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St. Mark’s and the Social Gospel

Methodist Women and Civil Rights in New Orleans, 1895–1965

Ellen Blue

Publication Year: 2011

      The impact of St. Mark’s Community Center and United Methodist Church on the city of New Orleans is immense. Their stories are dramatic reflections of the times. But these stories are more than mere reflections because St. Mark’s changed the picture, leading the way into different understandings of what urban diversity could and should mean. This book looks at the contributions of St. Mark’s, in particular the important role played by women (especially deaconesses) as the church confronted social issues through the rise of the social gospel movement and into the modern civil rights era.
    Ellen Blue uses St. Mark’s as a microcosm to tell a larger, overlooked story about women in the Methodist Church and the sources of reform. One of the few volumes on women’s history within the church, this book challenges the dominant narrative of the social gospel movement and its past.
    St. Mark’s and the Social Gospel begins by examining the period between 1895 and World War I, chronicling the center’s development from its early beginnings as a settlement house that served immigrants and documenting the early social gospel activities of Methodist women in New Orleans. Part II explores the efforts of subsequent generations of women to further gender and racial equality between the 1920s and 1960. Major topics addressed in this section include an examination of the deaconesses’ training in Christian Socialist economic theory and the church’s response to the Brown decision.  The third part focuses on the church’s direct involvement in the school desegregation crisis of 1960 , including an account of the pastor who broke the white boycott of a desegregated elementary school by taking his daughter back to class there. Part IV offers a brief look at the history of St. Mark’s since 1965.
    Shedding new light on an often neglected subject, St. Mark’s and the Social Gospel will be welcomed by scholars of religious history, local history, social history, and women’s studies.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-xii

No project of this magnitude is completed without assistance from many people. Thanks are due to the late Reverend Ms. Alexis Brent and to the Reverend Mr. Gregor Dike, who initially granted me access to the records at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church (UMC). ...


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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. 1-22

The story of St. Mark’s Community Center and the St. Mark’s congregation is a story about women. It is a story about white, southern women, about Methodist women, women who were products of their own time and place but who also challenged the prevailing culture in both subtle and dramatic ways, and who brought about substantial change in New Orleans. ...

Part I: Methodist Women Doing Settlement Work: 1895–World War I

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Chapter 1: The Mary Werlein Mission, 1895–1908

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pp. 25-56

In May 1940, daily newspapers in New Orleans chronicled the death of Mary Werlein. The States called her “one of the most devoted charity workers this city has ever known.” It began its coverage with a phrase that sounded fitting for a sermon: “Miss Mary Werlein’s body turns to dust in Metairie cemetery, but her soul lives. . . .” It went on to praise her in extravagant terms: ...

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Chapter 2: St. Mark’s Hall, 1909–1917

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pp. 57-82

Although Lillie Meekins and other city missionaries had lived in the neighborhood, if not the very building, where they served, the women of the MECS moved into an ambitious new phase of settlement work in New Orleans with the establishment of St. Mark’s Hall at 619–21 Esplanade Avenue and the assignment of deaconess Margaret Ragland as head resident. ...

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Chapter 3: St. Mark’s Community Center in the Post–World War I Era

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pp. 83-104

Lagging behind the MEC by nearly two decades, the MECS finally approved laity voting rights for women at the General Conference of 1918. The first women delegates to General Conference were seated in 1922.1 The bishops had adamantly opposed this change and had successfully stymied campaigns by the women for the last several General Conferences. ...

Part II: Work for Gender and Racial Equality: 1920s–1960

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Chapter 4: “A Restlessness of Women”

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pp. 107-134

In the 1920s and 1930s, the deaconesses in New Orleans laid the groundwork that allowed a major incident in the city’s civil rights struggle to play out later at St. Mark’s. The training that MECS deaconesses underwent, including its theological, spiritual, practical, and economic aspects, prepared them for a profound embodiment of their Christianity. ...

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Chapter 5: Addressing Racial Injustice before and after Brown

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pp. 135-156

The decades following World War II saw significant activity by Methodists in New Orleans seeking gender and racial equality. On a national level, the 1950s were marked by the handing down of the Brown v. Board of Education decision in May 1954 and by the first ordination of a woman in The Methodist Church in 1956. ...

Part III: Crises in Church, Center, and City: 1960–1965

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Chapter 6: St. Mark’s in Crisis, 1960–1965

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pp. 159-182

The first half of the 1960s was a time of trauma for St. Mark’s. Both the congregation and the community center were struggling to meet the ethical challenges of the civil rights movement and the reality of integration in New Orleans. The still-recent granting of clergy rights to women in The Methodist Church ...

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Chapter 7: Assessing St. Mark’s in the Sixties

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pp. 183-206

As member Mary Morrison later wrote, Foreman’s stand “under these dangerous and trying conditions focused national attention on him and his church,” and “led to turbulent days” for St. Mark’s.1 Subjective opinions offered by persons who were members of the congregation at the time range ...

Part IV: Post-1965 and Conclusion

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Chapter 8: Since 1965

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pp. 209-222

This chapter, covering the time between 1965 and the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, is an epilogue to the story of St. Mark’s that this book has recounted. It discusses a few selected events from that period, focusing in part on the years immediately after the last deaconess retired. ...

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Chapter 9: Conclusion

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pp. 223-244

In 2003, Wendy Deichmann Edwards and Carolyn De Swarte Gifford’s anthology, Gender and the Social Gospel, called for more research on the women who were the movement’s practitioners. The call was not precisely a new one— White and Hopkins had noted as early as 1976 that women had been “neglected” in previous studies.1

Appendix A: Sources for Research on MECS Women’s Work

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pp. 245-253

Appendix B: A Charter of Racial Policies

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pp. 254


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pp. 255-294


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pp. 295-303

E-ISBN-13: 9781572338241
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572338210

Publication Year: 2011