This is a collection of records documenting the history of the various women’s groups of the First Presbyterian Church (Mount Pleasant, Michigan). The only record which was not exclusively created by or for women is the Book of Minutes and Accounts, 1868, 1874-1899 (1 volume) of the Trustees of the First Presbyterian Society. The Society was an all male organization which was helped substantially by the Ladies Aid Society.
While these records document the history of the groups, they also document the history of the First Presbyterian Church, including the physical construction of the first church building, the financial support of the local church, manse, and its staff, and the various types of support that the church provided for local, national and international (foreign) missions.
For the purpose of establishing an understandable time line, the various organizations documented by their records in this collection will be described in chronological order.
In 1867, a group of local Mount Pleasant women, the Ministerial Aid Society, raised $1,000 to establish a local Presbyterian church and partially pay for a minister. As a result of their efforts, Rev. D. D. Campbell moved to Mount Pleasant (Mich.) to serve as the first Presbyterian minister and help organize the church. [Note: Unfortunately, there are no extant records of the Ministerial Aid Society.]
On May 10, 1868, Campbell and nine interested men met and organized the First Presbyterian Society of Mount Pleasant, of which they became Trustees. The purpose of the Society was to form a new church, the First Presbyterian Church of Mount Pleasant, in accord with applicable county and state laws. The Trustees’ efforts languished from 1869 until May 1873, when the group recommenced meeting.
The Trustees of the First Presbyterian Society met irregularly between one and four times a year. In 1880 the Trustees recorded their first Annual Meeting with the congregation. After that, the Trustees met only during Annual Special Meetings. Most of the recorded business of the Society dealt with the election of officers. The Trustees paid and fired staff (ministers, sexton, organist), thanked donors, particularly Mrs. Dwight May of Kalamazoo, who, in 1880, donated the church’s first pipe organ, dealt with debt (by begging help from the Ladies Aid Society, and sought to build and supply the church building.
In their efforts, the Trustees received substantial assistance from the Ladies Aid Society. The Society was organized vaguely as “an aid in establishing a Presbyterian Church in Mount Pleasant”. What the ladies really did was raise funds to help staff, build, and supply the church. Indeed, after reviewing the information in this collection, it is obvious that the First Presbyterian Church would not have been built and would not exist today without the efforts of the women of the church.
The Society, like all the women’s groups that followed it in the First Presbyterian Church, usually had meetings that began with a prayer, psalm, hymn, or devotional reading. This was followed by reports from officers or project chair[wo]men, the business meeting, discussions of publications about relevant missionary, religious, or social issues concerns, and concluded by a social time with food, music, discussions, or a program. Most of the groups met from September through June, with no meetings during the late summer.
The Society adopted a Constitution which was revised on November 24, 1875. The Constitution provided for an Annual Meeting at which officers were elected and funds reported. Nearly monthly, however, the ladies met to raise money for the Church through a variety of means. In 1896, for example, funds were raised by membership dues and fines, sales of baked goods and sewn items, social activities, and fairs. The ladies often covered financial debts the Trustees could not, in addition to providing various entertainments, dinners, and a lecture series for the good of their fellow Presbyterians. In the 1930s, the Society served lunches to the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, among other money making endeavors. Funds earned from the lunches paid the expenses of eight ladies who attended a conference, purchased drapes, music and flowers for Sunday services, and flowers for members of the Society who were ill.
With their earnings, the Society purchased a site on Court Street for the first church building, the value of half of the property having been donated by Mr. Cornelius Bennett. The first church structure was dedicated there in Feb. 1875. It was the second church organized and built in Mount Pleasant. (This information on the church is from the books A Silver Spire and the First Presbyterian Church (Mount Pleasant, Michigan, 1871-1958, in the Clarke Historical Library.)
The Ladies Aid Society existed until it merged with the Missionary Society on October 10, 1934 to form the Women’s Association.
The Missionary Society was initially called the Woman’s Christian Missionary Society (WCMS). Because there are no extant nineteenth century meeting minutes for the WCMS, its actual date of organization is unknown. However, from the existing Book of Receipts and Expenditures, we know that it was organized by 1877 and continued to exist through 1883.
The accounts show the names of members and the dues they paid. From 1877-1883 there were between sixteen and twenty-seven female members of the WCMS. Usually, there was also between one and four men who were also members. Among these men were usually the Presbyterian minister and doctors.
In its first year, the WCMS helped a number of needy, local families, at least some of whom were church members. The types of gifts the Society purchased or crafted included: books, shoes and stockings, clothing material, baby clothes and layettes, medical care and medicine, and Bibles, which were advertised in a local newspaper advertisement (a copy is in the volume) as being available for those local people who were too poor to buy one themselves.
From 1906 to at least 1912 the Society used the name Women’s Home and Foreign Missionary Society (WHFMS). According to its 1906 constitution, the purpose of the WHFMS was to interest the women of this church in sending the gospel message to those in our own and foreign lands who need it.” The WHFMS was an auxiliary to the WHFMS of Saginaw Presbytery. The WHFMS met for the first time on January 2, 1906. There were eighteen members.
In 1906 the WHFMS helped supplement the salary of Miss Dresser, a foreign missionary in an unspecified country, and supported, probably in part, the salary of a teacher in the Scotia School, Concord, North Carolina (NC), which was a “colored” school, helped a student in the Ashville Normal School, NC, and helped supplement the salary of Miss Theresa Stalker, a teacher at Smithfield, Utah.
The Missionary Society name dates from at least 1920 until October 10, 1934, when the Society merged with the Ladies Aid Society to form the Women’s Association.
According to its By-Laws in the 1920-1927 Record Book, the purpose of the Missionary Society was to interest and educate Presbyterian women in and about missionary work, both at home and abroad. Missionaries, their hospitals, and charges abroad, the local hospital, and needy foreign and local families were supported by the Society. Support at different times meant a Christmas box, money, or clothes. The Society also purchased supplies for the church when needed, such as new hymnals. Funds and supplies were raise by free will donations from members and the church, rummage sales, and sewing bees.
For example, in 1925, the Society had fifty members, twenty of whom regularly attended meetings. The members met eight times during the year, and were able to contribute $311 towards foreign missions, $40 for hospital supplies, $5 so a Central Normal School, later Central Michigan University, student could attend a Volunteer Conference, $1.08 for flowers, $1 to a church in El Paso (Texas), $4.40 for motion picture slides, $6.35 for delegates expenses, $5 for programs and rummage sale advertisements, and $2.76 for postage on a Christmas box.
The successor organization of both the Missionary Society and the Ladies Aid Society was the Women’s Association, which was organized by a merger of the two older organizations on October 10, 1934. The merger occurred as a result of the Ladies Aid Society being unable to meet their assigned quotas for donations due to the economic woes of the Great Depression, the lack of new members, and poor attendance suffered at meetings. Without extant meeting minutes, we can only assume the same problems existed for the Missionary Society.
The purpose of the new Association, according to its Constitution of 1934, was to promote the spiritual and social life of the church, to provide avenues of service, and to encourage and sustain missionary effort at home and abroad. It was an auxiliary to the Saginaw Presbyterian Society, which was an auxiliary of the Board of National Missions and the Board of Foreign Missions. The Association met monthly with an Annual Meeting in February. Three vice-presidents and other officers directed the departments of Missionary, Social and Philanthropic, and Finance endeavors. The Missionary work included: Young People, Literature, Missionary Education, Stewardship, and National Missions and [mission] Hospital Work.
At the first meeting of the Association, the last minutes of its predecessor organizations were read and approved and the new Constitution and By-Laws were accepted. The combined membership of the Association totaled 98 members, about half of whom regularly attended meetings.
In its first year of existence, the Association sponsored the Westminster Guild Circle of young people, provided music, flowers, or plants for the church service, as well as flowers to the members who were sick and to families of deceased church members. Also, the Association was able to pay its complete both its missionary and [missionary] hospital supply quotas. In 1938, for example, hospital supplies were mailed by the Association to North Carolina, Santo Domingo and West Africa. The supplies included bed and bath linens, pajamas, curtains, baskets, and clothes, as well as writing and sewing supplies. Also in 1938, the Association supported six missions, two of which were foreign, and mailed a Christmas box to a mission in the Caspian. The major fund raisers for the Association continued to be serving lunches to the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, which the Ladies Aid Society had previously done, as well as serving dinners and lunches for various organizations and events.
To encourage women Presbyterians to meet and work for the good of the Presbyterian Church, those who could not attend the Women’s Association meetings, were asked to join “circles.” The circles did some of the same work the Association did, contributed to some of its projects, helped partially fund its treasury, but they met separately from the Association and had some of their own projects. Most of the circles, [Bishop-] Brooks, Brooks, Cutler, and Circles B-D, were organized in the 1950s. The Sylvia Hawkins Society predated them, being organized in 1939. The circles met nearly monthly, either routinely in the morning or afternoon, depending on members’ schedules, to allow the ladies a chance to meet for social activities and to work on various projects. Circle members rotated to other circles periodically so everyone had a chance to become acquainted with each other. The circles will be described in the order in which they were formed.
The Sylvia Hawkins Society was organized on June 10, 1939. According to its 1939 Constitution, the Society’s purpose was “to promote the spiritual culture and betterment of social life in the church.” It met monthly from October to June, with an annual meeting in March. It was originally called the Junior Women’s Association, because it was organized after the Women’s Association. The permanent name, the Sylvia Hawkins Society, was selected on June 2, 1940. In 1941 there were sixty-eight members and between thirty and sixty women regularly attended meetings.
In its first year, the Sylvia Hawkins Society took over the supervision of the church nursery during services, supplied hospital work in conjunction with the Women’s Association, and changed the time of the Sunday School, with the minister’s approval.
Other women’s circles well documented in this collection include Bishop-Brooks, Brooks, Cutler, DeWitt, Doughty, and Junke.
The Brooks Circle, initially referred to simply as the “morning circle,” was organized on January 27, 1953. It was officially renamed the Brooks Circle for its active member, Mrs. K. P. (Gratia) Brooks, wife of Central Michigan University’s Professor Kendall P. Brooks, on February 24, 1953. The circle met monthly from September through June in the morning. It had approximately twenty-five members, about half of whom regularly attended meetings.
In its first two years, the Brooks Circle raised funds through mite boxes, serving food for lunches and wedding receptions, and dues. A special fund raiser the circle held in 1955 included ordering plates with an image of the church on it, which were sold by the circle to raise money, and given by the circle to individuals as gifts. The group had knitting and sewing projects, such as collecting blankets for Korean babies, and making slips, panties, and bath towels for needy families to receive at Christmas. The circle also supported foreign missions by sending sewing packets called “Mend it kits” to Korea, as well as funds to other missions and mission hospitals. The circle served the church by decorating the church for Christmas, providing dish towels, providing and serving lunches for church events, and sending cards to church members who were ill.
At some point between November 23, 1976 and September 21, 1978, Brooks Circle merged with the Bishop Circle to form the combined Bishop-Brooks Circle. The combined circle met monthly from September through May. The circle tried to help staff the church nursery, something they found impossible to accomplish, purchased hospital gowns, knitted bandages, and supplied decorations, food, flowers, and servers for various church events. For fund raisers the circle baked for a bazaar, cooked for the Tasting Bee, held auctions, served the Rotary Club lunches, and served at various church suppers and events.
The Cutler Circle, named for Mrs. Cutler, an active member, was formed some time prior to January 26, 1960. Because there are no extent meeting minutes prior to this date, the exact date of organization of the circle is unknown. The circle was simply described as the “other morning circle” in the Brooks Circle Meeting Minutes. The circle met monthly from January through May and September through November. A list of members does not exist, but approximately six to fourteen members attended meetings regularly.
In 1960, the circle sewed skirts, provided fifty shirts, blankets, and bandages for lepers, clothing for relief in Chile, and created a dozen “ready cut garments” [skirts and nightgowns]. The circle also mailed cards to members of the church and circle who were ill, fed patients at Broomfield Memorial Hospital, provided refreshments and kitchen supplies for church social events, supported the Women’s Association’s rummage sale, and a church book and picture sale, as did other circles. Fundraisers for Cutler Circle included providing and serving various dinners and lunches for various church and community groups and donations. The circle met for the last time on May 27, 1980. A name was to be drawn for a new circle which was to be organized in the fall of 1980.
The Dewitt Circle, which was initially called “Circle B”, was organized on February 21, 1951 with twenty-one members. The circle met the third Wednesday of each month at 2 p.m. On January 21, 1953, the circle was renamed the Dewitt Circle in honor of Mrs. Gertrude DeWitt, an active member. In 1955 there were approximately thirty-seven members. Between ten and 21 members usually attended the meetings.
During its first year, the circle purchased a new coffee maker for the church by selling forty-eight bottles of vanilla, cut out and sewed quilt blocks, helped pay for the manse, made cancer dressings, paid to have Alma College furniture recovered by selling Alma, Michigan, cookbooks, and mailed Christmas boxes to a missionary in New Mexico. The circle raised funds through fines, selling cook books, Christmas cards, and bottles of vanilla, serving lunches, and rummage sales.
In 1967 the Doughty and DeWitt Circles merged, according to the December 1966 meeting minutes of both circles.
The Doughty Circle, initially known as “Circle C,” was organized prior to May 2, 1951. As there are no previous extant meeting minutes, it is impossible to ascertain the exact date of its organization. The circle was officially named for Mrs. Doughty, an active member, on October 1, 1951. From 1951 through 1952, the circle met from October through December and from February through May, in the afternoon. In later years, the circle met from October through June.
In its first year of existence, the circle saved fats to make soap for mission needs in Korea, supplied dishtowels to the parish house and towels for the Women’s Association’s Christmas families, filled a pint jar with pennies for the Palmer Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Alaska, and mailed cards to church and circle members who were ill. For fundraisers, the circle had “Blessing Boxes,” and served dinners and lunches for various organizations and events.
The Doughty Circle uniquely formed a Guild of Intercessors on May 7, 1952. The Guild consisted of circle members who were unable to attend meetings or do active work any longer. A bulletin was mailed to the members of the Guild. In 1952 there were 38 members of the circle and three additional members of the Guild.
Of interest is the circle’s notably negative reaction to President Truman’s proposal to have an American ambassador to the Vatican on November 7. 1951. At the next meeting, on December 5, members were provided with a list of congressional addresses and names which members were encouraged to write to in order to register their displeasure with the president’s proposal.
As mentioned above, in 1967 the Doughty and DeWitt Circles merged, according to the December. 1966 meeting minutes of both circles. The combined Doughty-DeWitt Circle met for the first time on January 4, 1967 on a temporary basis. There were forty-three members, seventeen of whom attended meetings on a regular basis.
During its first year of existence, the Doughty-DeWitt Circle mailed cards to patients at the Michigan Training School [i.e. the State Training School for female juvenile delinquents at Adrian, Michigan,] and members of the circle who were ill, filled Easter baskets for ill members of the circle, collected blankets for the needy, sewed for patients and lepers, collected cotton for quilts, and served as greeters for worship services. To raise funds, the circle served lunches to various groups, held rummage sales, and collected pennies. On November 1, 1967 the circle members voted by secret ballot to continue the combined circle.
The Anne Junke Circle, initially called “Circle D,” was organized on March 7, 1951. Mrs. Junke served as the first chair. The circle met in the afternoon, from June through October. There were twenty-nine members, about seventeen of whom attended meetings on a regular basis.
In its first year, the Junke Circle mailed Christmas boxes to missionaries in Wooten, Kentucky, collected used fats to make soap for mission boxes to Korea and other materials for other foreign missions, held a kitchen shower for the church house, and purchased trays for the church house (manse). Members also provided and served dinners to various organizations and for various events, helped feed patients at two nursing homes, and collected suitable winter clothes for foreign students, while inviting the same students into their homes (presumably for visits and dinner, not for housing). Various circle fund raisers in 1951 through 1952 included the Seamstress Kits, Dish Cloths, and Cards and Stationery projects, serving dinners, and Blessing Boxes.
The early meeting minutes of the Junke Circle also mention the Brunelle Circle, for which there are no extant records, except one report in the Annual Reports of the Circles, 1967. Other circles only mentioned in the Annual Reports of the Circles, 1967 are the Grambau Circle and Green Circle.
For additional information on the circles and Women’s Association, see the Summary of the Years, 1960 to 1970, a history of the circles and Women’s Association, by Dorothy Theunissen, 1995, and the Annual Reports of the Circles, 1967, both of which are in this collection.