YWCA Conference Faculty lead the way to the annual ballgame, 1916, beating on wash tubs, pan lids, etc. I especially like the woman playing the Cream of Tartar Baking Powder tin. With thanks to Harvard University’s Radcliffe Archives.
It is one thing — and a good thing — to see the moon rise over the mountains across Lake George, but it’s quite another to actually set foot on that moon. But at least one man who spoke at Silver Bay had been there, done that.
On July 9, 1982, former astronaut James B. Irwin came to Silver Bay and gave a evening talk entitled “From Outer Space to Inner Space.” Eleven years before, Irwin had been part of the Apollo 15 mission of July/August 1971, and the eighth person to walk on the moon.
After Irwin retired from the Air Force in 1972, he traveled as “a goodwill ambassador for the Prince of Peace,” speaking about how his experiences in space had made the presence of God more real to him. One wonders if the moon rose while he spoke that evening at Silver Bay, and gave the people leaving the auditorium something to think about.
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The rising of the moon over Lake George, at Silver Bay, July 2008; detail from a photo by Frieda Celeste Dunkelberg.
James B. Irwin works with the Lunar Roving Vehicle on the surface of the moon; photo by Astronaut David R. Scott.
In late August of 1922, Silver Bay hosted leaders in banking, labor and politics to discuss “Human Relations in Industry.” Among the speakers was John L. Lewis, soon to become a legend in organized labor.
John Llewellyn Lewis (1880-1969) was the newly elected president of the United Mine Workers of America, a position he held from 1920 to 1960. As a thundering advocate for coal miners, he brought them higher wages, safer working conditions, pensions and medical benefits. He was also the driver behind the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which helped organize millions of other industrial workers in the 1930s.
Lewis was known for his bushy eyebrows and ever-present scowl, and his stormy visage appeared on the cover of Time magazine six times.
In August of 1922, Adolph S. Ochs, publisher of the New York Times, spoke at Silver Bay on Visitors’ Day, second-billed to the Governor of New York, Nathan Miller. Afterwards, they took the Silver Bay steam launch, Crusader, back to Lake George Village. Halfway home they had to abandon ship, but I’ll hold that part for a moment.
Adolph S. Ochs’ introduction to the newspaper business began at the age of 11 in Knoxville, Tennessee. He went to work as an office boy, printer’s devil and delivery boy for the Knoxville Chronicle. At the age of 19, he borrowed $250 to purchase a controlling interest in the bankrupt Chattanooga Times. In 1896, at the age of 38, he bought The New York Times, a money-loser with 9,000 readers. By the time of his talk at Silver Bay, he had raised the circulation to 780,000 and created an American institution, a newspaper that carried the motto, “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”
Nathan L. Miller was the governor of New York from January 1, 1921 to December 31, 1922. The father of seven daughters, he was opposed to women’s suffrage and told the convention of the League of Women Voters that they were “a menace to American institutions.” He was not re-elected.
To return to the voyage of the Crusader, the gentlemen and ladies of the party were still four miles north of Lake George Village when a rope left draped over a steam pipe began to smoke, prompting the passing out of life preservers and a run for shore. The boat was unscathed, but the voyagers chose to complete their journey by automobile.
Adolph Ochs had strong ties to Lake George. Around 1918, he purchased George Foster Peabody’s lakeside estate, “Abenia,” about two miles north of Lake George Village, and spent every summer there. Although he telephoned the Times every morning, afternoon and evening, he also made time for golf, friendships and rest.
There is an apocryphal story that, one afternoon near the end of his life when illness kept him in New York City, Ochs telephoned Karl Abbott, the owner of the Sagamore Hotel in Bolton Landing, and asked him to describe Lake George as he saw it from his window. For several minutes, Abbott described the water, the sky, the trees, all that he saw. Ochs thanked him warmly and said goodbye. Soon after, Abbott read in the New York papers that Ochs had died that evening.
“Two large rattlesnakes, one seven and one four feet long, were killed recently by a highway construction crew working near Silver Bay, Lake George. The larger snake had 21 rattles and the smaller had 11. The seven-foot reptile was taken from the ground by a steam shovel, and was killed by the workmen. The smaller was discovered crawling on the porch of a nearby house.”
– “Rattlesnakes Killed at Silver Bay,” The Salem Press, Salem, N.Y., August 11, 1927
The founder and director of the Westminster Choir, John Finley Williamson, held his summer sessions – for organists, directors and music supervisors – at Silver Bay in 1932, ’33 and ’34. To cap the 1934 session, Williamson assembled a choir of more than 500 voices to sing (after just one rehearsal) hymns including “Onward Christian Soldiers,” “Abide with Me,” “Beautiful Savior” and “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.”
At the center of this giant a cappella chorus was the Westminster Choir, already in residence at Silver Bay for 10 days of Williamson’s 20-day session, using the time to tune up for their nine-week European tour of England, Denmark, Poland, Latvia, Sweden, Italy, Yugoslavia and Russia. Williamson was especially proud of the fact that his was the first choir to receive an official invitation from the Soviet Union, and the concert was broadcast live to the U.S.A.
Williamson founded the Westminster Choir in 1920 at the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Dayton, Ohio, and began the Westminster Choir School in 1926. The choir toured extensively, played Carnegie Hall and the White House (for President Calvin Coolidge), recorded for Victor records in 1926, and, in 1928, joined with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra led by Leopold Stokowski for a coast-to-coast radio broadcast.
In 1932, the Choir School relocated to Princeton, New Jersey. The dedication ceremonies included a performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor at the nearby Princeton University Chapel with the Westminster Choir and the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski, who contributed the orchestra and his time as a sign of his esteem for the choir.
Michi Kawai (1877-1953) was an educator, a Christian activist, and a proponent of Japanese-Western ties before, during and after World War II. The daughter of a Shinto priest, Kawai attended a school run by a Presbyterian missionary and was then encouraged to travel to the U.S. to study. She entered Bryn Mawr in 1900, and in 1902 attended a YWCA Conference at Silver Bay. As one account notes:
“She saw how American girls from many different colleges could play and think and plan together like lifelong friends. She treasured up this memory to transplant later in Japanese soil.”
At Silver Bay she also met Caroline Macdonald, a young Canadian. Kawai returned home after graduating from Bryn Mawr in 1904, and in 1905 Macdonald was sent to Japan to found the YWCA there. The two women reunited and made the YWCA of Japan a reality. In 1907, they led a conference in Aoyama, Tokyo, patterned after the Silver Bay conference, with morning Bible study, afternoon recreation and more informal evening “heart to heart” sessions.
Michi Kawai became the first National Secretary of the Japanese YWCA in 1912, and in 1927 she founded a Christian school for young women in Tokyo. But in this, as in so many other things, she was moving against the currents of history.
In 1934, she came to the U.S. on a speaking tour to promote Japanese-American relations. On the eve of Japan’s invasion of China in 1937, she traveled to China. In 1941, she returned to the U.S., and while in California was awarded an honorary doctorate from Mills College. She later wrote, “‘This is a gesture of American goodwill to Japan at this critical moment,’ said my soul to me, ‘therefore accept the honor, not for yourself, but for your country, and pledge yourself to stand for the cause of peace and friendship in this hour of tribulation.’”
Michi Kawai returned to Japan. Before the year was over, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Throughout the war, she maintained her Tokyo school’s strong Christian focus in spite of government disapproval. And immediately following the war, she played a surprising role in the establishment of peace: Gen. Douglas MacArthur, head of the U.S. Army of Occupation, had a vital, but complicated, use for the Emperor of Japan. If plans for a peaceful occupation were to be successful, the Emperor needed to be portrayed as deceived by the military, humanized, and put to work as a facilitator of peace.
Gen. Bonner Fellers, MacArthur’s former head of psychological warfare, was to lead the revision and re-creation of the Emperor. For this, he needed a contact within the Emperor’s inner circle. To make this contact, he approached a woman he had met in 1920 in Japan: Michi Kawai. She introduced him to a high palace official, Sekiya Teizaburo, who, like the American Generals, was eager to portray the Emperor as a lover of peace who had been cruelly misled. And so it came to pass; the Emperor followed the script; the Japanese people followed his lead.
Michi Kawai spent her last years rebuilding schools and writing about her experiences.
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Silver Bay quote from Ten Against the Storm (1957) by Marianna Nugent Prichard and Norman Young Prichard
In August of 1934, the first-ever film footage of Central American vampire bats was screened at Silver Bay with narration by Dr. Raymond Lee Ditmars of the New York Zoological Park (today’s Bronx Zoo).
A noted American herpetologist, Dr. Ditmars was a legend among snake fanciers but also an expert on insects and mammals. Prior to his Silver Bay appearance, Ditmars had published Strange Animals I Have Known (1931), Snakes of the World (1931) and a revised edition of his Reptiles of the World (1933).
He followed his Saturday evening vampire bat talk with a Sunday evening lecture on The Story of Creation, illustrating “the divine arrangement of the Four Seasons” with motion pictures of birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects. It has been said that many herpetologists fell in love with reptiles through reading Dr. Ditmars’ books; I have a feeling he inspired his fair share of nightmares as well.
In August of 1938, the Tuskegee Institute’s male quintet sang at Silver Bay, presenting a program of spirituals in the Helen Hughes Memorial Chapel. Members of the quintet were Otis D. Wright, Charles R. Fox, William M. Brown, Richard A. Montgomery and William A. Wiley. The program included songs such as “Go Down, Moses,” “I Want to Be Like Jesus,” “Steal Away,” “Roll, Jordan, Roll,” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” delivered in a style described as reverent, intricate and polished.
In 1939, the quintet sang for President Roosevelt, appeared at the New York World’s Fair, and in August, they sang again at Silver Bay. The Ticonderoga Sentinel noted, “Last summer these singers appeared at Silver Bay and were warmly greeted by a large and appreciative audience.”
Such appreciation was not always the case for these young men. The Institute’s first male choir was sent out in 1884, to raise money for the school and build bridges to white America. Around 1900, in a letter to Booker T. Washington, the school’s founder, a singer wrote, “We are told to our faces often that though our quartet is one of the best heard up here, they would like us better if we would ‘play the Nigger’ – their own words… every day we are made to understand that if there was less refinement about us and more fool, we would do better.”
The writer, Isaac Fisher, added that “coon” acts made as much as $40 for a performance compared to the $12 the Tuskegee Quartet was making. But the quartet would not lower itself. When audiences asked the young men to dance and sing songs about Negroes stealing chickens, Fisher said, “I make no pretensions to try to please.”
From 1914 to ’16, and again from 1926 to ’27, the Tuskegee singers were recorded on the Victor label. Many of these recordings are available on iTunes, and also online at the National Jukebox of the Library of Congress, so we can hear today an echo of the Tuskegee singers’ performance at Silver Bay.
In the pages of The Home Missionary of September 1908, I came across this passage about the Silver Bay Conference of that summer:
“Perhaps the one hour filled with the most tender memories, especially to Congregationalists, was the hour spent on the lawn just at sunset Sunday evening, in memory of Miss Martha Fiske, of Cambridge, not only a Radcliffe graduate, but a detained foreign missionary volunteer, who gave her strength, her wonderful mental ability, and her beautiful consecrated spirit to building up this Silver Bay Conference. She threw her ‘all in all’ into its foundations, and her life calls us from the realms of higher service to continue steadfast in the faith.”
I wondered who Martha Fiske was, and where she was “detained.” The answer to the second question came first, in the pages of In Royal Service: The Mission Work of Southern Baptist Women (1913) by Fannie E.S. Heck:
“The Detained Missionary — Many a young girl with heart on fire with love vows her life to foreign missions. She finds that vow, made in all sincerity, cannot be fulfilled. It may be her education is insufficient; that her health is too frail; that she must be the only support of aged father or mother.”
And so the young woman is “detained” in the United States. This was the case with Martha Teresa Fiske, but it did not dampen her ardor for missionary work. Elizabeth L. Hiding, writing in The Radcliffe Magazine, told her story:
“Martha T. Fiske was born in Cambridge, January 4, 1877, and spent her whole life in this city. She prepared for college at the Gilman School and took her A. B. degree from Radcliffe College in 1902 and her A. M. in 1904. While in college she devoted herself to the work of the Young Women’s Christian Association, as a leader of the Bible study and Mission study classes and as president of the Association in 1903-4… Those who came to know her felt the inspiration of her earnestness and learned the secret of her peaceful life in her constant prayer. Her gentle dignity and sweet womanliness made her beloved among many groups of the girls at college…
“Realizing that it would be impossible for her to go to foreign lands as a missionary, as did her classmate Miss [Alice M.] Newell [a missionary in Calcutta, India], she devoted herself after leaving college to the work of interesting others in the great work of Missions, and gave her time and her strength to promoting the study of Missions in college and among the young people of the churches in Cambridge and Boston. The year before her death she prepared a little book, The Word and the World, a collection of Scripture passages regarding Missions. The long illness which ended in her death on Dec. 23, 1907, was probably due in part to the exhaustion from a summer spent in teaching Mission study classes at various summer conferences.
“Martha Fiske was one of the rare women whose personality so expressed in all times and places her own Christian faith that one always felt compelled to be one’s best in her company. Her generosity and thoughtfulness for others were so quietly practiced that many failed to know to what an extent she was giving herself for others.”
The 1908 yearbook of The Missionary Herald remembered her in similar terms:
“She was prevented from going out as a missionary, but the more did she seek to make her life count at home. She attended every Silver Bay conference and did much to spread abroad the influence of those gatherings… Blessed by a rarely charming personality and full of quiet spiritual power, her visits to our office came like bursts of sunshine.”
The mention of “exhaustion” in Miss Hiding’s article referred to the summer of 1907, when Miss Fiske traveled from Cambridge to Gearhart, Oregon, on the Pacific coast, to address a student conference on missionary work. It was said that she spent the trip west preparing for her classes and the trip back east writing of the experience. She was ill when she arrived home in Cambridge and never recovered.
After her death, she was remembered at Silver Bay by the evening service mentioned above, but in Cambridge her tribute took a more enduring form: a stained glass window at the Sheppard Memorial Church, crafted under the personal supervision of Louis Comfort Tiffany and donated by Martha’s parents, Mr. & Mrs. Josiah Fiske.
“Saint Catherine of Alexandria,” the Martha Theresa Fiske Memorial window in the Sheppard Memorial Church (now the First Church, Congregational), Cambridge, Massachusetts, circa 1908
St. Catherine, according to tradition, was a young noblewoman who converted to Christianity and denounced the pagan Maxentius for persecuting Christians. She was imprisoned but from her cell converted Maxentius’ wife and 200 of his soldiers. He had them all put to death, and sent Catherine to the spiked wheel for torture and death; when the wheel miraculously broke, he had her beheaded.
The Tiffany window focuses on St. Catherine’s scholarly nature, rather than the circumstances of her death, and includes in the background a bas-relief of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the afterlife.
In her Bible, Miss Fiske wrote, “When my Heavenly Father calls me from this world to higher service there is just one word that I should like to have remembered in connection with my name, and this is ‘Missions,’ the cause for which my savior lived and died.”
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The image of the Fiske window and the quote in Miss Fiske’s Bible are from A Symphony of Color: Stained Glass at First Church (1990) by Patricia H. Rodgers; the photograph is by Allen Hess.