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History of the Sunday school

Arthur W. Glines
As a schoolboy, my favorite study was history, my leisure moments were spent in reading history, and my ideal successful man was one who could write history.

Thus it was, when invited to write the history of the Sunday School, I inwardly congratulated myself, and said, ‘Now is my time; at last the long-sought — for opportunity has come.’ Alas! I little realized, to use a Gilbertian phrase, that ‘an historian's lot is not a happy one.’

With great enthusiasm I started to read the report of the first teachers' meeting, which occurred January 24, 1854; but during the eight or nine hours which were spent in perusing the records of fifty years, my enthusiasm gradually oozed away, but my respect for historians increased.

To discover the interesting points in the school's history is like hunting for the proverbial needle in the proverbial haystack. As near as I can learn, Charles Williams and Edwin Munroe were the prime movers in the establishing of the school, and the first meetings were held in the building now used as the office of the Somerville water department, on Prospect street, but which then stood on Medford street, and was utilized as a primary schoolhouse.

The first officers were: Superintendent, Charles Williams; vice-superintendent, Edwin Munroe; librarian, Charles Williams, Jr.; secretary, Isaac O. Giles.

One who was a member of the school at this early stage informs me that the attendance was about fifteen, and that its officers and teachers were persons of more than average ability. [76]

At first the teachers' meetings were held monthly, the different members entertaining, but they were evidently social affairs entirely, as no mention was made of lesson study, and it was seldom any matter of business was discussed. In the spring and summer the school met at 9.30 a. m., and in the fall and winter at 2 p. m. For a short time the hour was 9 a. m. Evidently the Sunday newspaper was not a fetish in those days.

Instead of the record books and collection envelopes now in use, the teachers were obliged to keep the record of attendance on a slip of paper, and care for the collections as best they could for three months, when they were turned over to the treasurer.

A system of promotion for the scholars was first in vogue, and vacations were also believed in, as during the first summer the school was closed for one month.

The library seems to have been the great feature of the school from its beginning; and from the time the first books were presented the school by the East Cambridge Society until the present day, more money has been expended to keep it in good repair and well supplied with books than on any other one department.

In the early days an appropriation for its maintenance was made nearly every year. One small item in 1860 is rather amusing: money to buy slippers for the use of the librarians during the session of the school. They wore them, too, I believe.

Picnics were also in great favor, one being held the second year on July 25, and annually thereafter for many years.

On October 10, 1855, an appropriation for singing books was made, but no mention of a musical instrument is found until June, 1861, when a melodeon was purchased, a piano being substituted a year later.

Sunday school concerts, as such, were unknown at first, but Exhibitions were held to which an admission [77] was charged. These materially increased the treasury funds, evidently, as $200 were made on one occasion.

A troublesome problem (which still remains unsolved) to increase the attendance at the teachers' meetings occasioned the changing of the gatherings from monthly to once in three months in 1858-1859, at which times essays were read, articles in denominational papers discussed, etc.

In 1860 a clock was purchased at the expense of $5; and although our present clock is not the one, it might be, as much of its youthful fastness has disappeared, and it is inclined to be a little behind the times.

For some purpose not made clear in the records, a number of slates were bought in 1860, probably for the use of the younger scholars. And an item in the June 10, 1861, record, requesting the sexton to furnish a pail of water at each session for drinking purposes, shows that the principles and water imbibed in those early days so impressed the young minds that to-day Somerville heads the van of cold water cities in Massachusetts.

The records of 1862 bring to our minds the unhappy event which called so many of the young men from their homes. Several officers and teachers resigned that they might help uphold the nation's honor, protect the Stars and Stripes from insult, and, with God's help, save a nation from disruption.

At Christmas, 1863, a collation and tree were given to the children, and something of this sort has been practically a yearly occurrence ever since.

During Anniversary Week in the “sixties (and ” seventies, also, perhaps), mass meetings of all the Sunday School children in the Union were held at Music Hall or Tremont Temple, and special cars were each year provided to convey the school.

It is evident the parish did not run the fairs at first, [78] as several mentions are made of profits from fairs, and donations of part of such, to the parish.

Superintendent Charles Williams was succeeded in 1865 by his son, Charles Williams, Jr., who served eight years.

In 1868 the church was burned, and the school for a time was obliged to meet in the Prescott schoolhouse or the town hall (now city hall).

The first reunion of teachers occurred in January, 1870; and in October of that same year the school for the first time began its sessions at 12 m.

The humanity of the teachers of that day is clearly shown by a vote which they passed, allowing a certain young lady the use of the school piano for practicing. There were no houses near the church at that time, and the girl lived in a thickly-populated section. Such deeds as this have done much for the advancement of Christianity!

The International Lessons were not fully adopted until 1877, although partial use was made of them long before that date. Weekly teachers' meetings began at this time, and have continued since without change.

In the year 1873, three superintendents presided over the school: L. P. Hollander for the first three months; John Viall for five months; and John F. Ayer for the remainder of the year and four years thereafter.

In March, 1873, money was appropriated to purchase mottoes with which ‘to embellish the vestry walls.’ These mottoes, after a long and meritorious service, have lately been retired, and the members of the school can devote more time to the spirit of the law in the absence of these ‘embellishing’ letters.

Rev. W. S. Ralph, then the pastor of the church, acted as superintendent during 1878-1879; and while under his administration, in January, 1879, the school celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary with appropriate exercises.

Fred Farnsworth was elected superintendent in January, [79] 1880, but resigned in September of the same year, being succeeded by Mr. Murch, who merely filled out the unexpired term.

At the annual meeting on January 5, 1881, Irving Smith was elected to the position, and served two years; after which Augustus Hodgman occupied the place with marked success for five years, followed by George M. Stevens, who served during 1888-1889; Seth Mason in 1890; Arthur W. Glines, 1891 to 1895, inclusive; and A. A. Wyman from 1895 to the present time. In 1895 the school reached high-water mark in membership, as the report shows a total of 453 active members in attendance.

Friday night was decided upon as the regular meeting night of the teachers in September, 1881. And in 1884 the first teachers' sociable, as they are now known, was held at the house of John F. Ayer.

The pastor, Rev. C. A. Skinner, entertained the next year, and Mr. and Mrs. John F. Nickerson the following year. Since that time the gatherings have been held in the vestry, although on several regular meeting nights the teachers were pleasantly entertained by Miss Mary Clark, who conducted the infant class successfully for so many years. The school met with an irreparable loss when this good woman died two years ago. Three generations of Sunday School scholars had grown up under her guidance, and her influence is still felt in the world, in a manifold degree, through the many young men and women who to-day remember her kind and helpful words and her infinite love for child life.

The most notable event of late years was the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of the school, which occurred February 23, 1894. All who had at any time been connected with it as officers or teachers were invited, and about 200 were present. Many old friends met for the first time in years, and it was, in consequence, a most enjoyable occasion.

There are doubtless many things that should be mentioned [80] in an article of this sort which, for lack of information, are omitted. I recollect, however, one matter of which no mention is made in the records. It is the kindness of four classes in the school, by whose efforts there have been placed upon the vestry walls five pictures, which have greatly added to its appearance.

Mrs. A. H. Carvill's class gave the one in the infant class room, Mrs. G. D. Haven's class that which represents Jesus among the doctors, Mrs. S. W. Fuller's class the two on the opposite wall, and Mr. A. Hodgman's class the one of St. Cecilia. The good example set by these classes should be emulated by others, until our vestry walls are ‘embellished’ by ten or more fine pictures.

Our Sunday School may well take pride in the knowledge that at least five of its members have entered the Universalist ministry: Rev. E. H. Chapin, Rev. R. A. White, Rev. Leslie Moore, Rev. George F. Fortier, Rev. Gertrude A. Earle, the latter being one of the first women to graduate from Tufts Theological School, and be ordained to the Universalist ministry.

The school to-day is modern in every sense. No effort is spared to make it the leading Universalist Sunday School in the Metropolitan district in training methods, as it already is in numbers. Stereopticon lectures reviewing the lesson are given several times during the year; a kindergarten class, with a trained teacher at its head, cares for the youngest scholars, while every effort along social lines is made to attract and keep the older scholars interested. The teachers are given opportunities to hear lectures by expert Sunday School workers, and, in fact, no branch is neglected that will help in any way to aid in the upbuilding of moral characters in the youths of to-day.

The present officers of the school are: Superintendent, A. A. Wyman; vice-superintendent, Mrs. G. D. Haven; secretary, Joseph Mess; assistant secretary, Mrs. Joseph Mess; treasurer, Mrs. Robert Hayes.

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