United Methodist Historical Society of Ohio
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Established in 1839
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE UNITED METHODIST HISTORICAL SOCIETY
by Marvin D. Bean
(Our sincere appreciation to Professor John Reed, Mrs. Susan Cohen, Bill Drown, and others who contributed information. It is hoped that the revival of interest in the United Methodist Historical Society as it reaches its 150th year will result in the development of a detailed and authoritative history)
Western Historical Society
In 1839, at a time when the Methodist church in Ohio was only three decades old and still struggling on a frontier, a group of Methodist ministers from Ohio incorporated the Western Historical Society in Cincinnati, Ohio, to serve an area bounded by the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers.
In those earlier years "the society succeeded well and collected together a considerable amount of materials for the History of Methodism." These included a number of valuable manuscripts never published, old documents, and books. In addition there were 98 volumes complete and unbroken, priceless files of periodicals "all strongly bound and in good order."
In 1849, the will of Rev. James B. Finley called the society, "the Ohio Methodist Historical Society."
Ohio Methodist Historical Society
Across the years the Society has had periods of activity and periods in which it has been inactive. In December, 1858, a letter was written by Samuel Williams proposing the work of the society be centered at Ohio Wesleyan University. The society met in 1859 and adopted a constitution closely modeled after the earlier society. Article 11 specified that the "archives of this society shall be preserved in the Library of the Ohio Wesleyan University." This was agreed upon by the Board of Trustees of the University and the Board of Managers of the Society. The Society met at the University Commencement time and again until 1889 when it became dormant.
The collection grew slowly. It was reported in 1897 there were 136 volumes, not including manucripts or periodicals.
A new charter was signed on January 17, 1911, with Richard T. Stevenson, Russell B. Miller, Wm. McBrackney, E.E. McCammon, and W.W. Davis. A new charter was granted January 20, 1911.
Each of the three Conferences (Ohio, West Ohio, and Cincinnati) had in the meantime formed regional historical libraries. In May, 1927 Prof. Miller met with Revered Dr. A.M. Courtney, Reverend Dr. Merrick Ketcham, and Reverend Dr. Foster Anderson who merged into the Methodist Historical Society in 1918.
Further encouragement was given by the gift of the family of Samuel Wesley Williams of six thousand volumes (including a number of duplicates) of Methodist History. His father had been secretary of the Western Methodist Historical Society.
The archival collection of the society migrated around the campus as space was needed including Sturges Library, Edgar Hall, Slocum Library Seminar Rooms. During World War II the entire collection was boxed up and placed on lowest level of Slocum Library.
Out From Obscurity
Efforts to bring the collection out and secure space was initiated in the mid fifties when Assistant Professor John Reed and Professor John Herrod Lancaster reestablished the collection. Meantime the Ohio Conference had began increasing financial support for the archives. Professor Lancaster was named the Archivist and John Reed, Assistant. In 1963 John Reed became Archivist and guiding hand of the Society.
Meantime the collection became an effective tool as a research tool for local churches, for students at Ohio Wesleyan, the Theological Schools, and scholars nationwide. Annual Workshops were established by Professor Reed for the local church historians as well as encouraging preservation of history.
Professor Reed retired in 1985 and Kathleen Weibel became Librarian and Curator. Susan Cohen has served as the Archivist for the collection. A Joint "Ad Hoc Committee" met for four years and developed a cooperative plan of administration. This has been approved by the Trustees of the West Ohio Conference and action by the University Trustees is pending.
Transfer of Collection to Conference
The United Methodist Historical Society over a period of two years developed a special task force which made a number of recommendations to the Society. On the basis of these recommendations, all items of the Society were transferred by Bill of Sale to the Board of Trustees of the West Ohio Conference to provide for continuity of care and ownership in relation to The United Methodist Church at large.
There are many who have served as Officers of the Society. It would be impossible to name all who have served over the years. Recent officers include: Millard Mead, Mary Miller, Karl Bucey, John Reed, Don Trigg, Bill Goff, Louise Morrison, Archie Thomas, Marvin D. Bean, and many others.
Letter from Samuel Williams to the President & Faculty of Ohio Wesleyan University, 1858
Cincinnati, Dec. 1858
To the President & Faculty of the O.W. University, Delaware, O.
It is, I presume known to each of you that, about twenty years ago, a Methodist Historical Society was formed in this City, composed of preachers & laymen, & was intended to embrace the whole West--the Mississippi Valley. While its existence continued the Society succeeded well, & collected together a considerable amount of materials for the History of Methodism. A portion of these were published in the "Western Christian Advocate", & the remainder are in my hands, still, as Cor. Sec. of the Society.
By the frequent change of preachers, & the neglect of the President, Rev. Wm. Burke, to call meetings of the Society, its operations were discontinued, after an existence of some two or three years & it has so remained to this day. For many years I made efforts to have the Society revived, by bringing the subject before the "Preachers' Association", soon after they had entered on the labors of their several charges. But after reading my memorials, & referring them to a Committee, the doings of the body never proceeded farther than to receive the Report of the Committee & "lay it on the table", where it slept until next year's association was organized, by a new set of preachers, few or none of whom, perhaps, knew anything of the subject, or what has been previously done.
After the experience of the past, I have but little hope that a stable & permanent Hist. Society can be kept up here; & I turn to some other point--some suitable center at which such an "Institution" may be planted & built up by & for the M.E. Church in Ohio & adjacent parts.
In casting around, I have no hesitation in pointing to the Ohio Wesleyan University at Delaware, as having the preference over all other places, for locating a great "Methodist Historical Society" for Ohio & parts adjacent. Here there could be provided a safe & suitable depository for all its archives--its historical materials of every sort, whether manuscript or printed documents--historical, biographical, theological, geographical, geological, mineralogical, etc. either immediately or remotely connected with Methodism, or contributing to the advancement of literature, art, science, or general useful knowledge. Particular attention should especially be paid to the early history of the West, & to the biography of the pioneer settlers, whether ministers or laymen, & whether of our church or not; also, to the mode of life, the manners, habits, customs, usages, etc. of Methodists, & of Society in general. Of course, fossils & other remains of antiquity, mineralogical, geological & other specimens & curiosities, would be very acceptable for the Society's cabinet. But I can not dwell on the endless variety of subjects suitable for contributions. These will readily occur to you.
But how shall this Association be formed? This is a part of the project (& indeed so of the other parts also) which I ought to leave to your better knowledge & judgment. Yet as I have obtruded the foregoing scattering thoughts on your attention, allow me to make a few further suggestions.
1. Let the Society embrace the territory wihin the bounds of the four patronizing Conferences of the O.W. University--viz: Ohio, N. Ohio, Cincinnati, & Delaware; & also, if they concur, the Michigan, Virginia, & Kentucky conferences--the other Conferences, East & West of these would probably prefer separate organizations.
2. Invite all, both ministers & laymen within the seven first named conferences, to become members of the proposed Society, & contribute to its funds & its collections, in historical materials of any kind suitable to the purpose, as above enumerated.
3. Provide for the election to honorary membership, of persons residing beyond the bounds of the Society, who may contribute valuable materials to it, or render it other important services.
4. A preliminary meeting of the Faculty of the University, & such ministers & laymen as they may invite, might be held, to consider the expediency & propriety of instituting a Society such as proposed, at all ; & if approved, to appoint the time & manner of calling a meeting (by general notice, or special invitation) to form & organize the Society, adopt a Constitution, elect officers, & take efficient measures to put into active & effective operation the object & purposes of the Society.
5. It may be advisable that the Society be incorporated, either under the General Law, or by a special Act. The latter I would prefer.
In the archives of the defunct Society, here, in my possession, there are a number of valuable manuscripts, which have never been published. These, with several old documents, contributed to the old Society, & what ever else I have pertaining thereto, I will turn over to your Society, when organized.
I have, belonging to myself, complete & unbroken sets from the beginning, of the
Christian Advocate & Journal 33 vols.
Western Christian Advocate 25 vols.
Methodist Magazine & Met. Quarterly Review 40 vols.
all strongly bound & in good order. These Works are invaluable; they are indeed indispensible to a Methodist Historical Society. I doubt whether another complete set of these ninety-eight volumes can be found West of the Allegheny mountains, unless it be in the hands of the Rev. Dr. Trimble, of the Ohio Conference. I have several other Works, valuable to the Historian of Methodism, & a great number of autograph letters of pioneer Methodist preachers & laymen, with manuscript matter of my own, & an autobiogrpahy, published in the "Ladies Repository", & gathered out & bound in an 8 volume. These items enumerated with the 98 volumes above mentioned, I purpose [sic] depositing with your Hist Society, should you succeed in establishing it. And there are doubtless scores & hundreds of our friends, who, when the formation & objects of your Society become known, will contribute largely to your archives & collections.
In view, then, of the high importance of the formation of some such Society as here proposed, at your central point, I respectfully urge the matter on you, & hope you will immediately take the proper steps to carry out that design. It is greatly to be regretted that nothing of this kind was done by our Fathers in the Church. What a great amount of the most valuable materials for the history of Methodism has thus been lost! "Our fathers, where are they"? Echo answers: "Where are they"? Their history--(I mean our pioneer Ministers & prominent laymen, who planted Methodism in the wilderness), their labors, their sufferings, their privations, their persecutions, their untiring perseverance, their triumph over all difficulties, & especially their wonderful success in preaching the gospel, & winning souls to Christ--remains unwritten, untold, forgotten, buried in oblivion & lost beyond recovery!
Had this work been commenced fifty--forty--or even thirty years ago, & continued zealously & perseveringly, what a great amount of the choicest kind of materials might now enrich the shelves of such a Society!
But is is vain, now, to indulge in regrets concerning the past. By vigilant research, much perhaps may yet be rescued. A few of "the fathers" still linger among us. These could still contribute--orally at least--valuable matter, which might be written down from their lips. Old religious letters & documents which may have escaped destruction, could often thus be recovered, as well as old & rare books worthy of preservation.
But I must close. I have thrown together, here, some crude thoughts, without order or method, written in much physical debility, & cannot undertake the task of revision & writing out a fair copy of what is only an incoherent original draft.
With great respect & esteem