Ed note: This post continues our series on Margaret Boyd, Ohio University’s first alumna, whose daily senior year diary you can follow on Twitter @MaggieBoyd1873. Over winter and spring quarter, we’re discussing issues that come out of the diary on the Library News Blog. This week’s post, researched by PACE student in Digital Initiatives Matt Wesley and PACE student for social media Karah Finan looks at the role of religion in Maggie’s World.
No account of the Victorian Era can be complete without studying the large role of religion in many aspects of life during the period. Religion was a central theme in Victorian life: through school, family, social life and community. Maggie Boyd’s life in Athens and time spent at Ohio University centered heavily around her religious beliefs.
There were numerous church congregations in the Village of Athens during the Victorian era, ranging from small African-American congregations to a large Methodist congregation (Daniel). Maggie was a member of the first Methodist church in the village, which had solidified its congregation by 1847 (Daniel). The church would have been located on present-day College Street, and did not share a minister with other Methodist churches as was common practice in congregations of the time. The church, built in 1837, was much grander than anything that had been previously built in Athens (First United Methodist Church).
The Village of Athens was home to several other congregations of other denominations. There was Mount Zion Baptist Church, the Disciples of Christ (the Christian Church), the African Methodist Episcopal, and several other smaller congregations (Daniel). The period of 1850 to 1870 was marked by the formation of a Catholic Church and an Episcopal mission, which is the current day Church of the Good Shepherd located on University Terrace by Alden Library.
There was little animosity between the different congregations and denominations. “Relations between Athens Protestants, the overwhelming majority of villagers and the Catholic minority seem to have remarkably cordial” (Daniel). Maggie even attended services at the Presbyterian congregation on occasion: on January 12, 1873, she wrote:
Tonight I went with Davis to the Presbyterian Church to hear Elder Dixon”
For Maggie, church was a part of her social life and she always attended services, Bible studies and church speakers with her friends. On March 23, 1873, Maggie wrote:
“After dinner we take a long walk Robbie James Ella & I. Lucy, James & I go to church.”.
The university itself did not affiliate itself with a religion; however it had strong Methodist ties, and the Board of Trustees was controlled by Methodists (Daniel). According to the 1873-74 course catalog, “the University is not sectarian, and no effort is made to inculcate the doctrines of any particular creed or denomination; but care is taken to promote sound and healthy religious sentiments” (Ohio University). Although the university was officially non-sectarian, it promoted Christian values and worked to impart Christian morality in and out of the classroom.
Students of the university could face discipline if they did not attend church functions, with the 1873-74 course catalog noting that “students are required to be present at prayers in the chapel every morning; and a lecture is delivered in the chapel every Sabbath afternoon, at which attendance is also required” (Ohio University).
Many of Maggie’s professors and instructors were also ordained ministers, as religion and higher learning went hand-in-hand, and church ties to universities were not unusual. Miami, Kenyon, and other Ohio universities also had ties to organized religion. “During much of the nineteenth century, the impulse toward college founding in the United States came largely from the Christian churches” (Brubacher).
The interim president during Maggie’s time at the university was William Henry Scott, an ordained Methodist minister who also gave sermons at church when needed, “President William Henry Scott… was equally prone to preach at the Presbyterian Church or the Methodist Church when a guest clergyman was required” (Daniel).
There were several classes on Christianity and theology required for a degree, many of which Maggie struggled with. On January 16, 1873, Maggie wrote:
“I find I have not enough patience with my lessons in theology. I study hard and do not like to miss anything and when I do I can hardly keep the tears from my eyes.”
Studying theology in school and studying the Bible at home were very different, a difference Maggie noted and found frustrating. On April 23, 1873, she wrote:
“I have been in the habit of going to the Bible for rest and I do not care to worry over a Greek lesson in it. Not that I do not want to study it in that language but I want to choose my own time and place.”
Through social activities and university study, religion played a central role Maggie Boyd’s life. Her faith helped shape the person she was and continued to be an essential part of her life after graduation (Boyd).
For photographs and drawings of what Maggie’s world was like living in Athens in the Victorian Era, please check out our Pinterest board, Maggie’s World in 1873. Please follow Maggie’s Twitter account, @MaggieBoyd1873 – we will be chronicling her day-to-day entries from her pocket diary. Also, keep following the Library Blog, the @AldenLibrary Twitter account or the Alden Library Facebook page to read more about the university’s history during Maggie’s time and other aspects of Victorian life.
First United Methodist Church. “A Brief History of the First United Methodist Church.” First United Methodist Church. n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2012.
Boyd, Margaret. “Pocket Diary for 1873.” 1873. Ohio University Archives. Athens, OH. Web. 31 Jan. 2012.
Brubacher, John. Higher Education in Transition. 4th Ed. New Brunswick: Harper & Row, 1997. Print.
Daniel, Robert. Athens, Ohio: The Village Years. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1997. Print.
Ohio University. Annual Catalogue of the Ohio University, 1873-1874. Athens, OH: Ohio University, 1873. Web. 8 March 2012