Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

Monday, May 01, 2006

Religion in Hampden

Well, now that the semester is over I'll be going on my honeymoon for a couple of weeks, and then preparing to come out to Hampden, so this is likely my last post before I get there. I figured I'd talk a little about some of the archival research I want to try to do this summer when Dave and I aren't getting very dirty in other people's yards.

This past semester I was an instructor for the course "Religion in America" here at the University of Michigan. I learned a lot myself (I must admit that previously I had little knowledge of the topic), and now I'm interested in looking into the topic in Hampden. We already know that a large number of Hampden workers were Methodists, but there were also Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, and probably others. Camp revival meetings, when preachers from all over would converge in a field near Hampden and exhort the message of the Gospels to the masses, were a very important and popular part of social life in Hampden from the 1860s through the early 20th century. Interestingly, this time period in general was not particularly known for such public displays of religiosity. (The Second Great Awakening lasted roughly from 1800 to 1835, and the next outpouring of religious fervor began in the 1910s.)

E.P. Thompson established the connection between Methodism and the labor movement in England in his classic book "The Making of the English Working Class," and labor historian Herbert Gutman wrote an article titled "Protestantism and the American Labor Movement: The Christian Spirit in the Gilded Age," published in 1966. In this article, Gutman argues that labor activists during the late 19th century actively used the Christian scriptures to argue for the rights of working people (even as capitalists and their allies used the Bible to defend laissez-faire capitalism). But, as I've written on this blog before, the 1917 "History of Hampden Methodist Protestant Church" makes barely any mention of Hampden's industries, much less the fact that a large part (if not all) of the congregation would have worked for the mills. So my question is, did religion act as a deterrent to militant labor activity in Hampden (as Karl Marx might suggest), or did it actually provide workers with some support for their various attempts to gain better wages, working conditions and standards of living over the years?

Thus, one of my goals this summer is to try to get into some church archives in Hampden this summer to see if I can unearth some information about the role of religion in Hampden. Some of the things I will be looking for include social activities and public events organized by churches for workers or in support of workers in times of labor unrest; the position of the churches and their members on the camp meeting revivals that were so popular; public statements by local ministers concerning strikes, such as the 1923 strike at Mt. Vernon Mills, in which local clergy played an important role in getting the mayor of Baltimore to intervene; and even any evidence from sermons to suggest the general stance of ministers on the labor-capital relationship over the decades.

If you have any documents, personal memories or family stories about church activities in Hampden, from any time period, I'd love to hear from you and to incorporate this information into our research.


Post a Comment

<< Home