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First Presbyterian Church, Neenah, Wisconsin, 1848-1998; 150 years of mission and ministry

Hansen, Jane
Presbyterian women,   pp. 74-75

Page 74

'Presbyterian 'Women 
by Jane Hansen 
     The year was 1852. The place was Neenah, 
Wisconsin although it was called Winnebago 
Rapids then. The very first Presbyterian Church 
had been formed just four years before. This little 
band of believers dreamed of building a real 
church. In the meantime, they had been meeting 
in a room over Yale and Jones general store in 
downtown Neenah. Now, on this cold day in 
January the new church, a beautiful white frame 
structure, was finally completed and dedicated. 
     But dark clouds appeared! Ugly rumors were 
abroad that one of the sisters in Christ was guilty 
of stealing - yes, stealing - a black silk dress 
from a member's clothesline. She maintained her 
innocence but suspicion was too strong. A two- 
day trial was held with the pastor as judge and the 
elders as jury. She was found guilty because she 
could not explain how she came to have two 
black silk sewing aprons which the prosecutor 
charged were made from the stolen dress! She 
eventually repented and returned to her place in 
the church. Thus a dark chapter closed with a 
happy ending. 
     One hundred forty-eight years have passed 
and no sister in Christ has been this kind of 
transgressor since. Quite the contrary, the First 
Presbyterian Church would be a very different 
place today without the dedication, caring, and 
hard work of hundreds of women. 
     In the 1860s, John Proctor and other men of 
the church had admonished the Elders to be very 
cautious about opening the doors of the church 
for any other purpose than religious worship. 
However, the women saw a great need for young 
people to enjoy church activities as well as and 
apart from worship. Mr. Proctor et al remained 
adamant so Helen Cheney Kimberly held socials 
in her own home. The young people really 
enjoyed themselves-the games, the refreshments 
-just a nice, innocent fellowship with each 
other... .there was no dancing!! Because, of course, 
dancing was considered one of the worst sins! 
     When Dr. J. E. Chapin was called to be 
pastor of the church in 1870, he had the revolu- 
tionary idea that women of the church were a 
resource that could be used for the good of all! He 
helped the women form a missionary society. For 
the first time, a woman attended trustee meetings 
to report about mission society activities and 
about money the missionary society had earned. 
This was in order to receive guidance concerning 
its use because, of course, everyone recognized 
that women had no ability in financial matters! 
     The kindly Dr. Chapin had so changed the 
present and future status of the women of the 
church that when, after a pastorate of 33 years, at 
a worship service in 1903, he announced his 
resignation, the congregation was stunned! Many 
of the members had never known another pastor. 
It was recorded in a journal of the time, "As wept 
the Ephesian elders, bidding farewell to the 
departing apostle, Paul, so wept the congregation 
at the close of the service as they gathered about 
the pastor to express their regrets." 
     In the twenties and thirties the women, by 
then known as the Women's Society, really got 
into high gear! They held annual international 
sales to raise money to help pay for a hospital in 
Persia and to pay their pledge to the Near East 
Relief Fund. They made quilts for the orphans in 
North Carolina and the orphans in Winneconne 
and quilts for Theda Clark Hospital. They were 
always there to help people in trouble. When a 
family in Crivitz was burned out, the Women's 
Society was among the first to send them a box of 
quilts, underwear, towels, shoes, hats, dishes, 
canned goods, and a 25-pound box of prunes! 
     World War II changed Neenah, just as it did 
the rest of the country and the world. People had 
become more aware of their beliefs. Church 
programs flourished everywhere. Our church 
school classes were so crowded that many women 
began to teach for the first time. Traffic around 
the church was hazardous to such an extent that 
the police had to plan traffic flow patterns for the 
children's safety. 
     As soon as we could, our church sent 
missionaries overseas again to spread news of the 
Prince of Peace. We especially supported the 
Adams in Korea and the Chattersons in Africa. 
The women sent linens and even a washing 
machine to the Chattersons who hosted hundreds 
of visitors in the Cameroons. A headline in the 
Bell declared, "Ned Needs Jeep." Everyone knew 
Ned was Ned Adams, our missionary, and in just 
a few months the joint efforts of women and men 
collected funds for the jeep. 
     The Women's Society had 14 circles by this 
time and there were 19 Lenten study groups with 

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