301-926-2256 [email protected]

By Wendy E. Harris, Volunteer Associate Archivist

This past August, the Town Bulletin published Part 1 of an account of the life of Amelia Elmore Huntley, who in 1913 became the first woman in Washington Grove’s history to be elected to the Board of Trustees. Her election was described in the June 8, 1913 edition of The Washington Post as “the first time during the forty years’ history of Washington Grove that a woman has held such a position.” In this, the second part of Amelia’s story, we continue to tell you more about her life, exploring the related questions of what prepared her for this role, and what about Amelia and her qualifications convinced the residents of Washington Grove to elect her. One thing that we have learned in our research is that if such a thing as a Methodist elite existed in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America, Amelia Huntley and her husband Elias DeWitt Huntley would certainly qualify as members.

Amelia was born in 1844, in Ulster County, New York. The family soon moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Because her mother died while Amelia was still a young child, she and her siblings were raised by their father, described in biographical accounts as “a successful businessman” and “an active member of the Methodist Episcopal Church.” As a young woman Amelia attended two schools remembered today for their pioneering roles in providing higher education to American women. The influence of both institutions would become evident in Huntley’s later life and career.

The first, Wisconsin Female College, was located in Milwaukee. Associated with its development was Catherine Beecher, an early advocate for women’s education and the sister of author and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin). Genesee College, which Amelia later attended, was located in Lima, N.Y. and had been founded originally as a Methodist seminary. The school, with its stated purpose of “training of men and women for service in the Methodist Church,” produced a number of remarkable female graduates. Male graduates of note included Elias DeWitt Huntley, an ordained Methodist minister who would later become the president of Lawrence University and Chaplain of the United States Senate. Amelia must have met Elias while at Genesee College. They married in 1867, one year after Elias’s graduation.

Much of what we presently know about the early years of Amelia’s married life is limited to what can be gleaned from the fairly well documented outlines of Elias’s career. Their first decade together was not only peripatetic but also marked by tragedy. They lived first in Wisconsin where Elias worked as a traveling minister, serving a group of Methodist congregations in rural Portage and Nunda townships.

They returned briefly to Genesee College where Elias joined the faculty as Professor of Ancient Languages. Called back to Wisconsin by the Methodist Church, Elias was appointed Presiding Elder of the Madison District. This must have represented a significant promotion not only because of its supervisory responsibilities but also because of Madison’s position as state capital and site of the state university.

We can’t be certain, however, whether Amelia was always with her husband during these many moves. According to census records Amelia (but not Elias) was living in a suburb of Milwaukee in 1870. Significantly, the census listed the presence of two children, Sherman, a baby of three months and George, a one-year old boy. Amelia and Elias would lose them both. George died in 1873, when he was only six years old. Sherman probably died in infancy. We can only speculate as to how the Huntley’s dealt with these devastating losses but given what we know of their lives up to this point, it would not surprise us if they became increasingly immersed in their Methodist faith.

From 1879 to 1883 Elias was the president of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. After this, the couple apparently moved east where Elias was the pastor of Methodist churches in Washington D.C., Annapolis, Baltimore and New York City. The question arises as to what was occurring in Amelia’s life during the years following the deaths of her children. Outside of the domestic realm there were few career paths open to well-educated and ambitious women of Amelia’s generation.

Two of the most available options were the temperance movement and missionary work. Amelia became involved in both, initially as a leader in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Wisconsin and then as a founding member and officer in the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society, a Methodist organization. Amelia’s association with these two organizations would not only have offered her solace and continuity, but also a means to serve humanity within the Methodist framework of “social holiness,” a doctrine dedicated to serving the poor and vulnerable as well as to the religious conversion of others.

In 1912, Amelia was profiled in the book, The Part Taken by Women in American History. Its author, identifying herself as Mrs. John A. Logan, was actually Mary Simmerson Cunningham Logan, a Washington based journalist, women’s suffrage activist, and widow of a United States Senator. Logan’s goal, as explained in the book’s Forward, was “to form a compendium of all names and achievements of women who have taken a part in the vital affairs of this country.” Her scope was enormous, beginning with Native American women and proceeding through American history to the twentieth century.

Amelia was one of the 30 women included in the chapter “Women in the Missionary Field.” Of Amelia, Logan noted her “great genius for organization.” Turning to Amelia’s involvement in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Wisconsin, Logan praised her “fine preventive work” and for “forming reading rooms, night schools, etc.” Regarding Amelia’s work as corresponding secretary for the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society, Logan cited Amelia’s “fine executive ability” and “intelligent enthusiasm.” According to Logan, Amelia was also “a stirring and sympathetic” public speaker.

Additional evidence of Amelia’s efforts on behalf of Methodist missionaries can be found in the April 1913 edition of the journal Women’s Missionary Friend. There we learn of fundraising efforts to construct the “Amelia H. Huntley Hall” at a Methodist boarding school for girls in Fuzhuo, Fujian Province, China. Whether the building was ever completed is unclear.

However, it should be noted that in the spring of 1913, on the other side of the world, Amelia had also just become the first woman ever elected to the Washington Grove Association’s Board of Trustees. In the upcoming third and final installment of Amelia’s story, we will look at what happened when this intelligent, outspoken and zealous woman focused all of her considerable talents upon Washington Grove’s residents and their local government.

Sources: The Washington Post (1877-1922), June 8, 1913, ProQuest Historical Newspapers; Wikipedia; www.findagrave.com; https://archive.org; www.lux.lawrence.edu/mdc/writtenhistories; https://archives.syr.edu/collections/org; https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/idea_of_the_senate/1901Logan.htm

Translate »