It has taken me two tries to score this Paul C. Koeber postcard from Silver Bay; the first had a postmark and writing on the photo; this one is as clean as a whistle. I have seen five PCK postcards of Silver Bay, nos. 1223, 1225, 1226 (this one), 1227 and 1228, which suggests the existence of 1224; the quest continues.
At the Boat House, photo by J.S. Wooley. The man second from the right, seated, is Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946), who founded the Woodcraft Indians in 1902, and in 1910 was instrumental in founding the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) with Dan Beard and Lord Baden-Powell. To Seton’s left (our right) is John Alexander, the first managing secretary of the Boy Scouts, active in the Philadelphia YMCA, and a founder of the American Youth Foundation (AYF). On Seton’s right (our left) is Preston G. Orwig, Alexander’s assistant in his work with the BSA and YMCA, also a founder of the AYF.
Seton, who liked to go by “Black Wolf,” led the council of chiefs ceremonies and named Alexander “Kinji-Gissis” (Shining Countenance) and Orwig “Wadjepi” (the Nimble One).
My thanks to Sarah Forbes Orwig, granddaughter of Preston Orwig, for sharing this picture and the story behind it.
“When we pray for another, it is not an attempt to alter God’s mind toward him. In prayer we add our wills to God’s good will… that in fellowship with Him, He and we may minister to those whom both He and we love.”
– The Rev. Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin
In the 1910s and ‘20s, the Rev. Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin (1877-1954) served on the faculty at Silver Bay YMCA conferences. He was president of the Union Theological Seminary, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, and a leading theological liberal. With John Mason Neale, he translated into English the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” from the original Ecclesiastical Latin text (“Veni, veni Emmanuel”).
Born the heir to a fortune, he attended Yale University, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1897. He was Phi Beta Kappa, Skull and Bones, and president of the YMCA. In 1900, he earned his Master’s degree at Yale and a Bachelor of Divinity from the Union Theological Seminary.
He became pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City in 1910. In 1926, he accepted the presidency of Union Theological Seminary, retaining the post until 1945.
Biographer Morgan Phelps Noyes described the Rev. Dr. Coffin as “a preacher and pastor who combined intellectual brilliance, profound Christian conviction, warm interest in all sorts of people and social concern in a balance which led many of his contemporaries to regard his pastorate as a demonstration of the Christian ministry at its best.”
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Above, the Rev. Dr. Coffin on the cover of TIME magazine, November 15, 1926.
A speaker at Silver Bay YWCA conferences in the 1910s and ‘20s, the Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969) was a central figure in the Fundamentalist vs. Modernist controversy within American Protestantism. Although nominally a Baptist, he preached in New York City at First Presbyterian Church and then at the Riverside Church.
While at First Presbyterian, on May 21, 1922, he delivered a sermon called “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”, presenting the Bible as a record of the unfolding of God’s will, not as the literal Word of God. Among the heretical passages were these:
“”When one turns from the Koran to the Bible, he finds this interesting situation. All of these ideas, which we dislike in the Koran, are somewhere in the Bible. Conceptions from which we now send missionaries to convert Mohammedans are to be found in the Bible. There one can find God thought of as an Oriental monarch; there too are patriarchal polygamy, and slave systems, and the use of force on unbelievers. Only in the Bible these elements are not final; they are always being superseded; revelation is progressive.”
“Ministers often bewail the fact that young people turn from religion to science for the regulative ideas of their lives. But this is easily explicable. Science treats a young man’s mind as though it were really important. A scientist says to a young man: ‘Here is the universe challenging our investigation. Here are the truths we have seen, so far. Come, study with us! See what we have already seen and then look further to see more, for science is an intellectual adventure for the truth.’ Can you imagine any man who is worthwhile turning from that call to the church if the church seems to him to say, ‘Come, and we will feed you opinions from a spoon. No thinking is allowed here except such as brings you to certain, specified, predetermined conclusions. These prescribed opinions we will give you in advance of your thinking; now think, but only so as to reach these results.’”
Shortly after the sermon was delivered, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church ordered Fosdick’s local presbytery to investigate his views. Fosdick eventually avoided censure by resigning and was hired as pastor of a Baptist church whose most famous member was John D. Rockefeller Jr., who then funded the interdenominational Riverside Church in Manhattan, where Fosdick became pastor as soon as its doors opened in October 1930.
In a 1925 sermon, he included this memory of Silver Bay:
“Some time ago I attended a woman’s student conference at Silver Bay. As the sun was setting over Lake George the young women in their summer gowns, the embodiment of youth and gayety, streamed down along the lake, but I saw a Chinese missionary looking at them with tears in her eyes. ‘What is the matter?’ I said. ‘I am looking at those girls,’ she answered. ‘So many of them are going as foreign missionaries! I have lived as a foreign missionary in China for years and I know what it is going to cost. They are so light-hearted and gay about it now, but I know what it is going to cost.’
“Who that knows anything about life can look at youth without sometimes thinking about that. It is going to cost even to live honorably with oneself.”
Harry Emerson Fosdick knew what it cost, and kept the faith. I would like to say that his 90-year-old sermon on Fundamentalism is dated, but sadly, it appears more relevant today than ever.
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Fosdick’s 1922 sermon is collected in A Chorus of Witnesses: Model Sermons for Today’s Preacher (1994), edited by Thomas G. Long and Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.
“Guests at Silver Bay are surprised to see three woodchucks playing on the lawn in front of the hotel every day. The live under the culverts of the auditorium. The mother has been named ‘Faith,’ and the babies are ‘Hope’ and ‘Charity.’ They are fairly tame although they will not allow anyone to get close enough to touch them.”
– Warrensburgh News, June 22, 1933
In 1912, the Silver Bay Chapter of the YWCA, based in Syracuse, N.Y., published a cookbook, printed by that city’s Single Press. The book opened with a poem by Jennie M. Bingham, a former student at Syracuse University who also wrote Annals of the Round Table and Other Stories (1886); a novel, All Glorious Within (1891); The Life of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury (1899); and religious poetry.
The recipes included those for soups, meats, salads and desserts, and contributors included Mrs. Donald (Mary) Dey (“Scotch Broth”), whose husband was the co-founder of the Dey Brothers department store in Syracuse, and Mrs. Huntington B. (Florence) Crouse (“Raisin Cakes”), whose husband founded the Crouse-Hinds company and gave his name to Huntington B. Crouse Hall at Syracuse University, known to students as H.B.C. Baker’s Chocolate was good enough to purchase an ad on the back cover.
“What did you come to Silver Bay for?” one girl asked another on the last night of the conference. “I came,” said the other, “to see if Christianity had a left leg to stand on.” “What have you decided?” “That it is a regular centipede!” was the reply.
– Miriam Vedder, Wellesley, Class of 1916, in The North American Student, October, 1915
A YWCA Silver Bay conference attendee, Miriam Vedder hailed from Schenectady, N.Y., served as editor of the Wellesley College News and won its first [John] Masefield Prize for verse in 1916. She was also on the Wellesley archery team (far right, below), but it is her verse that interests me.
In 1920, she inadvertently became involved in a mystery that may have involved one of the most elusive figures of the early 20th century, Arthur Craven. That year, a young man named Dorian Hope persuaded G.P. Putnam’s Sons of New York and London to publish a volume of his poetry, Pearls and Pomegranates. When Miriam Vedder bought a copy, she discovered 26 of the poems were hers. She went to the publisher’s office in New York and, upon investigation, they found Vedder was correct and that the rest of the poems were by the late Augustin Lardy; “Dorian Hope” had obtained the dead man’s poems from his mother, unaware that Lardy had shared his poetry with Miss Vedder, and that her own poems she had sent to Lardy were shuffled in among the manuscripts. The publisher withdrew the book immediately; Dorian Hope was seen no more in New York, but soon after a young man going as Dorian Hope, and Sebastian Hope, was peddling forgeries of Oscar Wilde manuscripts in Paris and Amsterdam. Some biographers of Arthur Craven believe that Hope and Craven were one in the same.
Arthur Craven was a nephew of Oscar Wilde, who made a life out of getting into trouble and disappearing. In Paris, circa 1910-15, he made his way as a performance artist and a boxer, and during lectures would drink heavily, hurl abuse at his audience, take off all his clothes and moon the front row. Admirers of outrage were delighted. He was said to have disappeared at sea in 1918, but these later sightings in New York, Paris and Amsterdam kept people buzzing.
And so Miriam Vedder, Silver bay conference attendee, had a brush with fame and intrigue. On her own, in 1931 and ’32, she had 29 pieces published in The New Yorker. The poem below appeared in the September 17, 1932, issue:
“Horoscopes” – By Miriam Vedder, Wellesley Class of 1916.
I’ve high esteem for horoscopes
They give one such romantic hopes.
Mine said I’d meet a very fine
Young man in 1929,
And intimated wedding rings,
And other such inspiring things,
I waited for him all the year,
But that young man did not appear
Unless he was a tax-collector,
Or, possibly, the dog-inspector.
In 1930 speculation
Was to achieve the elevation
Of my depressed financial state.
But something might have sidetracked Fate
The stocks I bought that happy spring
Today are not worth anything.
A voyager upon the sea,
A traveller in wagons-lits,
I should, before the year was done,
Have been in 1931.
And yet, despite the friendly stars,
I only rode on trolley cars.
But though my fortunes have declined,
I’m vastly gratified to find
That 1932 should be
A most propitious year for me,
With riches knocking on my doors,
And sojourning on foreign shores,
And gentlemen of many nations
Offering fervent protestations.
For even though I seem to stay
At home in quite the usual way,
And no one names me as an heir,
And suitors are extremely rare,
It’s very comforting to know
That Heaven never planned things so!
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Pearls and Pomegranates (1920) was withdrawn from publication, but is available today in reprint editions made from the few copies that survived. I would suggest that Miss Vedder’s later poetry in The New Yorker showed delightful improvement from her earlier efforts.
Jackson Stitt Wilson (1868-1942) was a speaker at the Silver Bay student conference of 1925 and most probably made his audience sit up and pay attention. He was an ardent Christian Socialist and served as the Socialist mayor of Berkeley, California, from 1911 to 1913.
After graduating from seminary at Northwestern, Wilson worked as a Methodist pastor and social worker in Chicago, and afterward said, “The injustices, misery, and wretchedness, and the unequal struggle of the workers against such frightful odds compelled me to study the underlying causes of this social agony, and I became a Socialist.”
From 1907, Wilson was a contributing editor to The Christian Socialist, a weekly newspaper which unified the Christian socialist wing of the Socialist Party of America.
In 1911, Wilson wrote, “If God is ever to wipe away the tears from the face of man, this age-long wrong [capitalism] must be overthrown. If the mission of Jesus is ever to get the upper hand in human affairs, the social revolution must come to pass… There is no deliverance for captives unless this social captivity is ended. There is no setting at liberty the people that are bruised unless this age-long bruising machinery is stopped. If we are ever to call the poor and the maimed and the halt to the banquet of creation, the program of the revolution must be inaugurated.”
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On a completely irrelevant note, Wilson’s daughter Gladys, billed as Viola Barry, appeared in 29 silent films between 1911 and 1916.