Kerrville, Texas: 1893-1897. Publisher's cloth binding stamped with Annual Record of the Epworth League, containing printed front matter to be used by organization chapters in identifying their numbers, keeping a record of the constitution and by-laws, and managing roll calls and minutes. Comprised of 86 pages in a variety of hands, the present record comes from Kerrville, Texas, just under a decade after the group was founded in 1889 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Epworth League, a Methodist group designed to give people aged 18-35 the opportunity to contribute to the wider community, hit its peak membership within 10 years of its founding, claiming 1.75 million members and spreading down into the Southern US.
The fill-in Constitution of the Kerrville chapter reveals that for this group, business meetings were held on the last Thursday of each month, with annual elections taking place at the December meeting. The rural nature of the community, and the need of its members to work and attend school, could potentially limit attendance; so the number set as a quorum was seven. The roll of officers as well as the attendance roll sheet reveal that women and men served together -- both as leaders and as participants. In this sense, women had the opportunity to shape the direction of a community organization at a time when they couldn't vote in local or national elections yet. Shared last names in the rolls are also common, suggesting extended familial ties throughout the community and revealing young married couples, siblings, and cousins working together.
Early entries give a sense of the range of the group's work, and the roles women played. "Miss Alice Starkey, Chairman of the League, has held devotional meeting through the month and studied the prescribed topics...[we] have assisted in the burial of two persons, a man and lady, and have given clothing to a needy man," the secretary reports on March 28, 1894. "Report of the Literary Committee," an entry from June 11 of that year notes, "Starkey reported that they had made a program of scriptural reading, which had been read by most of the members...It was moved and carried that the League purchase one dozen copies of the Living Songs." Indeed, the literary committee gave women ample space to take a lead, as others including Miss Ara Wood and Miss Lula Coons are also often included in descriptions of the work. Yet this is not an anomaly, as these women and Miss Fannie Coons, Mrs. Ward, Mrs. Mueller, Miss Patti Goodwin, Miss Lula Hawkins (possibly nee Coons), and Mrs. Chandler among others are voted into leadership roles in Devotional, Charity, and Music committees.
By 1897, women were expanding the charitable work to include care of the sick, and ensuring that significant strides were made toward consistency. The March 9 entry from that year notes "Janie Clark, Dept Charity and Help Department beg leave to report that 27 visits have been made to the sick and fifty (50) cents expended to the poor." Their efforts pay off, as by the 1897 election, voting placed the highest number of women into officer roles: Miss Patti Goodwin as first VP and Miss Alice Starkey as 3rd VP, bringing the administration to parity for the first time.
Important in a number of ways, the present ledger is one of few surviving from Methodist groups in the region. "During the antebellum era, ministers and lay persons evangelized a significant number of Texans, organizing them into Methodist societies and Sunday Schools. Despite their success, early Texas Methodists left behind few records" (Bridwell). A progressive denomination, with strong ties to the abolition, temperance, and suffrage movements, the records of its organizations help us to better understand the tensions and alliances that might happen in regional and small communities in regard to these issues. And they educate us on how men and women related to each other on issues of education, finance, social welfare, administration, and spirituality on the micro level. (Item #3446)