Elia Peattie, an Uncommon Woman

 

Omaha World-Herald | Short Stories of the West | Ghost Stories | Short Novels | Children's Stories | Miscellaneous

Faiths Observed

The waves of immigrants which reached America's shores during the latter part of the twentieth century carried with them religious backgrounds that would lend increased diversity to the populace of the evolving nation as well as impart spiritual sustenance to those moving westward toward largely unknown horizons. Elia Peattie's Omaha was benefited by the presence of many denominations. By the year 1891, ninety-nine churches had been established in the city: twelve Baptist, ten Catholic, two Christian, ten Congregational, ten Episcopal, three Jewish, one Latter-day Saints, fourteen Lutheran, sixteen Methodist, seventeen Presbyterian, one Adventist, one Unitarian, one Universalist, and the City Mission. [1] Possessed of an inquiring mind that did not allow her much respite from the ongoing quest for truth, Elia recorded in one of her columns the words of a prominent Omaha physician which may have easily doubled as her own: "however much we may learn, we can never harm religion by learning all there is to be known of truth." [2]

True to this aim, Peattie reported on all types of religious activity, regardless of denomination or country of origin. She interviewed missionaries of all sects. One of her columns concerned Congregational missionaries who had voluntarily refused well-paid pastorates in the East in order to serve God in bringing His presence to the plains, the great stage upon which American society was now being built. These "home missionaries," as they were called, had to be very innovative, for they had lived among and taught the Indians, witnessing both massacre and friendship between them and the settlers.

Omaha's best-known Congregational missionary, Father Dresser, told Peattie during their interview, "Whatever was hardest to do was what I burned to do for the Lord." [3] She likewise also attended Free Methodists gatherings held in parks, visited group homes of the Order of the Good Shepherd, which were dedicated to the reform of "fallen women," and chronicled the activities and beliefs of myriad denominations.

Theosophy, a religion originating in France that sought to embrace elements of all major world religions, had attracted attention in the Midwest, a "small but true" group of Theosophists worshipping together in Omaha. [4] As leaders of this movement visited the state, Peattie interviewed them, seeking answers regarding some of the less understood, Eastern-based tenants of their theology, such as reincarnation and hypnotism. These types of meetings often led to discussions about other pressing issues of the day, such as poverty and unionization, where they explored the interrelationships between religious belief and the responsibilities of citizens in public life.

The unprecedented political momentum in support of women's civic and social rights did not leave the realm of faith undisturbed. The creation of a new Bible was championed by a feminist group led by Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton: "It would be 'A Women's Bible,' as the work is by women, commenting on women, no masculine finger in the pie." [5] The group held that "the worst foe [we have] to advancement is the misconception of the Bible as regards woman . . .women's position in the scriptures far inferior to that of man." The canon, they planned, would be rewritten and afterward contain "only those parts of the books as pertain to women." Peattie interviewed Mrs. Stanton and also followed the project to its publication when, unfortunately, it received "unqualified condemnation" from both men and women, who criticized it as "childish, absurd, and pettish." [6]

A number of Peattie's articles discussed the much-debated topic of women's entrance into the clergy. She was quick to point out instances of success in this area, such as the case of the Methodist deaconess, Miss Miller, who led prayers at noon at the Union Pacific shop for some fifty men who usually gathered for the event on the lunch hours; [7] the sincere, street-side exhorting of the Salvation Army soldiers; and acts of anonymous, Christian kindness in the community that came to her attention.


Faiths Observed


References

Omaha Board of Trade: Nebraska's Progress: The Advantages and Resources of Omaha and Douglas County, Neb. As Set Forth by the Omaha Board of Trade. Omaha: Herald Printing, 1880.

Peattie, Elia. "A Rational Christian." Omaha World Herald. 14 February 1892: 16.

———. "A Talk With Annie Besant." Omaha World Herald. 25 December 1892: 7.

———, "A Word With the Women." Omaha World Herald. 6 December 1895: 8.

———, "A Word With the Women." Omaha World Herald. 17 December 1895: 13.

———, "Stanton Bible For Women." Omaha World Herald. 19 May 1895: 18.

———, "The Brave Missionaries." Omaha World Herald. 10 June 1894: 4.


Illustrations

"Pickering Memorial M.E. Church." Omaha Illustrated: A History of The Pioneer Period and The Omaha of Today Embracing Reliable Statistics and Information. Omaha: Dunbar and Co., 1888. (Public domain.)

"View From Eighteenth and Farnham, looking East. Pen drawing after photograph." Broadfield, Wm. E., compiled. Stories of Omaha: Historical Sketches of the Midland City. Omaha: Nicholas and Broadfield, 1898. (Public domain.)

"Interior of All Saints Church." Omaha Illustrated: A History of The Pioneer Period and The Omaha of Today Embracing Reliable Statistics and Information. Omaha: Dunbar and Co., 1888. (Public domain.)


Notes

1 Omaha Board of Trade 15.   [back to text]
2 Peattie "Rational" 16.   [back to text]
3 Peattie "Brave" 4.   [back to text]
4 Peattie "Talk." 7.   [back to text]
5 Peattie "Stanton" 18.   [back to text]
6 Peattie "Word" 12/6/1895: 8.   [back to text]
7 Peattie "Word" 12/17/1895: 13   [back to text]

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