By Wendy E. Harris, Volunteer Associate Archivist
In our previous installment, we left Amelia during the spring of 1913. That April, fundraising efforts were underway to construct the “Amelia E. Huntley Hall” on the campus of a Methodist boarding school for girls in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, China. In June, Amelia became the first woman ever elected to the Washington Grove Association’s Board of Trustees. She would then have been in her early 70s and possibly just emerging from the loss of her beloved husband, Reverend Elias DeWitt Huntley (1840-1909), pastor to a series of Washington D.C. Methodist churches and a former chaplain of the United States Senate.
In the difficult years following Reverend Huntley’s death, Amelia continued with her work as corresponding secretary for the Baltimore chapter of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society. In 1910, she traveled to Scotland to serve as a delegate to the International Conference on Missions. As noted in our last article, missionary work (often unpaid) was one of the few career options then available to educated women such as Amelia.
The June 8, 1913 Washington Post article that covered Amelia’s election ran it under the headline “WASHINGTON GROVE ELECTS.” According to the article, “the factional fight among the conservative and progressive members of the Grove culminated in the election of the three progressive candidates.” Because the election occurred at the height of America’s so-called Progressive Era (circa late 1880s to early 1920s), the word “progressive” carried with it a different set of meanings than it does today.
Historians have long sought to craft a concise definition for the period but it is probably best understood as an attempt by Americans to reform nearly every aspect of their society. By the time the three progressive candidates (Amelia among them) assumed office, conditions in Washington Grove had deteriorated to the point where reform was badly needed. Washington Grove Association president, L. Cabell Williamson, described the situation as follows in his 1914 annual report:
“…practically no money in the treasury; the streets and avenues were not lighted; the pumps were in need of repair; the superintendent’s cottage was so dilapidated that it was liable to collapse; the hotel was badly out of repair…”
These problems and others evidently developed during Major Samuel Walker’s tenure as the Association’s president (1909-1913). Amelia, along with another newly elected progressive Board member, Frank Rynex, was appointed to the Grounds Committee where they tackled and resolved most of these problems within the year. According to Philip K. Edwards’s Washington Grove, 1873-1937, one additional aspect of the so-called “Walker Years,” was unease over what was perceived as a change to the Grove’s character.
Many in the community believed that this had been brought about by Walker’s actions, as both the Association’s president and as a private citizen. Amelia, once elected, quickly became (excuse the cliché) a thorn in Major Walker’s side. Since there is limited space in the Town Bulletin, we will look beyond Amelia’s skirmishes with Walker, and concentrate instead upon her achievements, a number of which were accomplished with the aid of other Grove women.
Historians have identified the general issues that attracted Progressive Era reformers. Among these were civic betterment, the regulation of corporations, public health, conservation, and improving housing and factory conditions. Within the realm of civic betterment, women became deeply involved in improving the physical landscapes of their communities. As early as 1905, the Civics Committee of Washington Grove’s Women’s Guild turned their attentions to “the Main Entrance and the Circle.”
In 1906, the Guild was granted “the privilege of beautifying Knott Park.” Once Amelia became an Association trustee and a member of the Grounds Committee, she ensured that such efforts continued to receive the Association’s support. At a 1915 meeting of the Board, she presented the Guild’s plan “for the improvement of Wade Park,” some of which also addressed a series of troublesome drainage issues. That same evening she also presented a plan “for the improvement of the entrance to the Grove at the railroad station.”
The Board approved both plans, noting that the project designs, created by Netta Craig, were very “artistic.” Board of Trustees meeting minutes from 1916 record their approval of yet another park project presented by Amelia on behalf of the Guild. In this instance, “Miss Godey and Miss Reese [proposed] to improve and beautify the Jackson Park by planting plants and making walks therein.”
Arbor Day holds special significance for the residents of Washington Grove, who observe it here every spring. First originated in Nebraska in 1872, it began to receive national attention in 1907 due to efforts by President Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, a leader in the Progressive Era’s conservation movement and chief of the United States Forest Service. Although we in the archives would like to know more about the history of the town’s involvement with Arbor Day observances, one fact that we have uncovered is that it was Amelia who first introduced Arbor Day into Grove life.
In 1913, as part of its package of Grove reforms, the Board created a Forestry Committee. In the Board of Trustees meeting minutes from March of that year we learn that Amelia, speaking on behalf of this newly formed committee, reported “they had an offer on the part of a Baltimore expert on trees to come to the Grove and give an opinion on trees.” The expert was Fred W. Besley, a protégé of Gifford Pinchot and Maryland’s first State Forester, a position he occupied from 1906 to 1942. Besley would also become the author of The Forests of Maryland (1916), which was based upon seven years of field research and the first such work produced in the United States.
Besley toured the Grove’s woodlands on July 29, 1913. At their September meeting, the Board of Trustees voted to accept his assessment and its recommendations. During the same meeting, Amelia made a motion that “a day to be known as Arbor Day” be designated in the spring of 1914 and that the trustees invite Besley. The letter inviting Besley and his cordial reply stating that he would happily attend are now in the Grove’s archives. According to the trustees’ letter, “further details have been left to the Forestry Committee from whom you will no doubt hear later.” Unfortunately we have yet to find evidence that the event actually occurred, and if it did occur, whether or not Besley was a participant.
The records indicate that Amelia continued to serve on the Board of Trustees until 1925. Over the years she became less active on such committees as Grounds, Sanitation, and Forestry, instead preferring to devote all of her energies to the Religious Services Committee. The March 4, 1934 edition of the Washington Post marked Amelia’s 90th birthday with the headline, “Mrs. Huntley, 90, Holds Celebration, Many Friends Feliciate Noted Church Worker.”
The paper reported that the event, held at her Washington Grove home, was attended by “lifelong friends” and that she received telegrams “from all over the United States.” Amelia died two years later, in 1936. Appropriately enough, her passing occurred as the Washington Grove Association approached its official transformation from a Methodist camp meeting ground to the secular municipality known today as the Town of Washington Grove.
46: Sources/Washington Grove Archives: Annual Report of the President (L. Cabell Williamson), May 1914; Committee Membership Lists, 1913-1925; Grounds Committee Reports, 1913-1915;
Washington Grove Association Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes 1905, 1906, 1913, 1915, 1916; Washington Grove Association Correspondence 1913.
Additional Sources: Philip K. Edwards Washington Grove, 1873-1937; www.findagrave.com (Huntley); Ross Kimmel and Offutt Johnson, “The History of Maryland State Parks” https://dnr.maryland.gov/Pages/md-conservation-history/State-Park-History.aspx; Eric Rutkow, American Canopy: Trees, Forests and the Making of a Nation; Bonj Szczygiel “City Beautiful Revisited: An Analysis of Nineteenth-Century Civic Improvement Efforts,” Journal of Urban History 2003, 29:107; Robert H. Wiebe 1967 The Search for Order, 1877-1920; The Washington Post (1877-1922), June 8, 1913, March 4, 1934, ProQuest Historical Newspapers; Woman’s Missionary Friend, 1913, Volume 45-145.