the Social Gospel movement] made their own answer, they acted (Albanese 1981, 102)."
Proponents of the Social Gospel brought aid to the oppressed workers and supported them in their effort against labor. The young, the indigent, and the insane were now to be taken care of thanks to a "dawning social conscience" (Blay 1969, 47). The means for performing this use included charitable organizations such as the the Salvation Army and the Young Mens' Christian Association (YMCA). Settlement houses were another means to bring aid to the oppressed.
Settlement houses were basically community centers. Hull House, founded by Jane Adams and Julia Lathrop in Chicago, was one of the most prominent (Dulles 1959, 97). These centers had nurseries for working parents, social clubs, reading rooms, gymnasiums and other recreational activities. By 1895, the activities included kindergartens, employment bureaus and even arts and crafts classes (Faulkner 1959, 29). The idea behind settlement houses was to provide an area where workers could relax and raise themselves above their impoverished lifestyles. Settlement houses also performed a use by bringing national attention to the workers plight through publicity and government commissioned sociological studies (Faulkner 1959, 30).
One of the main figures in the Social Gospel story was Washington Gladden. Gladden began preaching "social conscience" from his pulpit in the 1880s. He told people that they could change the world if only they would try (Albanese 1981, 106). He advocated, in his "Applied Christianity", such socially advanced practices as progressive taxation and government owned transportation (Carpenter 1971, 194). Gladden, and other preachers, helped spread the ideas of the Social Gospel to the masses. Reverend Charles Sheldon even wrote a novel, In His Steps, about a tramp to bring readers' attention to the plight of the poor (White 1976, 143).
Religion and organized churches were the center for this charitable activity. However, some people became so involved with the idea of charity and social reform that they tuned away from organized religion. The Social Gospel advocated a way of life that they felt was good and so it provided the basis for their new belief system (Weisenburger 1959, 121).
There were many who did not follow the Social Gospel and, in fact, believed it to be harmful. These people were advocates of the principle of Social Darwinism. Basically, this theory held that Darwin's idea of "survival of the fittest" could be applied socially and economically (Weisenburger 1959, 117). The poor were destined to their position because they were weak while the industrialists were strong. "Social Darwinism seemed a made-to-order philosophy for the rising capitalists in the postwar period; it glorified laissez faire, whether the result was unbridled competition or consolidation (Faulkner 1959, 14)."
Social Darwinists were interested in the Gospel of Wealth proposed by such men as Russell Conwell. Conwell promoted the idea that "...the sky was the limit, ...and humans could achieve anything they genuinely chose (Albanese 1981, 102)." This Gospel encouraged worldly gain and prosperity which probably added to the materialism and secularization of the age.
The wealthy Social Darwinists also effected the church through their exodus to the countryside. As more people left the city, their churches went with them. "The people who could afford churches were well churched; those who could not were unchurched - and hardly cared or even regarded church people as their economic oppressors (Ahlstrom 1972, 738)." The wealthy churches moved to the outskirts of the city and downtown workers were left with rundown buildings or no churches at all (Weisenburger 1959, 42). Once again, the church was not able to meet the needs of the masses.
Attempts to Revive Religion
Some Churches reacted to the crisis of faith by attempting to send their message more powerfully to the people. The Churches of the nation all had different systems of belief, but they shared a core of universal doctrine. This doctrine mainly revolved around the reality of original sin and the fact that every human being could struggle against this barrier to attain salvation (Weisenburger 1959, 2). Evangelical preachers traversed the nation spreading this message to all through religious revivals. These revivals consisted of a series of prayer meetings and sermons that culminated in the conversion of many audience members who were overcome by the weight of their sins and desired to become part of the heavenly life the preachers had promised (Blay 1960, 45). These converts were encouraged to join a church organization. Which domination they chose was not important as long as it offered continued support to their new found faith and kept them from slipping back into their former sins. This revivalism was helpful to many individuals, but it did nothing to offer solutions to the new moral dilemmas brought on by the industrial age, such as the plight of labor (Ahlstrom 1972, 743). All revivalism offered was a chance to be redeemed in the next life. It did not provide any strategies for dealing with the day to day problems of life on this earth.
Another "gilded" aspect of religion at this time was the great preacher phenomenon. Henry Ward Beecher of Brooklyn was famous throughout the country for his sermons on social and political ills. Phillips Brooks of Boston was equally famous for his idea that the entire world was part of the family of God (Ahlstrom 1972, 739). However, Beecher's belief in political and social reform was inconsistent as he attempted to appeal to all segments of society, both liberal and conservative (Carpenter 1971, 125). Since he advocated opposing strategies, Beecher offered no tangible solution to the moral problems of the day. These great sermons were powerful, but they did not reach far enough into society to produce any real improvement in the crisis of religion.
"[Fundamentalism] was the second response of protestants
to their changing world, that of partially withdrawing from it and rejecting
it (Albanese 1981, 103)." Fundamentalists rejected the new ideas
of science on the grounds that the Bible contained absolute truth:
the liberals favored dynamic and fluid views of history, the anti-progressives
needed a stable and rigid superstructure. They found this in an assertion
of the infallibility... of the canonical Bible (Marty 1986, 232).
Fundamentalists believed that to deny the historical facts of the Bible was to deny God himself because the Bible had been written by His Divine authority which could never be wrong. Fundamentalists sometimes explained the inconsistencies of the Bible as the the fault of the copyist or translators of the early documents, but they usually simply denied that the Bible was inconsistent at all (Weisenburger 1959, 82). The miraculous events which critics claimed could never have occurred were simply the work of God. The infallibility of the Bible answered Darwinian principles and geological findings by simply refuting them in favor of the explanations of creation found in the Bible. This was the way that the world was created because this was the way God said it was created.
Fundamentalists opposed liberal theology because it advocated
changing God to fit the conceptions of the modern world:
The idea that the traditional creeds could be progressively overhauled
and brought up to date was opposed to the very idea of Christianity as
a system of objective truths and facts (Carpenter 1971, 164).
God was unchanging, stable and infinite. He could not be any other than he had originally been. Perhaps this stability offered the Fundamentalists the answer to the crisis which the changing age had brought.
Fundamentalists saw the denial of God and his authority as a sign of the evil and sin that polluted the world. The only answer to this crisis was to live a life free of sin and to preach cold, hard doctrine to all people to bring them out of their life of sin (Ahlstrom 1972, 808).
One of the means of spreading this doctrine to the people was through religious education. Many religious denominations founded schools during the "Gilded Age" to help their members keep their faith in the face of modern society. The rise of religious education started with Sunday schools but soon led to more comprehensive instruction. In 1880, for example, the Methodist Church had 11 theological seminaries, 44 colleges and 130 women's seminaries (Finke 1992, 154). The idea that education could be used to help the young in dealing with their religious crisis may have come from an altered view of the value of education that came about during the "Gilded Age". The scope of education increased greatly during this period: from rudimentary instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic to include art and both physical and social science (Dulles 1959, 105). Courses in drawing, music and nature studies were taught for the first time (Faulkner 1944, 474).
This expanded curriculum became possible partly due to an increase in public funding for education (Blay 1960, 51). The school term was also lengthened and attendance was more strictly enforced (Faulkner 1944, 473). This new education was supported by most religions. Judaism supported the new educational system as long as it remained completely secular (Gaustad 983, 49). Catholics, however, wanted more religion in their childrens' lives. For this reason, they did not participate extensively in the new public school system of the Gilded Age but developed their their own parochial school system (Gaustad 1983, 39).
There were changes in higher education as well during this period. In order to keep on top of the new curriculum, teachers were forced to become better educated (Dulles 1959, 104). Ministers also had to be better educated if they wanted to speak on the same level as their newly educated parishioners (Finke 1992, 154). As a result, college presidents reexamined their systems and added more stringent diploma requirements (Blay 1960, 59). From Germany, the seminar and thesis were imported along with the doctoral degree (Faulkner 1959, 16). Elective systems were introduced that let people pursue courses of study focused in their own areas of interest (Dulles 1959, 119).
Many new schools were founded during this period of educational expansion. The total school population went from 7,000,000 to 15,000,000 from 1870 to 1900 (Dulles 1959, 104). The number of state supported colleges increased because the Mirril Act of 1862 was finally utilized which gave states land and money to found centers of higher learning (Dulles 1959, 105). Private schools were also increasing in number. In Philadelphia, between 1880 and 1900, Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore were founded and the University of Pennsylvania expanded to include the Dental and Wharton schools (Wolf 1990, 255). The suburbanization trend added to the number of day schools all over the country. In the Philadelphia area such schools as Haverford, Chestnut Hill and the Episcopal Academy were established (Baltzell 1971, 297).
The Academy of the New Church was part of this educational movement. It was founded along with other religious institutions in order to instruct youth in the doctrines of the Church and thereby keep them from becoming part of the spiritual "malaise" of the nation. The founders of the Academy believed that religious instruction was the key to the growth and expansion of the New Church. The youth of the New Church would be educated in the doctrines allowing them to see the Lord's truth. With this knowledge, they would be more likely to remain in the Church which could then grow and prosper from its own offspring. This belief in education as a means of protection and preservation was one response to the religious climate of the "Gilded Age" that the Advent Society shared with the Fundamentalists.
The Advent Society's belief in authority and morality was also shared with the Fundamentalists. The members of the Advent Society believed that modern science was corrupting the nation because it did not take religion into account in its theories and this diminished God's place in creation (Schreck 1890a, 66) The people of the Advent Society believed that God was the supreme force and the creator of the universe, and they received His Word through the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. This gave them the a strong foundation and authority for their faith which could not be shaken by the discoveries of science. The truths contained in the Writings provided guiding principles by which the people of the Advent Society could live their everyday lives and so escape the crisis of faith that plagued most of the nation.
However, the members of the Advent Society also shared characteristics with other religious movements of the age. They were encouraged by the growth of their religion in foreign nations and the hope of a universal religion which it promised. In this way, they were in sympathy with the Modernist interpretation of religion. The Advent Society also admired some of the attitudes of the Social Gospel since one of the central doctrines of the New Church was charity toward the neighbor. As a consequence, the Advent Society made its own efforts to care for the poor and oppressed by giving aid to New Church orphans and widows (Whitehead 1976, 46).
Despite these similarities, the reaction of the Advent Society to the changing religious climate was somewhat different than other segments of society. They believed that they were the exclusive possessors of God's truth. It would be impossible to share these truths with other Christian Churches, whose doctrines were based on falsities, because this mixture of truth and falsity would result in the collapse of all things of religion. As a result, the Advent Society believed that the New Church would expand and prosper from within. Religious education would enhance this growth. As time passed, the members of the Advent Society began to believe that a secluded religious community, safe from the corrupting influence and false doctrines of the "Old Church", was the best environment for religious education. Acting on this belief, they moved their community to the country site of Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.
The New Church in the "Gilded Age"
The people of the Advent Society were, naturally, affected by the temper of the times. This environment provided the inspiration to found their own private, religious community. The motivations to establish this community stemmed from both practical and religious concerns. On the practical side, their concerns were similar to non-New Church members who sought peace from the new urban environment in the country lifestyle. They found cities hot, congested and unhealthy. Unlike other comforts of American society, the Advent Society members also found main stream city life to be too selfishly decadent and luxurious. The Advent Society reacted against this environment by seeking a more simple and genuine, honest lifestyle in the country.
While other religious groups shared this assessment, the members of the Advent Society also had concerns about the city that were unique to their religion. There were several doctrines contained in the Writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg which taught that the faith of the "Old Church" was corrupt and lifeless. Further passages from Swedenborg alluded to the idea that the New Church should separate itself from the former Christian Churches to avoid infestation by the dead faith of the "Old Church". This led members of the Advent Society to believe that separating themselves socially from the "Old Church" was necessary.
From this idea came the concept of "distinctive" New Church cultural institutions and social practices. These people needed something to replace the social life of the "Old Church" that was sanctioned by ideas from the Writings. Since the "Old Church" was so corrupt, the growth of the Church would have to come from within, through "distinctive" New Church education. Residing in an exclusive New Church society, away from the corruptions of the secular world, would give this education its greatest impact. This education was to be the chief use of the New Church community. The people would work together for a common goal, the spread of God's Church on earth and the preparation of its members for life in heaven. Thus, in reaction to the discomforts and corruptions of the "Gilded Age", the people of the Advent Society decided to found their own private, religious community.
As has been shown, one of the major problems of urban life was the disease-ridden environment. With thousands of people packed into a few square miles it is little wonder that epidemics spread rapidly throughout the city. The new factories added to this problem by polluting the air with smoke and other industrial wastes. City air became thick and heavy. As a result, sickness became even more rampant. Fresh air was thought to be the answer to this problem. Therefore, doctors prescribed long trips away from the city for their ailing patients. The Advent Society members faithfully followed such medical advice. For example, in 1893, Bishop William F. Pendleton went on a bike tour through five states to cure his heath (Schreck June 1892b, 96). In 1892, Doctor George R. Starkey traveled to the country air of Georgia in an attempt to improve his health (Klein, January 1892, 1). Factories had not only made the city air unclean but their presence seemed to intensify the oppressive heat and humidity of the climate. Summers were so unbearable that many members of the Advent Society spent them on the beaches of New Jersey or on farms in the outskirts of Philadelphia. (Odhner, C. 1890, 132).
The idea of escaping these intolerable conditions first occurred to the people of the Advent Society in 1888, but no concrete plans were made (Journal July 23, 1891). In 1891, a meeting of the Academy of the New Church Council was held to discuss the feasibility of a move and possible locations for the new community. At this meeting, all attendants agreed that improved health was one of the main reasons to pursue the move (Journal July 23, 1891). The merits of various locations were discussed including the community's present site in what was then known as Huntingdon Valley. Later that year, after a professional investigation by a Doctor Kent, the climate of the Huntingdon Valley area was found to be pure and healthy and the spot was officially named as the site of the new community (Journal November 22, 1891).
The members of the Academy Council also discussed the scenic appeal of various locations for the settlement including Media, Huntingdon Valley or even somewhere more remotely rural. The Huntingdon Valley site was questioned on the grounds that is was not as physically appealing as others since it had few trees and only one source of water (Journal July 23, 1891). The beauty of the new community was important because the people of the Advent Society wanted to escape not only the unhealthy environment of the city but its disorder and squalor. This desire for a more attractive environment was another practical reason for escaping the confines of the city which the members of the Advent Society shared with their Old Church neighbors. Cities had become unattractive, unclean and violent during their rapid growth in the "Gilded Age". The countryside offered a haven from this dreary scene.
No labor unions or frenzied strikes would accompany them to the country. They would not find transportation vehicles teeming the streets and making them unsafe to cross or piles of garbage cluttering alleyways. The country was clean, safe and beautiful. The rural environment contained the peace and tranquility that so many people craved at the end of the nineteenth century. This was the environment that people of the Advent Society found in the "restfulness and calm" of the Huntingdon Valley area (Tilson, Diary, June 15, 1892).
The large area in time to be called Bryn Athyn was a peaceful, rural, hilly countryside. Here and there there was an old stone farmhouse. There were woods, many of the trees were old and giant in size and there was a winding and a picturesque creek, the Pennypack, close by (White, 1987, 2).
These hills "abound in masses of wild-roses, sweet-briar [and] honeysuckle (Tilson, Diary, June 16, 1892)"
This idyllic environment attracted many Philadelphians to the spot on day trips. There was a picnic ground, known as Alnwick Grove, with a dance pavilion, on the edge of the creek just yards away from a rural train stop and the beautiful hills stretched for miles around it. Advent Society members began to frequent this spot as early as 1888. They began to spend their summers in the surrounding farmhouses in the years following and, eventually, relocated permanently to this spot to withdraw from the hectic and unclean life of the city.
Reasons Not to Move
There were negative aspects to moving to the countryside which the Advent Society had to consider before their final decision to adopt the project. Though the country air and environment were appealing, their were certain conveniences in the cities that would have to be sacrificed. Electricity was not as readily available in the country and doctors and hospitals were some distance away (Ridgway 1982, 90). People would also have to travel into the city for some of the clothing and domestic goods that they needed which would add to the burdens of keeping house and raising children. The Church members had to consider these difficulties and weigh them against their desires for a more pure environment.
Another factor that had to be considered was the expensive commute into the city that some would have to make each day. For the more wealthy members of the community, such as John Pitcairn and Robert Glenn, this did not present a problem, but for the middle-class population ,the financial hardship was a real concern. In fact, the cost of the commute to these men was one of the reasons that the community ended up only fifteen miles from the city instead of a more pure and isolated location many miles out in the country (Journal July 23, 1891).
On a more spiritual level, living in such an isolated society might increase the temptation to act uncharitably toward each other (College Letters, no. 13, 11). They would only see each other every day. In such closed contact, it would be more likely that small irritations could turn into raging conflicts. The society members had to be aware of this danger, and prepare themselves to deal with it, before they were ready to make the move to the country.
The motives for the move did not lie exclusively in the practical realm. The Advent Society also desired "a setting in which the Church could be free to express itself not only in worship but in all aspects of life (Gladish 1989, 311)." This was becoming increasingly difficult in the secularized modern environment. Science had changed many people's attitudes concerning religion and morality. The result of these new attitudes was that people came to believe in ideas that the members of the Advent Society considered "unreliable, false and seductive..." and "...[these were] gradually immersing man in a state worse than that of brute creation... (Schreck 1890a, 65)." This involved the denial of God and and His commandments, beliefs which the New Church considered sacred. The modern world was increasingly skeptical and rationalistic concerning the things of religion and this made it difficult to easily express one's faith in everyday life (Schreck, 1890, 87). New Church people felt that it was essential to actualize their faith in all aspects of their life. If this was becoming problematic in the self-indulgent urban environment, the New Church people would found a community where this could occur unself-consciously.
The Advent Society had little hope that the more zealous Christian denominations would radically improve the secularized nation because their attempts so far had proved fruitless. Despite the efforts to implement the doctrine of the Social Gospel, there was still a large, oppressed urban population. The Advent Society reasoned that this was so because these other Christian Churches simply did not have the truths which were necessary to "cure the evils themselves - ...self-love and love of the world (Smith 1890, 57)." Advent Society members believed that the reason the lower-class had become so destitute was because of the selfish ambitions of industry. In the New Church, greed and the desire to dominate others would be eliminated because charity and concern for the neighbor were to be put above all things. The reason that the other Churches were unable to achieve solutions to the problems of society was because they had failed to address these evils themselves and had only attempted to treat the symptoms through aid to the poor.
The founders of the Bryn Athyn society, like the founders of other American utopian movements, believed that by founding their own religious community they could separate themselves from "the world's false and un-saving principles (Smith 1890, 56)." By living in their own community New Church people could live according to their religion as they saw fit. They would not be surrounded by false and inadequate religions. Their motives would not be looked at askance by nonreligious members of society. They would live in harmony according to the genuine truths of the Lord.
Separation from the Old Church
The belief that the efforts of other Christian churches
would be ineffective, stemmed from a belief that these faiths were based
on false doctrines and were, therefore, invalid. Eventually, the New Church
was to succeed these former religions as the "Crown of all Churches"
according to the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (Swedenborg 1984, 349).
From this doctrine, the members of the Advent Society developed the belief
that the New Church and the "Old Church" should not combine
their faiths because the one was alive and vital while the other was false
and dead. If these faiths were to exist together in a person's mind the
result would be
...that everything pertaining to the church would perish,
and in spiritual things man would fall into a delirium, or into a swoon,
so that he would not know what the church is, or whether there is a church;
neither would he know anything about God, faith or charity (Swedenborg
The ministers of the Advent Society used these passages extensively in
their arguments advocating social separation from the "Old Church".
There was another passage, however, that seemed to advocate physical separation
from the "Old Church" in order to allow the New Church to grow
and prosper. This number was nearly always employed by those who advocated
a move to an isolated community. From Brief Exposition, number 103:
why the faith of the New Church cannot by any means be together with the
faith of the former or present church, is, because they do not agree together
in one third, no, nor even in one tenth part. The faith of the former church
is described in the Apocalypse (chap. xii) by "the dragon," but
the faith of the New Church by "the woman encompassed with the sun...,
whom the dragon pursued and at whom he cast water as a flood, that he might
swallow her up," ... These two cannot be together in one city, much
less in one house, consequently they cannot be together in one mind... (Swedenborg,
Though this quote specifically states that the dragon and the woman could not dwell together in the same place, the Advent Society members carried the representation of the churches out to infer that the two faiths could not be together in the same city. This one passage served as the main doctrinal justification for moving to the countryside.
Even before the move, the members of the Advent Society began to socially separate themselves from the members of the "Old Church", lest their beliefs infect the mind and cause the things of religion to perish. Eugene Schreck warns about "dinners and suppers where the sphere is interiorly opposed to the particular affections for a heavenly life (Schreck 1892b, 88)." He points out that these social gatherings are particularly dangerous because the atmosphere invites the sharing of personal beliefs and opinions. These beliefs are more likely to seem reasonable when one is relaxed and having a good time. Thus, New Church people are particularly susceptible to accepting the corrupt beliefs of the "Old Church" at social gatherings. For this reason, Schreck advocated social separation from the "Old Church".
Raymond Caldwell also argued that it was important not to enter into social life with members of the Old Church. His reasoning was that social interaction with those who held false beliefs weakened the grounding of the Church in heaven, which was the Church on earth. Caldwell believed that social interaction brought about confusion between the false and the true which would lead to the destruction of the New Church (Caldwell 1889, 10).
This fear of corruption was a strong motivation for the founding of an exclusive religious community. In fact, one of the reasons given for not founding the new community in Media, Pennsylvania was the large Quaker population of the area. The Writings give unflattering descriptions of the Quakers that led the members of the Advent Society to believe that dwelling among them would lead quickly to impure faith (Journal July 23, 1891).
In a later article, Schreck points out that this tendency toward corruption had been played out in the Convention branch of the New Church. The ministers of Convention's Massachusetts society had given sanction to a young member who wished to join the Y.M.C.A. The creed of this organization acknowledged the Divine to be three persons as well as the belief that Jesus atoned for the sins of the human race on the cross. These beliefs were specifically denied by the New Church. To join an organization that accepted and promoted these ideas was surely a profanation of the New Church faith (Schreck, 1895e, 72). This young man's desire to associate with the Old Church society had led him into a terrible state of faith.
At this point, one may question why the members of the Advent Society could not effectively influence the beliefs of the Old Church. They did not believe that this was possible because, before the true God could be acknowledged, the faith of the former church had to be entirely vanquished from the mind to prevent the harmful mixing of faiths (Bowers 1894, 125). This made it impractical to consider attempting to convert the members of the "Old Church" to the new faith because this could only happen when they were willing to entirely release all vestiges of their former faith. Few were willing to do this and, even when they professed that they were, it was impossible for a New Church person to judge how completely they had relinquished their former faith. Since it was not possible to convert the members of the "Old Church" to the new religion, the members of the Advent Society set about to make their church grow and prosper from within. One of the methods to ensure this prosperity was to provide unique cultural and social institutions that would promote the idea of New Church "distinctiveness" to its members in the hopes of achieving strong loyalty.
Distinctive New Church Social Life
Basically, these institutions involved bringing doctrinal
ideas and justifications to the things of everyday life. For example,
banquets were not referred to by this name but were called "Feasts
of Charity" (Odhner, C. 1894, 31). This name came from the statement
in the Writings that:
...dinners and suppers of charity are given only
among those who are in mutual love from similarity of faith. With the
Christians of the primitive church dinners and supper had no other object;
they were called Feasts, and were given both in order that they might
heartily enjoy themselves, and at the same time be drawn together (Swedenborg
The title Feasts then suggests that these banquets were in order with the Word of God because they were within charity but still enjoyable. The special name denoted the distinct status of the New Church as the true faith.
The distinctive culture of the Advent Society also manifested itself in a desire to separate from all social customs of the "Old Church". This principle can be seen through the selection of Thursday evening for school sponsored "Socials". Sunday evening was rejected as a choice because this was the day that these occasions took place in the "Old Church" and they did not want to identify New Church events with this sphere (Teachers' February 12, 1892). Another example of this practice can be seen through the modifications that the Advent Society introduced to the Christmas tradition. It was believed that the "Old Church" had put too much emphasis on the receiving of gifts rather than the appreciation of God and His promise of salvation. As a result, it was decided that at the Christmas Eve service the children of the congregation would bring an offering to the Lord as the Wise Men had. To make this more meaningful, the children had to acquire this gift themselves so that they would not merely be passing on something that their parents had bought and which required no effort on their part (Plummer 1889, 11). Thus, the "distinctive" proceedings of the Advent Society were not a part of impure "Old Church" customs.
"Distinctiveness" carried over into in all forms of activity. The members of the Advent Society felt that they should not indulge in activities which contradicted their faith. If activities seemed to be in opposition to New Church beliefs, then these activities were modified or given up all together. For example, April Fool's Day was thought to be uncharitable because it advocated trickery, which was dishonest, and these tricks often involved unkindness. As a result, it was decided that, in the Academy schools, these "tricks" should involve unexpected acts of kindness that would brighten another's day not spoil it (Teachers' April 1, 1892).
Baseball was also thought to be uncharitable because it promoted competitiveness and the desire to dominate others. In this case, a committee of Academy students was appointed to study the problem and see how the game could be made to conform with New Church beliefs. This committee recommended that the structure of the game not be altered but, in order to promote harmony among the players, captains exclusively were allowed to choose and coach the teams. This would prevent a great deal of arguing as to the best strategies for the game (Klein, Students, November 13, 1891). From these incidents, the importance of applying New Church doctrine to all things of life is clear. The New Church was not just a general philosophy but had an answer for every minute detail of life. This made it unique, "distinctive" and "The Crown of all Churches"
Perhaps the most important "distinctive" New Church institution was the Academy. The education received at this institution was intended to instill a love of New Church doctrine in the young that they might remain within the church and add to its numbers (Ottley 1890, 135). New Church education was also designed to prepare children for heaven by giving them the truths they needed to achieve salvation (Benade 1899, 3).
"Distinctive" New Church education was necessary because only the New Church had the genuine truths of God. The schools of the "Old Church" could not provide these things because they were corrupt, "hot-beds of vice (Journal March 2, 1888)." The founders of the Academy felt that they needed their own educational institution in order to keep their young from public schools, where they would receive ideas about God that were false and would lead them away from the church (Starkey 1893, 166).
All subjects at the Academy were taught from a "distinctly" New Church point of view that helped children see how doctrine applied to all aspects of life. For example, Math was taught in the schools with an emphasis on its relation to order which was from God. However, the subject was not taught in detail to women because it pertained to the natural rational mind which was masculine (Price 1890, 38). The feminine, in the New Church was believed to be complimentary to the masculine and so involved all things in the sphere of affection and love. As a result of this belief, women were taught more by oral instruction than through texts because it was thought that the voice would appeal more strongly to the affections (Price 1890, 38). Texts were used in the classrooms and some of them were written by New Church people to emphasize the particular aspects of a subject that pertained to New Church doctrine (Schreck 1892a, 74).
This education was not designed to achieve high rankings against the schools of the world but "to the end that the knowledges acquired [could] form vessels for the reception of Divine Truth from the Word (Price 1890, 38)." The Academy was founded during a period of educational advancement in America which saw the founding of many private academies that were both religious and secular in nature. While this climate may have encouraged the founding of the Academy of the New Church, its aims specifically formed by the doctrines of the New Church. The chief use of the Academy was religious instruction to further the expansion of the New Church on earth (Odhner, S. 1976, 34).
This use became the primary concern of the founders of the Bryn Athyn community. Religious education was believed to be the key to the maintenance and growth of the Church on earth and so it was their duty to promote this use in the most constructive way possible (College Letters, no. 13, 12). Due to the social and religious environment of the "Gilded Age" , the members of the New Church eventually came to believe that this use could best be served in an isolated community. Away from the corrupt and self-serving environs of the city, New Church members felt confident that religious education could be developed to its full potential. There would be no influence from the dead faith of the "Old Church" which threatened to undermine the faith of New Church young people. There would only be "distinctly" New Church institutions that stressed the application of religion to all details of life. An exclusive New Church community would ensure the growth and development of the Lord's Church on earth.
The Move to the Country
As early as 1888, the idea of relocating the Academy schools to a secluded, country environment was raised. This dream gradually developed as members of the Advent Society began to spend more of their time in the atmosphere of the countryside. Picnics and religious festivals were held at Alnwick Grove in Huntingdon Valley, the present site of the Bryn Athyn community, and some members of the congregation even spent their entire summer renting farmhouses in the area. Eventually, in 1891, the members of the Academy stopped merely toying with the idea of settling in the country and made the concrete decision to move. At that point, Alnwick Grove was chosen as the site of the new community and plans were laid for the move to be completed before the Fall of 1893. The final relocation, however, did not take place until February of 1897.
The reasons for this delay came from both inside and outside of the Church. Externally, a financial depression struck the nation in 1893. This crisis put a halt to building plans due to the unstable financial status of the chief financier of the move, John Pitcairn. This delay gave Bishop William Benade, the head of the Academy, the opportunity to reverse his position on the move.
Benade had originally given his full support to the move, but during the period from 1893 to 1897 his position gradually shifted. He was a man who needed to be in command and he began to feel that the move to the country was not under his control. Instead, he felt that the move was designed by certain lay members of the society, in collusion with Benade's own chosen successor, Bishop William Frederic Pendleton, as a means to seize control of the fledgling church organization. Benade was able to convince many of the younger ministers that his suspicion was correct and he gave as evidence Bishop Pendleton's seeming neglect of his duties as Dean of the Theological School to concentrate of the pastorship of the country community. From the perspective of Benade and his followers, the leaders of the country movement had shifted its focus from religious education to personal comfort and well-being. As a result, the Church was being destroyed by the same secularization and self-interest that plagued the rest of society.
Pendleton and the lay leaders denied these allegations and felt that Benade was deliberately raising the issue to refocus power on himself. The feelings of mistrust that developed between the two factions led to a lengthy struggle between them to establish which group would define the future structure of the New Church society. As time passed, it seemed to many members of the society that Bishop Benade was becoming obsessed with his role as supreme leader of the Church. He would not tolerate dissent and when someone would dare to challenge his views he would "separate" them from the Church. Benade's attitudes may have contributed to the fact that the balance of the society was gradually shifting to the country settlement.
This struggle reached its climax in 1897 when, after Benade had viciously turned his negative energies on Pendleton several ministers of the Church were extremely upset by Benade's harsh actions and switched their position to support the move to the country. With this action, Benade was left with only a handful of followers and the move to the country was complete. The Academy and nearly all of its members reformed in the country settlement under Bishop Pendleton's authority.
Through this struggle, the members of the Advent Society were compelled to choose between the two sides. Perhaps this choice forced the members of the Society to carefully examine their motives for moving to the country rather than following blindly the wishes of their leaders. Once the church members had committed to their choice in this way, they were probably less likely to give in to failure and, as a result, the New Church community was able to remain and prosper.
Picnics and Country Summers
As early as 1880, the members of the Advent Society began to picnic at the site now known as Bryn Athyn (Whitehead 1976, 21). These visits became more regular as the decade progressed. By 1891, it had become almost traditional to hold the annual picnic celebrating the inception of the New Church on the nineteenth of June there (Whitehead 1976, 68). Certain members of the society had found the area so attractive that they decided to spend their summers in some of the old farm houses located in the area. By 1890, this site had achieved sufficient popularity as a place to vacation to hold regular Sunday services there (Odhner, C. 1890, 132).
At this point, it should be noted that the first families to spend their summers in the area were the same faction that Bishop Benade would later accuse of plotting against him. These people were the wealthy lay members of the community. Robert and Cara Glenn, who owned a very successful real estate business, were the first to vacation at the site in 1888 (College Letters, no. 10, 4). Robert had been raised in a strong New Church family which had belonged to the Church for over one-hundred years. He was devoted to the Church and took time out from his work to handle the financial affairs of the Academy. Cara was the daughter of Dr. George R. Starkey who had been converted to the New Church in his college years. Cara was also raised in a New Church family where home-life revolved around the doctrines of Emanuel Swedenborg and their application to daily life. Cara's three sisters and their husbands followed the lead of the Glenns and soon began to spend their summers in Huntingdon Valley.
Pauline Starkey married John Wells, a successful accountant. John had not been raised in the Church but had been introduced to it through Pauline (Ridgway 1982, 93). John also devoted his energies to church and community uses. He was elected secretary of the corporation that was established to administer the young Alnwick Grove settlement in 1898 (Gladish 1989, 313).
Dora Starkey married Charles Smith. Charles' parents had belonged to the Church and raised their five sons according to the doctrines (Ridgway 1982, 96). Charles and Dora were so attracted to the idea of a New Church community that they would later be among the first to reside year round at the new settlement.
Gertrude Starkey married the most wealthy member of the young Church, John Pitcairn. Pitcairn was involved in many business enterprises such as railroads, oil and plate glass. As has been shown, he ranked among the leading entrepreneurs of the age. Pitcairn had been baptized into the Church as a young boy and raised according to its doctrines (Gladish 1989, 4). He became an ardent believer and used his fortunes for the maintenance and development of the Church. In 1876, he joined Bishop Benade and several other New Church people to found the Academy of the New Church. Pitcairn became the primary benefactor of this institution, a fact which Bishop Benade would later lament.
After spending that first summer in Huntingdon Valley in 1888, Robert Glenn suggested to John Pitcairn that he purchase some of the land as a possible relocation site for the Academy (Gladish 1989, 309). Acting on this suggestion, John Pitcairn purchased 35 acres in January of 1889, and soon added 49 more to the estate. At this time, however, it was not absolutely certain that the Academy would relocate there (Gladish 1989, 292). Still, Pitcairn continued to purchase land in the area and, by 1893, he owned over 400 acres in Huntingdon Valley (Meyers 1976, 140). This was more than enough land on which to construct a fine campus for the school as well as sell plots to Church members so that they could relocate to the area.
During the years 1890 and 1891, positive feelings about this area grew and John Pitcairn decided to build his permanent home on the land he had recently purchased (Gladish, 1989, 310). In July of 1891, a meeting of the Academy Council was held to finally reach a decision regarding the future location of the New Church school and community. Mainly due to the strong popularity of the Huntingdon Valley site as a vacation and picnic area, it was officially chosen as the spot for the relocation of the Academy community. (Journal July 23, 1891). John Pitcairn and his associates then set to work on plans for constructing the school buildings as soon as possible. In 1892, plans were made to relocate the school to the site before the beginning of the 1893 school year (College Letters no. 13, 11). Throughout the year, these plans were gradually pushed back, so at the end of the year, the ground breaking was scheduled for October of 1893 (Schreck, 1893, 96).
Some Content Concerning the Advent Society
Though this paper focuses on the founding of the Bryn Athyn community, which was initiated by the members of the Advent Society of the General Church led by Bishop Benade, it is perhaps important to point out that the move was not undertaken by a long established congregation free from controversy. In fact, the opposite was the case. In 1890, the Advent Society had gone through a bitter struggle with the General Convention of the New Jerusalem and resigned its membership in that organization.
This struggle was led by Bishop Benade who believed that the General Convention was a weak organization that took a soft stand on the infallible truth of the Writings. He led the Academy movement which believed in a "divinely instituted priesthood" that would instruct people in the absolute truths of the Writings through "distinctive" New Church education (Block 1984, 205). In 1888, Bishop Benade had taken the authority upon himself to ordain William Frederic Pendleton into the third degree of the priesthood (Odhner, S. 1976, 28). The right to authorize the conferring of this office belonged to the General Convention, but Benade had not consulted with its administration and had simply ordained Pendleton himself. The act of ordaining Pendleton into the third degree showed contempt for what little authority the Convention held over Benade and his followers. The leaders of Convention were incensed over Benade's attitude and felt that he was attempting to form an independent priesthood for the Academy. Tension increased between the two bodies and, in 1890, the General Church of Pennsylvania, of which Benade's Advent Society was a part, split from the General Convention. In 1891, this organization changed its name to the General Church of the Advent to be more geographically inclusive.
1888 was also an important year for Benade because one of the important members of his congregation, Reverend Louis H. Tafel, resigned from Benade's society and many other church members followed his lead. Tafel believed that Benade's government had become too authoritarian. He felt that it had gotten to the point where Benade would no longer discuss church policies but merely proclaim them. Chief among Tafel's grievances was the doctrine of two churches. This doctrine held that the Academy was a church, not merely an institution, which performed the internal use of education, while the General Church performed the external use of Sunday services. Tafel believed Benade had contrived this doctrine and was now enforcing it despite the opinions of the church members. This doctrine of the two churches was to be the cause for further disturbances involving Benade as the doctrine evolved during the years from 1888 to 1896.
The Panic of 1893
The plans that were in the process of being carefully drawn for the settlement of the Bryn Athyn community had to be delayed indefinitely due to the financial depression of 1893. In June of that year, after many warning signs, the Stock Market crashed. 500 banks had to be closed; 16,000 business were forced to shut down; workers wages were drastically cut, in some cases as much as fifty percent (Claitor 1990, 146). The price of many commodities, including grain, iron, and cotton, also plummeted (Russell 1987, 279). The glass industry, in which most of John Pitcairn's resources were involved, was also affected by the depression (Gladish 1989, 293). At this stage, it was impossible for him to consider embarking on the costly venture of building a country campus for the Academy schools.
New Church members tried to remain optimistic, but the goal of moving the schools from the oppressive city, during the year, finally had to be abandoned. At the time, the financial crisis seemed to indicate that only a brief postponement of the relocation was necessary. However, due to the continuing financial difficulties of the nation and a swelling opposition to the move from within the Church, relocation was postponed indefinitely. In 1893, Bishop Benade supported the move and expressed his disappointment over the set-back (Gladish 1984, 457). This attitude was to change drastically in the next few years until Benade openly opposed the move and others joined with him, agreeing with his views.
The postponement of construction of the school buildings was not enough to dissuade some people from settling in the new location. Summer vacations were still spent at the site and some families, including the Glenns, Pitcairns, Smiths and Wells, had begun to make plans to reside year round in the area (Starkey 1894, 127). This group also included Bishop Pendleton who lived in an abandoned farmhouse with his wife and ten children while his house was under construction.
Bishop William Pendleton and his wife, Lawson Young, were from Georgia and had enjoyed the open air and fields of their childhood, so it is understandable that they would be among the first to join the movement to the country. Pendleton's father had been converted to the doctrines of Emanuel Swedenborg during the Civil War and, when young William returned from the war in 1865, he embraced the new faith (Ridgway 1977, 47). Lawson Young had been introduced to the doctrines by Pendleton during their courtship and so converted to the faith after reading of the internal sense of the Word in the Arcana Coelestia (Pendleton, C. 1958, 169).
Pendleton's first pastorship, after completing theological school in 1872, was in Philadelphia but it was not the same congregation of the New Church to which Benade was pastor. At first, Pendleton disagreed with Benade's extreme views on education and church government but, after hearing the beliefs of the Academy first hand, he became a convert (Block 1984, 133). In 1879, Pendleton established a branch of the Academy schools and held classes in his own home in Chicago, Illinois (Whitehead 1976, 63). In due time, Pendleton's value as a leader was recognized by Benade and he was called to teach in the main Academy school in Philadelphia in 1884. Pendleton and Benade grew closer during these years and, in 1888, when Benade ordained Pendleton into the third degree of the priesthood, he was effectively naming him as his successor in the position of head of the Academy.
When Benade traveled to England in 1894, he felt comfortable leaving Pendleton in charge of running the Academy and the society. Benade was gone for most of the year conducting various Church business. While there, he had gotten married for the third time and extended his trip to include a honeymoon. When he returned in December of 1894, it was clear that Bishop Pendleton had gone ahead with plans for the relocation without him. In his biography of Benade, Richard Gladish suggests that upon his return Benade felt that Pendleton had replaced him in the affection of the people (Gladish, 1984, 534). Perhaps the authority Pendleton had exerted in forwarding the move made Benade feel that he was in danger of loosing control.
In 1894, there were enough families permanently residing on the land that John Pitcairn had purchased in Huntingdon Valley to begin a small elementary school for six students. This school was at first held in the temporary home of Charles and Dora Smith, but moved to the larger, newly completed home of Robert and Cara Glenn in February of 1895 (Snyder 1895, 63). Throughout 1895, more than ten new homes were constructed and the small school grew to over thirty students.
At this point, W.F. Pendleton was performing the dual role of pastor to both the Philadelphia congregation and the Huntingdon Valley society. These tasks became an increasing burden as the country society grew. By October of 1895, a small building had been erected on some of Pitcairn's land for the community to use as a church and school to replace the living rooms which had previously served these uses but which the community had now outgrown (Schreck 1895, 160).
The community had grown so large that, by 1896, almost as many members lived in the country as in the city, thus church services alternated between the two locations (Stebbing 1896, 31). During the summertime, even more members resided in the country and so church services in the city along with doctrinal classes and even society financial meetings were held at the country settlement (Starkey 1896a, 128). The young settlement was expanding rapidly but would not be actually established until New Church education was completely centered in the area because the goal of pure, "distinctive" New Church education was one of the reasons that the community had been established. In 1896, a large obstacle to the realization of this goal was encountered, namely, Bishop Benade's opposition to the relocation of the Academy.
Over the past few years, Benade had gradually grown cooler to the idea of moving to the country and had begun to focus his attentions on other Church matters. In 1894 and 1895, Benade concentrated on promoting his exclusive right to govern the Church. He began to further the concept that the priesthood was the Divine instrument of God's government on earth and that he himself, as "High Priest", was the Lord's chief representative on earth (Gladish 1989, 303). These ideas gave him almost direct authority from God and would help secure his position as head of the Church. It is interesting that this idea developed at the same time that more and more members of his society were moving to the country. If Benade really felt threatened by Pendleton's leadership, then the defecting congregation was surely evidence to Benade that he was loosing his following to Pendleton. It also must be pointed out at this point that Benade was becoming increasingly intolerant of any perceived threat to his authority.
One example of this intolerance can be seen in Benade's attitude toward his idea of the two churches. This concept was derived from the doctrine of the internal and external found in the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. The General Church of the Advent was an organization that would instruct the simple and natural people in the doctrines of the New Church, while the Academy was interior to this Church and, therefore, would instruct the wise and spiritual in the doctrines of the Church (Gladish 1984, 433). Basically, this belief was confusing to many members of the General Church, who also constituted the body of the Academy Church. Since the Academy was thought to be the internal of the two churches, and because its use was thought to be more important than that of the merely external church, more emphasis was put on this organization by those who were members of the two churches. Gradually, the Advent Society (the Philadelphia branch of the General Church of the Advent), began to come apart, particularly after the Academy Church began to hold its own Sunday services in July of 1891. This was a use which had previously been left to the external church of the Advent Society to perform (Journal July 1, 1891). Once these services commenced, the Advent Church completely discontinued its services since so few members attended (Asplundh 1892, 29).
In the Pittsburgh society of the General Church of the Advent, the Reverend John Whitehead opposed the doctrine of the two churches. Whitehead felt that only the Lord could judge what state a person was in and that designing a church for the internal people of the church was contrary to this idea. Whitehead shared these views with his congregation (Gladish 1984, 433). Benade was angered by the "disturbance" and "dissension" Whitehead's views were causing and, as a result, Whitehead was officially "separated" from the Academy. (Journal February 7, 1892). This incident exhibits Benade's complete lack of tolerance for those who dissented from his views.
Benade's authoritarian tendencies were apparent not only in the two church controversy, but in many other areas. In 1892, one of the Counselors of the Academy, Franklin Ballou, disagreed with Benade regarding the appointment of Eugene Schreck as a Counselor (Journal November 26, 1892). Ballou had been one of the original founders of the Academy, but his business had taken him to Colorado and he was not in Philadelphia very often. As a result, Ballou had never met young Eugene Schreck who was among the first graduates of the Theological School and now taught at the Academy.
Schreck had become one of Benade's favorite colleagues and was gradually being given more and more responsibility, including the headmastership of the Academy schools, in the early 1890s. In nominating him for the position of Counselor, Benade was giving Schreck another favor and advancing him further along the ranks. Benade did not want anyone to interfere with his plans, so he countered Ballou's disagreement by proposing that only Counselors who resided in the Philadelphia area and who regularly attended meetings should be considered active Counselors. Ballou, because he resided in Colorado, would have been disqualified from participation in the decision. according to this plan Benade's system was endorsed by the Council and at the next meeting, in December of 1892, Schreck was approved as a Counselor.
Benade's attitude about the role of the Academy Council
is indicative of his idea of government:
A question is not put before the Council to ascertain agreement, and the
Chancellor agreeing, agrees to carry out, but to hear theview
of Counselors, and then to form his [own] judgment (Journal December 3,
Clearly, Benade felt that the government of the Academy and the Church was his exclusive prerogative. No one should interfere with his decisions after they had been made.
In 1896, Benade's desire for control had grown so large that, from his power as High Priest and Chancellor of the Academy, he declared the right to name his own successor in the office. This chosen one would have the right to accept the nomination but not to refuse it (Meyers 1984, 129). In 1896, Eugene Schreck, Benade's former favorite, came under attack because he disagreed with the Bishop concerning the High Priest concept and because he had further threatened the Bishops authority by taking power for himself where the Bishop had not appointed him. Schreck had appointed himself head of the Academy Alumni Association and Benade feared that this was a plot on Schreck's part to gain administrative power (Gladish 1984, 573). As a result, Schreck was declared insubordinate and removed from his office of headmaster of the Academy and asked to resign from the Church.
In early 1896, Benade's authoritarianism began to cause problems for the relocation of the schools when he complained openly about the difficulties of trying to maintain a population of students split between the country and Philadelphia (Gladish 1984, 527). Also in this year, citing financial trouble as the cause, he cut off aid to all local Academy schools and concentrated the funds in the main branch in Philadelphia (Gladish 2984, 523). He then set about to reorganize business structure of the Academy so financial matters could be handled better in the future and not depend so much upon the generosity of John Pitcairn. Benade felt that it was proper for the lay members of society to deal with financial matters and leave the internal spiritual direction of the Church to the clergy. As a result, instead of one council that dealt with all Academy matters, there was now to be a separate lay council to handle the business and financial transactions while the Chancellor (Benade) was to govern, exclusively, all internal matters "from the center (Academy April 12, 1896)." Benade would still maintain ultimate authority over the lay council and it could not make any final decision without consulting him. This gave Benade exclusive control over the Academy because all decisions had to be sanctioned by his supreme authority. Given this new organizational structure, Benade perhaps hoped to refocus institutional power in such a way that he could determine the future of the Academy himself. Bishop Pendleton, as well as the wealthy lay members of the Church, such as Glenn and Pitcairn, with great influence up to this point, was to be completely subordinate to Benade's desires.
Throughout 1896, Benade was becoming increasingly suspicious of the move because it seemed to be controlled by Bishop Pendleton and the wealthy lay members of the society, who had made the move possible. Benade felt that these people were using the move as a ploy to seize control of the Church for themselves and he began to share this view with other ministers in the Church.
The young ministers of the Academy were put in the middle of a struggle between the two leaders of their institution, Bishop Benade and Bishop Pendleton. Early in 1896, it seemed as if these men sided with Bishop Benade in his hesitation to complete the move to the country. This is understandable when it is realized that most of these men had some strong connection with or debt to the bishop.
Reverend Alfred Acton proved to be the staunchest supporter of Benade and his right, as Bishop, to determine the future of the New Church. Acton had grown up in a New Church family in England. In the 1880s, his family became acquainted with the Academy Theological School and it was decided that he would apply to the seminary. Acton boarded a ship to America thinking that he had been accepted in to the Academy but there had been some confusion and it turned out that he had not really been admitted. Despite this confusion, the people of the Academy allowed Acton to attend the school since he had made the long journey in earnest. Acton earned his degree and was then installed by Benade as a teacher in the Academy.
Reverend George G. Starkey was another faculty member during 1896. He was the brother of the four Starkey sisters who formed the "clique" Benade so opposed. However, few of Benade's negative feelings seemed to have carried over to their brother George. In fact, after Schreck was forced out of the Church, George Starkey was favored with one of Schreck's former offices, that of editor of the General Church publication, New Church Life.
Another of these Academy teachers was Reverend Charles E. Doering. Doering was to teach at the Academy for almost sixty years and, though he held no offices under Benade's regime, he would go on to become principal of the Boy's School and Treasurer of the Academy (Ridgway 1984, 32). Doering also took a leadership role in the early Bryn Athyn community and was elected treasurer of the town's first corporation (Gladish 1989, 313).
Reverend Homer Synnestvedt was also a teacher at the Academy during the struggle. Synnestvedt was in favor of a New Church community and was among the first to build his home there in 1895. Synnestvedt was one of Benade's particular "proteges" and was appointed as headmaster of the Boys School in 1896 (Gladish 1984, 528). After the Academy relocation, he was to leave the new home he had built in Bryn Athyn to fulfill his duties as headmaster by residing in the Boy's Dormitory of the Academy Schools.
Reverend Enoch Price also taught at the Academy during this time. Price had been converted to the New Church in his early youth in Illinois. He met Bishop Benade early in his discovery of the Church and it was decided, in 1881, that Price should attend the Academy Theological School to better use his skills as a teacher in the Academy schools (Ridgway 1977, 64). In 1888, he received his degree of Bachelor of Theology and, from that point, he steadily rose in the hierarchy of the Academy organization. In 1896, he was appointed Dean of the Theological School. Price was also among those who had settled in the new Huntingdon Valley area by 1896, but he had not yet begun to build his own house.
In 1896, Carl Odhner was also renting a house in Huntingdon Valley. Carl had emigrated, penniless, from Sweden in 1882. He had become a believer in the doctrines of Emanuel Swedenborg while in Sweden, and so when he came to America to try his luck, he quickly found a New Church congregation in which he could develop his faith. This congregation was W.F. Pendleton's Chicago society. While there, it was decided that Carl should attend the Academy Theological School and arrangements were made for him to do so (Acton 1985, 5). Odhner's scholarly abilities were recognized by Benade and he was appointed as a teacher of the Academy.
Bishop Benade was an important figure to these men. He was the driving force behind the founding of the Academy and had led the institution since its inception. All of these young teachers had at one time been the pupils of Benade and so were deeply affected by his opinions. They also admired Benade for his conviction and determination to achieve that "distinctive" New Church education which they valued so highly. Without Benade and his perseverance, this education might not have been possible. The members of the Academy faculty were indebted to Benade for this achievement. In light of this observation it is perhaps easier to understand how they could be drawn into sympathy with Benade's views on a move to the country. Benade had always had great vision when it came to New Church education and had the charisma to convince many New Church people of the validity of his views. He probably made very persuasive arguments against the move to these Academy ministers, but they were not persuasive enough to stop the movement altogether.
Benade had become increasingly upset by his lack of control over the move, and he had complained to many that W.F. Pendleton was causing the ruin of the Church. Benade believed that W.F. Pendleton was neglecting his foremost duty of dean of the Theological School to devote his energies to the country settlement. It was probably true that W.F. Pendleton was not devoting a great deal of attention to the deanship at this time, but this was no doubt due to the fact that he simultaneously had the duties of Dean, teacher, and the double pastorship of the Philadelphia and Huntingdon Valley congregations. This amount of work was very taxing on Bishop Pendleton and thus, it is no wonder that it appeared he was neglecting some part of his duties. From Benade's point of view, however, Bishop Pendleton was putting his own desires above the true use of the Church, religious education. Benade believed that the Church was being destroyed by this lack of focus on New Church education.
This view was shared by other New Church ministers, probably due to Benade's encouragement of the idea. Carl Odhner, in his Diary of 1897, was in a state of worry over the future of the New Church and blamed the "hideous mistake" of the country movement for what he thought would be the Churches imminent downfall (Odhner, C. January 2, 1897). Odhner lists five reasons why the movement was causing the breakdown of the church: 1) the movement was causing a decentralization of church power through the maintenance of the two societies; 2) the movement was led by laymen and could not have anything but worldly ends in view; 3) the movement was led by one exclusive "clique" of money power, the Starkey clan, for their own personal gain; 4) the goals of the movement had begun to focus on the secondary uses of health and separation from the "Old Church" rather that its first goal which was the growth and maintenance of the Academy; 5) due to this lack of attention, education had grown cold and external (Odhner, C. January 3, 1897). Enoch Price and Alfred Acton, shared these views. They began to blame Bishop Pendleton for the movements failure because Benade informed them that he had never sanctioned the idea but Pendleton had taken the opportunity, during his various absences dealing with Church business, to continue with the move without Benade's sanction.
The tension between the two leaders was increasing and could be felt throughout the congregation (Price, Diary, January 10, 1897). Odhner and Price, who both lived in the new settlement were now openly in favor of Benade's position. Pendleton heard of their concerns and decided that he would have a private conference with each of them to discuss his own concerns about the future of the Church. Pendleton spoke with Price on the third of January and Odhner on the fifth. To both men he told a very similar story. Pendleton claimed that Benade had given him specific orders to proceed with the move and that he was now denying this. At his meeting with Odhner, Pendleton added the latest example of Benade's hypocrisy. Benade's latest complaint concerning W.F. Pendleton was that he had been involved in the decision that some of the older boys be kept in the country school even though they were old enough to attend the Academy. The boys in question were the sons of Robert Glenn and John Pitcairn. Benade used this as an example of how these men were plotting against him. W.F. Pendleton was deeply injured by this accusation and told Odhner that the Bishop had given him specific orders to keep these boys in the country school but was now denying it. Pendleton claimed that he, and not Benade was the victim of a plot against his authority and so he was handing in his resignation to put an end to the "indignity" he was being forced to suffer (Odhner, C., Diary, January 5, 1897).
Odhner was alarmed by this development because, on hearing Pendleton's version of events, he now firmly believed that Pendleton was in the right and that it was clear that the Bishop's mind was beginning to fail. Odhner did not want Pendleton to leave the Church on account of Benade's authoritarian rule and false accusations. Odhner's change of heart seems abrupt but it may seem less strange when it is noted that in hindsight, the ministers of the Academy recalled that they had observed the Bishop's increasing inability to govern for more a year but had not wished to disrupt the state of the Church and act upon this awareness (Acton 19865, 18). Their loyalty to Benade as a founder of the Academy no doubt also played a part in this hesitation. Perhaps the realization that Benade had lied to him about his desire to move to the country was the last straw for Odhner and he decided it was time to oppose the Bishop.
At the faculty meeting, which included Benade, following Pendleton's conferences with Odhner and Price, on January 8, 1897, Pendleton's resignation was not mentioned. Benade hoped to use this meeting to put an end to the problems that plagued the young Church and had not accepted Pendleton's resignation. The discussion however, was tense, as if all knew the situation was precarious. Benade spoke about how the members of the Church were not trusting him to govern, but then Homer Synnestvedt, who up to this point was apparently sympathetic to Benade, countered by saying that Benade had allowed neither the ministers nor the congregation to have any say in the way in which the Church was governed. Heated discussion followed but the meeting ended in what Enoch Price describes as a "truce" (Price, Diary, January 8, 1897). By this truce it was a agreed that more meetings of the entire clergy should occur and in return, the "one on one" discussions between ministers were to stop. This would put an end to rumors and misconceptions about the policies of the Church. This truce lasted barely two weeks.
The promise of more regular meetings for discussion of Church government was carried out, and the following week, on January 16th, another faculty meeting was held. At this meeting, Pendleton stated that he regretted his lack of attention to the Theological School, and said that he would now attempt to rectify the situation. However, he recommended strongly that a separate pastor be appointed to the Huntingdon Valley community to alleviate some of his burdens but he received no definite response (Price, Diary, January 16, 1897).
The attempt at reconciliation came to an end on January 20th. On this afternoon, in the basement hallway of the Boys School in Philadelphia, Benade stopped Homer Synnestvedt and accused him of plotting with Bishop Pendleton to resign his position as a teacher in the Boy's School of the Academy and take up the pastorate of the Bryn Athyn society without Benade's approval. Synnestvedt admitted that he had spoken with Pendleton concerning the matter, because it would give Pendleton more time to devote to his position as Dean of the Theological School, but that they had not made any definite arrangement. At this point, Benade broke out in a tirade and blamed the hypocritical, selfish leaders of the country movement for the governance problems of the Church. He said that the changes instituted by the faculty meeting of January 8th were unnecessary, because it was not his governance which was the problem, but rather the "malignance" of the country movement. Synnestvedt tried to protest these accusations but could not get a word in due to the Bishops great anger. At this moment, Pendleton walked in on the scene knowing nothing of what was being said. Benade immediately launched an attack on him and accused him of "double dealing" and "cunning" in trying to take away "our men" from the Academy for his own personal uses. Pendleton was extremely upset by these comments and demanded that Benade retract them. Benade refused and went on to accuse Pendleton of "unmanly" underhanded behavior. Pendleton was incensed and announced that he would resign. He immediately left the building.
Returning home to Huntingdon Valley that evening on the train, Synnestvedt related this incident to Odhner and Price. The story quickly spread to the rest of the faculty and it was decided to call a special meeting on Saturday, January 23rd, to confront Benade concerning his actions. At this meeting, Benade, when asked again, refused to retract his accusations against Pendleton. As a result, Carl Odhner, Homer Synnestvedt, Enoch Price and George G. Starkey, announced that they would resign their positions as teachers in the Academy schools. That evening a meeting was held in the Bryn Athyn settlement, and the segment of the Church members who had already settled in Huntingdon Valley decided to formally separate themselves from the Church of the Academy. The separation was now nearly complete. The lay congregation had joined the ministers fight against Benade and had resigned from his authority.
The next evening, Odhner, Price, Synnestvedt, Starkey and Robert Glenn went to dinner at John Pitcairn's spacious home where a toast was made to the sentiment "the king is dead, long live the king" (Odhner, Diary, January 24, 1897). Despite this sentiment, the "king", Bishop Benade, was not in fact dead and this led to counter moves on his behalf.
Alfred Acton maintained Benade's right to govern the Church. He did not believe that anyone had a right to judge Benade's actions except God. He felt that the ministers who had resigned had judged Benade and they should not have. Acton attempted to sway others to his viewpoint and was successful with George G. Starkey (Odhner, C. Diary, February 1, 1897). The loss of Starkey weakened the position of the other four "rebels". However, more and more of the congregation was beginning to side against Benade.
The entire General Church of the Advent, which included societies in England, Canada and many cities in the United States such as Chicago and Pittsburgh, was affected by this turmoil. The resigning ministers sent out a letter to the ministers of the General Church explaining their actions and the circumstances that led up to them. However, their actions had been rash and the societies of the General Church were now faced with the decision of which side to support. For the Chicago society, this was not as much of a struggle as it was in other societies because their pastor was Bishop Pendleton's younger brother Nathaniel Dandridge Pendleton. In fact, after Starkey's defection, N.D. Pendleton along with the Academy teacher Charles Doering joined Odhner, Synnestvedt and Price in formally resigning from the Academy and the General Church on February 4th. These men went to Bishop Pendleton on February 6th and asked him to receive them "under his episcopal authority". Pendleton was so moved by this honor that he cried and embraced these men. He then announced the formation of a new church to be known as the General Church of the New Jerusalem (Odhner, C. Diary February 6, 1897). Immediately, many lay people joined the new body.
In the following days, more and more of the members of the Advent Society defected to Pendleton's new church. Even Alfred Acton was eventually convinced that Benade had become too obsessed with control to govern the Church properly and so he joined the breakaway movement. Benade was left with no one in his congregation. However, there was still the matter of the school to be addressed. Officially, the Academy remained under Benade's control.
On February 13, the Academy, which had not held classes since the 6th of February, suspended its session indefinitely due to a lack of faculty and the disorder in the Church. Benade announced his resignation as Chancellor to the Board of Directors of the Corporation that same day. This opened the way for the Academy to reestablish itself under the General Church of the New Jerusalem. On February 19, classes were reconvened in the Bryn Athyn settlement, the new home of the Academy of the New Church.
Thus, the dream of establishing an exclusive, religious society for the advancement of New Church education was realized. The resumption of classes did not immediately end the controversy as several members of the congregation had not yet joined the new society and Bishop Benade, for a time, denied that he had offered his resignation. These details worked themselves out within a few months and the new community began to prosper. All of the tensions that had built up over the past few years were released and the young Church was happy and relatively peaceful. The controversy had given them the opportunity to chose their own destiny and they had chosen to become an exclusive religious community. This struggle to choose gave the members a unique ownership of and commitment to their society that would make it extremely difficult for them to abandon it. Withdrawn from the diversity of the city and its secularized lifestyle, united by the common goal of distinctive New Church education, the young church was able to grow and prosper.
The object of this paper has been to show how the Bryn Athyn community was formed and the reasons that it was able to grow and develop. This was not a process that occurred exclusively within the New Church, but was affected by the environs of the nation at large.
The members of the Advent Society lived in the same environment as the rest of the American people, but their reaction to this environment was somehow different. They were imbued with a desire to base all of their actions in doctrine from the Writings. The members of the Advent Society could not simply move to a suburban community; they needed to find a doctrinal reason for this move. They sought doctrinal justification for nearly every action in their lives, right down to banquets and baseball games.
This doctrinal justification was what gave the members of the Advent Society the ability to stave off the corruption of the secularized world. They would not take any action that the Writings would not sanction and so led a strict, moral lifestyle. The Writings provided them with the strong authority and stability that was lacking in the transitional culture of the "Gilded Age". There was no question in their minds that the Advent Society members were acting in accordance with God's Divine will and so they did not become a part of the spiritual "malaise" of late nineteenth century America.
The intentions of the Advent Society members were admirable; they genuinely believed that they were promoting God's truth on earth. However, their reasoning was sometimes contrived. Benade carried this contrivance to an extreme. His doctrinal justifications concerning the two churches and his own authority as High Priest were so convoluted that they drove many members from his influence. In the end, he became so obsessed with his authoritative role in the Church that he brought his own downfall.
The idea of separating themselves socially from the "Old Church" was also an extreme. The doctrine concerning the mixing of faiths caused great fear in the Advent Society. They became paranoid that they would become a part of the confusion of faiths that would destroy all things of religion. Perhaps this fear is understandable in light of the destruction of organized religion that was occurring all around them. However, in their rush to escape these pressures, the members of the Advent Society all but forgot that the confusion of faith could not occur casually but was the result of a deeply rooted acceptance of faith.
Nevertheless, the members of the Advent Society came to believe that the only way to completely avoid the possibility of mixing faiths was to separate themselves from all situations where this could occur. This included social gatherings and educational instruction. This belief eventually led to the founding of an exclusive religious society because there would be no fear of invasion by the "Old Church" in such an isolated environment.
The need for doctrinal justification in all aspects of life also helped the Bryn Athyn community succeed. With the Writings as the foundation for their actions and a long list of passages to support their ideas, it would have been next to impossible for the members of the Advent Society to give up their dream of a religious community. As John Pitcairn stated, they had the truths of the Writings to support them and the goal of ultimating these truths to encourage them in their efforts to found a religious community. The ultimation of these truths involved the application of the Writings to an entire way of life. The founding of a religious community was the strongest test of the belief that the truths of the Writings were genuinely from God. If the community succeeded then surely God was with them. Thus, the desire to legitimize their faith in a secularized world added to the will of the community to succeed.
The foundation of the Bryn Athyn community was, clearly, a reaction to the culture of the times. The members of the Advent Society wanted security and authority in a secularized world and the Writings provided this for them. Though they felt themselves to be separate from the rest of society, the members of the Advent Society were just as much a part of it as any other faction.
No historical event occurs in isolation but they are often interpreted as such. It is important to study events in their proper historical context in order to understand how and why they occurred. Without their context, historical events are meaningless incidents with no connection to each other. However, when studied in their proper context, historical events do connect with each other and form patterns. These patterns help us to understand history. If the true purpose of studying history is to learn from the past to better understand the future, then this can not be completed if an event is studied in isolation.
If the New Church is to continue to grow and prosper it must be able to study its own history in the context of the world at large. Through this study the New Church will better be able to understand its place in the world today and how it arrived there. Only from this perspective will the Church be able to go forward, confidently, assured that its choices will yield the best possible outcome for the Church on earth. Without this perspective the future of the New Church would be determined, blindly by the past.
1 The New Church is based on the theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth century scientist, philosopher and theologian. The founders of the Bryn Athyn community belonged to a particular denomination of the New Church called the Advent Society of the General Church of Pennsylvania (later known as the General Church of the Advent ) located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
2 The community founded by the members of the Advent Society was not officially christened Bryn Athyn until 1899. Before this time it was known as Alnwick Grove or "the New Church settlement at Huntingdon Valley".
3 "Old Church" was the phrase used by members of the New Church to describe other Christian Churches.
4 Carrere and Hastings also designed and built John and Gertrude Pitcairn's Bryn Athyn estate of Cairnwood from 1892 to 1895.
5 In the Bryn Athyn settlement, the mansion of Glenhurst is built in a Tudoristic style and Cairnwood is built in a retrospective French style.
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