Edwin See Memorial

To do justice to the story of the Rev. Edwin F. See, we must begin with John L. Sullivan (1858-1915), the world champion of both bare-knuckle and gloved boxing who, in 1892, met his Waterloo at the hands of James J. Corbett.

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James J. “Gentleman Jim” Corbett (1866-1933) on a trading card for X-Zalia, a patent medicine

A “scientific” boxer who based his style on footwork, finesse and counter-punching, Corbett was set to defend his title for the first time against England’s Charlie Mitchell, an infamous barroom brawler who had recently served two months as a guest of the British authorities for either biting the nose off a waiter or beating an old man, depending upon which account you read. (He’d done both; the accounts differ on which one landed him in jail.)

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Charlie Mitchell (1861-1918)

The Corbett-Mitchell fight was to take place at Brooklyn’s Coney Island Athletic Club. Prize fighting was illegal in New York State, but Coney Island was known then as “Sodom by the Sea” and hosted frequent bouts. The local sheriff even attended with his sons so they might “derive educational advantages.” The promoters claimed the championship would be a “scientific exhibition” and thus not a violation of the law. In fact, said “Boss” Hugh McLaughlin, head of the Brooklyn political machine, “You can see just such a prize fight any day at the Young Men’s Christian Association.”

Big mistake. McLaughlin’s aligning of prize fighting with the YMCA’s healthful culture of “muscular Christianity” sparked, in the words of a New York Times reporter, “a flame of indignation and resentment, which threatens to sweep across the surface of the entire State of New York like a prairie fire.” And the keeper of the flame was the General Secretary of the Brooklyn YMCA, the Rev. Edwin F. See.

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Edwin F. See (1860-1906)

While Brooklyn’s ministers thundered from their pulpits and newspapers described the coming bout as “one of the most heathenish and barbaric projects ever conceived,” the Brooklyn YMCA gathered signatures on a petition to be sent to the Governor of New York. The petition read, in part, “Whereas this proposed contest is hostile to every sentiment of morality and religion, and in flagrant violation of the laws of this State… we hereby express our unqualified condemnation of all such brutal encounters.”

Matters were not helped by the principals of the bout. Mitchell in particular was daily hurling invective at Corbett through the press as a way of getting the new champion off his “scientific” approach and into a more toe-to-toe frame of mind from which the brawler Mitchell would emerge victorious. But in the end, it was Edwin See whose hand would be held aloft. The moral upheaval in New York prompted the bout’s organizers to throw in the towel and move the rite of pagan brutality to Florida. (Mitchell’s strategy of goading his opponent, which continued right up to the opening bell, proved unwise; Corbett was so enraged that he beat on the Englishman like a drum.)

Edwin See, his features unmarked by the struggle, served as the head of the Brooklyn YMCA for 20 years, until his untimely death at the age of 46 in 1906. The building in his honor, See Memorial, was completed soon after his death, and dedicated in 1910.
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See Memorial

See Memorial, July 2009

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“Governor Flower Appealed To: Petitioned by the Y.M.C.A. to Stop the Prize Fight,” The New York Times, October 11, 1893

Silver Bay Association: A Pictorial History 1900-1935, Silver Bay Association, 1992

Additional viewing: Gentleman Jim (1942) with Errol Flynn as James J. Corbett and Ward Bond as John L. Sullivan

The Frances Field Memorial

Field Memorial is dedicated to Frances Field, who died in 1909 after serving the YWCA in many ways, most notably as state secretary for New York and New Jersey, and then as private secretary to Grace H. Dodge (1856-1914), the first president of the YWCA in the U.S.A.

The dedication service was a small one, held on July 1, 1913, between the YWCA student and city conferences at Silver Bay. Mabel Cratty, General Secretary of the YWCA, met with a group of workers in “the attractive little bungalow” and spoke of Miss Field’s long, uncomplaining struggle against ill health and of “the gray monotony of a life spent so largely in committee meetings.” But she also spoke of the strength and purity of Field’s spirit, the clarity of her mind, the trueness of her heart.

One woman at the dedication, Ethel Hubbard, later wrote, “In the fragrance of the summer air, with the sunlight falling on the daisies which made beautiful the room, it was not with the sorrow of just a memory so much as with the joy of her spiritual presence that we joined in the prayer of dedication and sang with full hearts, ‘To all the saints, who from their labors rest.’”

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Today, Field Memorial still stands, again in the words of Hubbard, as “a silent witness to the power of a life given to God and used by him in the service of young women.”

Field Memorial

Field Memorial, July 2009

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Quotes from Association Monthly, Young Women’s Christian Association of the U.S.A., September 1913; photos by Jesse Sumner Wooley, Richard K. Dean from a 1954 Dean Color Service postcard, and the author.

Paulos Mar Gregorios at Silver Bay, 1962

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At the Silver Bay Conference on the Christian World Mission, July 10-17, 1962, Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios (1922-1997) delivered a lecture entitled, “The Mission of the Church in South Asia.”

Paul Albrecht wrote of Father Paul, “A forceful and often acerbic speaker, he sometimes stimulated and annoyed his audiences in about equal proportions.” We don’t know how he was received at Silver Bay, but we do know that he believed passionately in interfaith dialogue and cooperation.

Father Paul was a representative of the Orthodox faith across the world, a Biblical scholar and teacher, and a president of the World Council of Churches. As an ecclesiastic of one of the ancient churches of Christendom, he sought to relate his oriental Orthodox theological heritage to the ecumenical movement.

He once said, “Experience shows that the deeper we go into our respective religions, the more clearly we find that basic love of God and love for all humanity which should unite us all. The more rooted one is in one’s own tradition, the freer and more secure one becomes in facing our fellow human beings and finding our unity in God and in our shared aspirations.”

As You Like It

From the New York Times, April 13, 1910:

“Y.W.C.A. to Give Play in Aid of Outing at Lake George”

“The Eastern District Branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association reports that the tickets for the benefit performance of ‘As You Like It,’ to be given on Wednesday evening, in Memorial Hall, Brooklyn, have been almost sold out. This production is remarkable for the fact that all of the actors are girls, who have arranged for the performance without professional coaching of any kind. The proceeds are to be used to send delegates to the annual conference at Silver Bay, Lake George.

“This ten days’ outing costs $30, which is beyond the means of most of the club members, nearly all of whom are working girls. Each delegate pays as much as she is able, and the deficit is made up from the benefit fund. The proceeds of ‘As You Like It’ will make a large addition to this fund, so that a strong delegation can be sent to Silver Bay in the Summer.”

Avoiding Temptation at Silver Bay

“At Silver Bay, in 1911, there was a large gathering of the scouts. There were two competitions. In the first, each boy was given a stick of wood, a hatchet, a pail of water and two matches. The contest was to see which boy could soonest bring the water to a boil. He must do everything with these materials, build his fire, support his pail, and so on. The next contest was the carrying of a message. One boy was to carry a message through to the hotel, and ten other boys were set to intercept him.

“If the Boy Scouts did nothing else than keep the boys out of doors and require the physical activities that it does, it would be worth while, because these are sure to build up the health, develop the physique, and keep the boys away from the temptations of the city.”

The Play Movement and Its Significance by Henry Stoddard Curtis, 1917

The Brave Captain

“One time on Lake George there came up a terrific thunder storm when a party of us were on our way to a missionary conference at Silver Bay, N.Y. The sky was black and threatening, and the lightning, you never saw sharper, and thunder, you never heard louder, and rain, you never saw more copious, and it beat with such terrific fury right against our poor little steamer that a lady said to me: ‘Well, if it goes down, my all will go too, for they’re with me,’ but it didn’t go and the Captain bravely anchored us in safety.”

Uncle Jim and Aunt Jemimy in Southern California by Aunt Jemimy, (Woodruff Press, Lincoln, Nebraska) 1912