Young Women's Christian Association Records, 1892-1961

Biography/History

Baptist history in Wisconsin began at Brothertown, near Fond du Lac, in 1834. Elder Thomas Dick, an Indian of the Brothertown tribe, was the first pastor. The first organization of Baptist churches was formed at Delavan in 1844 under the name “Wisconsin Baptist Convention.” Even prior to that time (1838), delegates representing several churches had met in Milwaukee to form a missionary board for central Wisconsin.

In 1846 the Wisconsin Baptist Convention was dissolved and reorganized as the “Wisconsin Baptist General Association” during a convention held at East Troy. The name was again changed in 1850 to “Wisconsin Baptist State Convention” (WBSC), and thereafter the minutes of its annual meetings were printed. (Bound copies are in the SHSW library.) The Convention was incorporated on April 5, 1852. The Northern Baptist Convention, with which the WBSC became affiliated, was founded in Washington, D.C., in 1907, and is now known as the American Baptist Convention.

A ministers' conference, called the “Ministerial Union,” was established during the Janesville annual convention of 1863. The Ministerial Union had an uninterrupted history of sixty-seven years when it was dissolved in 1931 and merged into the new, comprehensive organization of Wisconsin Baptist Men. In order to meet the specific needs of the clergy, however, a “Ministers' Council” was again organized during 1936-37.

The first women's society within the Wisconsin Baptist Convention was begun in 1871. In that same year, woman delegates to the annual convention were elected for the first time. It is believed that women served at various times as temporary or unofficial pastors of some Baptist churches. The first woman pastor of record, however, was Mrs. E.S. Paulling, whose ministry to the Washington Island church began in 1903.

By 1911, according to the Reverend Edgar Killam (author of the Baptist centennial history), a considerable number of churches had been dissolved and their property turned over to the State Convention. Some “had been hastily constituted in over-churched communities; others suffered and grew weak because of a lack of leadership.” Hence the records of many defunct churches came into the keeping of the State headquarters, which were located wherever the State Superintendent happened to live. The first official State headquarters was established in 1913 by Superintendent Dr. D.W. Hulburt, and was located at 1717 West Wells Street, Milwaukee.

Other records deposited at State headquarters include those of the Milwaukee Baptist Union which was organized in 1920 “to study conditions and promote the work of Baptists in the ... city and its suburbs.” The Union functioned until 1934 when its work was assumed by the State Convention.

Dr. Hulburt was succeeded as State Superintendent in 1921 by Dr. Abraham LeGrand who served until 1939. His successor, the Reverend J.W. Herring, died in August, 1940. Thereafter the Reverend T. Knudsen served both as acting Superintendent and investment treasurer until the appointment of Dr. Ezra G. Roth in May, 1941. Reverend Knudsen remained as investment treasurer for some years under Dr. Roth. The “Roth files” in this collection include some correspondence of LeGrand, Herring, and Knudsen.

The Free Baptists

The first Wisconsin church of the Free Baptists was organized at New Berlin in 1840. Churches were established at Honey Creek and at Prairie du Lac (Janesville) in 1841. These three churches formed the “Honey Creek Quarterly Meeting” in 1842. The Rock Creek Quarterly Meeting was initiated in 1845, at which time the two regional groups set up the “Wisconsin Yearly Meeting of Free Baptists.”

There was always general cooperation between the “regular” and “Free” Baptists. In 1904 the possibility of organic unity was proposed and thereafter explored. The last state meeting of the Free Baptists took place June 26-28, 1913. Only one person who had been present at the first meeting in 1845, Mrs. Arimintha Mattison, was present for the final Yearly Meeting. Following that meeting the Free Baptists became an integral part of the regular Baptist State Convention. The records of many of the old Free churches are found among the papers deposited with the SHSW by Dr. Ezra Roth in 1960.