American Religous Experience

Religious Fervor in the Fairmont Field: Calls for Revival and Reform in the “Coal City,” 1908-1929

Carletta H. Bush / West Virginia University

Industrialization brought both prosperity and problems to rural areas as well as cities across the nation. As the twentieth century dawned, the problems associated with industrialization only intensified. Industrialization and commercialization also meant an influx of immigration and increased cultural conflict, a surge in crime and alcohol abuse, technological change, seasonal labor and unemployment, child labor, low wages, and industrial strife. As a result, urban America became the nation’s new frontier and home to its greatest problems.[1] Workers, whether native white or immigrant, skilled or unskilled, found that their material conditions changed rapidly, and often without warning, but not “the world of their mind and spirit.” Historian Herbert Gutman argues that during the Gilded Age, industrial workers drew upon older religious traditions and beliefs to cope with the problems of the new industrial order. Thus, having “no pattern of life suited to the new age,” these first industrial workers were forced to “looked backwards as much as forwards” for ways to adjust to their new circumstances.

"While labor historians have been hesitant to discuss the role of religion in the lives of the working class—usually relegating it to the periphery and treating it as a separate, non-mitigating issue—it remains a factor that cannot be ignored"

Yet it was not only workers who looked backward to their faith to make sense of a world that was in a state of flux as well as for solutions to the problems created by industrialization and urbanization.[2] Employers, both small business owners and the captains of industry, looked to society’s institutions, including the church, for help in ensuring that all members of the community conformed to the prevailing social economic, and political interests of an industrial society, one that was dependent upon a well-disciplined work force.

While labor historians have been hesitant to discuss the role of religion in the lives of the working class—usually relegating it to the periphery and treating it as a separate, non-mitigating issue—it remains a factor that cannot be ignored. As H. Richard Niebuhr observed, religion is deeply interwoven with social conditions to the point that these conditions determine the theology of each group of believers.[3] The question to be asked is, which members determine a church’s theology? While it is true that denominational doctrine provides the foundation for a local congregation’s religiosity, the members of individual congregations respond to their denomination’s doctrine according to their own economic, political, and social circumstances. At the end of the nineteenth century, American churches were generally middle class in composition, respectable, and secure in their belief in the American way of life but strongly committed to individualistic piety.[4] Those members with the greatest social influence determined their congregation’s theology. As America raced to industrialize and urbanize as the nineteenth century came to a close, capitalists assumed positions of importance within the community, especially the church. Business owners presided over their operations much like a king reigned over his kingdom, but their influence carried into every segment of society, becoming the “unchallenged arbiters of social policy … and guardians of community welfare.”[5] They leveraged their positions within the church and the community at large to convince workers and the rest of the public to accept the new definition of progress, one based upon industrialization and urbanization, and work to the public good. The clergy played a key role in furthering conformity because it represents, according to Niebuhr, the morality of the “respectable majority.”[6] As the race to industrialize intensified between 1880 and World War I, Americans looked to their faith for reassurance and solutions to life’s problems. The nation would also witness another period of spiritual awakening.

Historian William McLoughlin has labeled the period of 1890-1920 as the Third Great Awakening. The Civil War had a profound effect upon America’s churches. In the South, the war left individuals a well as churches searching for ways to experience wholeness and become re-integrated into the new social order. In the North, the war left churches marked by a “crusade mentality.” The penchant for crusades became particularly strong in the 1880s as pre-millenialist holiness advocates pointed to the “fallowness of the present ages,” an age that had even served to corrupt popular churches. This would give birth to a great modern missionary movement, both at home and abroad.[7] America experienced a wave of revivals that were encouraged and financed by many industrialists who feared that the growing immigrant population would undermine American values and institutions. “Old light” prophets such as Billy Sunday and clergymen across the nation championed the “old time religion.” These preachers reflected the fears of millions of pious Americans who lived in the nation’s cities as well as in the rural “Bible Belt.”[8]

The small towns and cities of West Virginia were not exempt from the changes wrought in the name of progress. West Virginia coal fueled America’s industrial expansion. Consequently, the state was in the mainstream of the nation’s social, economic, and political mainstream after 1900 and, like capitalists across the nation, the state’s businessmen achieved almost religious status as the purveyors of progress and prosperity. The state’s educational, political, and industrial leaders worked to ensure the state’s role as a “resource zone for the perceived greater good of the national expansion and strength.”[9] Although many captains of industry were at least partially motivated by their concern for men’s souls, they also saw these revivals as a means for improving both the quality of community life as well as the quality of their work force. Visiting evangelists and local clergymen played a key role in the Americanization of immigrants before World War I and in the industrial Americanization of all West Virginians in the postwar era. As John Hennen states in his book The Americanization of West Virginia: Creating a Modern Industrial State, 1916-1925, class-conscious social, political, professional leaders used their power and influence to ensure that their hierarchical vision of the community was accepted by the majority. All of the state’s institutions worked to further Industrial Americanization, the process by which the habits of industry, obedience to authority, and the worship of law and order, were instilled into every citizen.[10] This work takes Hennen’s thesis one step further. I maintain that the church played an important part in creating a community and work force that would ensure industrial expansion and stability. Fairmont’s captains of industry participated in the revivals during the Third Great Awakening as active participants, financiers, and shapers of their local churches' ritual and theology.

Religious leaders, workers and reformers based many of their criticisms as well as their solutions to the problems of industrialization upon their “notion of right,” a perception that was based upon both the republican political tradition and traditional American Protestantism, in particular, the idea of Christian perfection. According to Clifton E. Olmstead, perfection “increased steadily in American Evangelical Protestantism throughout and beyond the Civil War, “ flourishing “primarily in urban areas where the social problems and the individual frustrations presented a peculiar challenge to those who believed that Christianity could ‘work’ to the betterment of mankind.”[11] Trade unionists, reformers, and labor radicals, argues Gutman, felt the transition from a pre-industrial to an industrial society and bore the social, economic and psychological brunt of the American industrializing process after 1860. Their religious beliefs, especially their adherence to the “timeless truths” of the Bible, served to sanction their criticisms against the existing industrial order and calls for reform.[12] The quest for holiness became the “plain man’s transcendentalism,” and evangelists played a key role in fighting against poverty and greed. Historian Timothy Smith states that revivalism emerged from the frontier to dominate the urban religious scene in the second half of the nineteenth century. He is, however, incorrect in believing that it peaked during this period as well, especially where Appalachia is concerned, with its preponderance of small towns and cities that experienced tremendous growth after 1900 as coal became king.[13]

"Coal became the principal industry by 1910, and within ten years, the coal industry employed over one fifth of the region’s work force."

The people who lived in the Monongahela Valley between the turn of the twentieth century and the Crash of ‘29 were living in a time of tremendous change. The valley, comprised of the northern West Virginia counties of Barbour, Harrison, Preston, Monongalia, and Marion, lay on top of one of the most important coal beds in North America, the Monongahela series. Mining this coal, in particular, the Pittsburgh seam, would cause the valley to become one of the greatest coal regions in world during the first two decades of the century. Coal was the primary source of cheap energy for the nation and much of Europe until it was dethroned by the rise of oil and gas after World War I. The availability of Appalachian coal fueled America’s drive to industrial supremacy after 1890.[14] Indeed, commencing in the last decade of the nineteenth century, Fairmont boosters touted the city’s benefits to investors- its natural resources, location—halfway between eastern markets in Baltimore and New York and western markets in Chicago-, the public spirit of its people, and its shipping facilities.[15] Civic and industrial leaders along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, particularly those in Fairmont, formed a partnership with the railroad with the goal of boosting “home industry” through the use of scientific agriculture and diversification. With improvements in the railroad line around the turn of the century, the 1910s became a decade of diversification for the city. Natural gas served as a basis of development for the glass industry. The Owens Bottling plant, the Monongah Glass Company, Mid-West Box Company, and other smaller plants, flour mills, and an electrical service company were established in the city during the teens. The Board of Trade offered “free factory sites, cheap fuel, plenty of water, and good labor conditions (plentiful and cheap)” to manufacturers. Fairmont became the most diversified city in the Upper Monongahela Valley. The economic boom generated by World War I only served to fuel its growth.[16] Hence, the society of the Upper Monongahela Valley was no longer an agrarian one with life centered on the family farm. Instead, it was evolving into a small industrial society that would be complete by 1920. The population of the region doubled between 1890 and 1920, with most of this increase being attributed to urbanization. The city of Fairmont exhibited the most growth as its population nearly doubled. Thanks to the nation’s industrial growth, growth that was fueled with Appalachian coal, and policy and internal improvements on the B&O railroad, the regional economy surged forward rapidly.[17]

Yet the success of region’s coal operators in resisting drives by the United Mine Workers of America to unionize the field was the most important ingredient to the area’s growth and prosperity. Coal became the principal industry by 1910, and within ten years, the coal industry employed over one fifth of the region’s work force. The Marion County town of Fairmont became known as the “Coal City.” Fairmont also became the “capital” of the valley that soon became known as the Fairmont Field since many of the leading capitalists who developed the mines in the Fairmont field established their headquarters in the city’s downtown. These early operators were indigenous to the city and eager to remain in their hometown.[18] James Otis Watson (1815-1912) is the Father of the Coal Industry in West Virginia. Watson, his son-in-law and future governor of the Mountain State A.B. Fleming, and his sons, Sylvanius, James Edward, and Clarence became the leading coal barons of the state as well as the entire region. The latter four became known as the “Big 4,” the inner circle of the Fairmont Ring which comprised the most powerful business and political group in the region. The “Big Four” and more than a dozen other men in Marion County also became millionaires, profiting by the 1920s. Members of the Fairmont Ring and their contemporaries invested their great wealth in infrastructure, commerce, and industry across the region. The bulk of their wealth, however, was invested in Fairmont.[19] Their influence went beyond financial expenditures to the political and spiritual realms, especially when it came to Prohibition.

Temperance had been the focus of reform movements since the Republic's early days. America’s concept of liquor a benign aspect of life changed during the Second Great Awakening as evangelical Christians came to perceive alcohol as a threat to society. Various temperance movements emerged to combat its evils throughout the nineteenth century. As a result, state prohibition laws were passed in thirteen states between 1851 and 1855. Although these early laws were soon reversed, the early movement forced the consumption of alcohol into the public arena and managed to modify Americans’ drinking habits.[20]

As America rushed to industrialize in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Prohibition emerged as a national issue as many Protestant Americans touted it as the solution to many of the nation’s ills. Religious affiliation and national origin shaped the public’s perception of alcohol during the second half of the nineteenth century. Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians perceived conversion and sobriety as a critical aspect of salvation while Catholics, Episcopalians, and German Lutherans believed that their core doctrines were the mainstay of true reglion. The old stock Americans, the English, Scotch, and Scandinavians, usually favored Prohibition more than immigrants such as the Italians, Germans, Poles, and Irish who emigrated to America after 1870. As the latter group moved into the nation’s cities, the wets and drys became divided along urban and rural lines. Support for Prohibition was also divided along party lines. The Republican Party took up the cause. In contrast to this, the Democratic Party, through the maneuverings of the local political machinery, absorbed the new immigrants. However, not wanting to alienate its large German-American constituency, Republicans supported law enforcement rather than prohibition. Thus, as historian Robert Hamm points out, new state prohibition laws “came about primarily through the efforts of local drys that subverted Republican State parties to their own ends.”[21] Furthermore, prohibition supported the economic goals of party leaders in most industrial states. West Virginia was certainly no exception.

Coal operators such as the Watsons dominated the political machinery in West Virginia and owned both the Republican and Democratic parties in the state. Many of these operators were proponents of Prohibition because they believed that the use of alcohol among laborers decreased production and increased accidents and absenteeism. Sober workers were also better providers for their families. Furthermore, laws requiring employers to compensate workers injured in industrial accidents encouraged employers to jump on the bandwagon for sobriety. West Virginia’s prohibition movement was not aimed at the abolition of alcohol, but at the shutting down of saloons and the liquor trade. One coal company owner opined, “The coal states, at least should be dry. I believe the operators are unanimous on this question.”[22]

The drive to pass laws against the use of the “demon rum” went “hand in hand” with industrialization and Americanization efforts in the state. Thus, as large numbers of immigrants entered the work force during the 1910s and 1920s, support for Prohibition increased among Protestant Americans. By 1910, there were 28,000 immigrant miners in the state of which 7,680 were employed in the Fairmont Field alone.[23]

The statewide prohibition law, eventually passed in 1912, would exempt both imported liquor and homemade wine, and upon local enforcement rather than federal coercion. Until then, prohibition laws were passed on the municipal level. Because of this, public support was essential if laws that prohibited the use of alcohol were to be passed. To do this, operators needed the support of the most influential men of their communities, their clergy. Most ministers were more than willing to comply with industrialists’ requests to speak out on the dangers of imbibing, believing that the relationship between capital and labor was not solely an economic, social, or governmental one, but religious and ethical as well. Progressive ministers believed that it was in the best interests of the church to be involved in all aspects of society since “her very existence” depended upon the “righteousness in men” and “between men.” Moreover, godly men were also honest and reliable, hardworking employees.[24] Consequently, many sermons preached during the time period of this study contained admonitions against the demon rum.

With seventeen saloons present in the city at one time, liquor was a serious problem in Fairmont by the turn of the century. The question of licensing came up for a vote each year until the state amendment against prohibition was passed in 1912. In 1904, Reverend George W. Kinsey, a Baptist minister was elected mayor. Another minister, Reverend Jeremiah Engle, a Methodist, was elected as the town clerk. The liquor license for the city was passed at the same election, and it was the official duty of the mayor and the clerk to sign the license. Local historian Allison Fleming Sweeney recalled that this duty certainly distressed these ministers and their congregations, but amused those employed in the liquor business.[25]

Reverend J.C. Broomfield, the most liberal of the city’s ministers where the working man was concerned, took up the cause of Prohibition before the municipal election in 1909. In a “red hot sermon” preached to his congregation at the Methodist Protestant Temple on February 15, Broomfield “took up the license question and handled it without gloves.” Broomfield accused the Republicans of allowing the whiskey men to handle their party conventions in at least three of the city’s wards and warned the Democrats that unless they were careful, the “rumsters” would “pack their convention" and sponsor candidates who would support the interests of the liquor trade.[26] Ministers and a leader from the Anti-Saloon League held a series of talks on Prohibition at the courthouse and churches across the city one month later. The speakers exhorted their listeners to avoid “rum, bums, and crumbs” and called for religious people to publicly take a stand against the liquor interests in the upcoming election.[27]

Fairmont, West Virginia c. 1900

In less than a week, however, the focus at the Temple turned from the evils of the demon rum to the condition of men’s souls. The Temple sponsored a series of revival meetings for three weeks during February and March with Reverend Alexander Davidson, a prominent evangelist who was primarily known for his work as the “business head” of the great Philadelphia campaign of 1907. H. S. Anderson, a prominent vocalist, directed the music, one of the most important aspects of any successful revival. Anderson directed a 40-voice choir and brought with him a new hymnal that had been first used during the Baltimore campaign and had been recently used in Morgantown.[28] Unlike Broomfield and other Social Gospelers of the period, Davidson was disinterested in social reform. He warned the congregation that he was not in the “muck rake business.” In fact, Davidson hoped that the Prohibition activity had not dampened the people’s enthusiasm for winning souls to Christ. The evangelist declared that all segments of society, business, the church, and the home, needed spiritual cleansing if these institutions were to be preserved. He promised to preach the gospel. The evangelist declared that people were tired of social and religious fads and were hungry for the gospel. Furthermore, West Virginia was “in the path of a present sweep of religious feeling.” Revival drives saloons from the community, stated Davidson, encourages people to pay their debts, settle their quarrels, sing when they go to church, and treat one another “squarely” and with respect.[29]

The evangelist focused upon the gospel message and preached three to five times on Sundays and nightly during the rest of the week from February 26th through March 15th. The crowds grew so large that people were turned away during the last week of services. The church instituted the practice of home visitation during the revival, and over 1,000 members were visited in one day during the last week of meetings. The Fairmont Times noted that the campaign was the “most notable” one carried on in the city for years and (evidently comparing Davidson to flamboyant evangelists such as Billy Sunday) credited it with a “lack of sensationalism… and an abundance of common sense.” More than one hundred souls were saved during the campaign. On the Sunday after the revival ended, fifty-five new members were welcomed into the church and forty were baptized.[30]

Churches across the city regularly held their annual revival meetings during the first quarter of the year. Consequently, revivals were held in nearly all of the evangelical churches during the month of March. It was not unusual to attract crowds so large that people had to be turned away from services. Men were usually targeted for conversion. Hence, special invitations were issued to men who never went to church, urging them to “just try a night at church [as a remedy] ‘for the blues.’”[31]

Prohibition continued to be a primary target for reform as many West Virginians, especially those in the working class, turned to alcohol instead of the church as a cure “for the blues.” Thus, in 1912, Republican governor William Glasscock and the state legislature submitted a prohibition amendment to the voters. This amendment would prohibit the manufacture, sale, or keeping of alcohol. Proponents claimed that its passage was both a moral and an economic issue, stating that prohibition would increase efficiency, property values, the number of men employed, earning power, and the stability of families. Rallies for the amendment were staged throughout the state. A special attraction at many of these rallies was a special appearance by Reverend William A. “Billy” Sunday. Sunday toured the state in a special train during a “whirlwind campaign” for the amendment. He spoke in ten towns during a five-day period from a special car.[32] Sunday arrived in Fairmont on November 2, the day after giving a speech in Morgantown in the Swisher Theatre where even “enthusiastic young men” from West Virginia University filled the galleries of the opera house.[33] In addition, Sunday spoke to a “monster congregation” at the First Methodist Episcopal Church where 2,400 filled the sanctuary. More than a thousand spectators also crowded into the sanctuary and overflow rooms at the Methodist Protestant Temple in a “overflow meeting” to hear other speakers address the Prohibition issue. Sunday exhorted the crowd to support the amendment, declining to take a dime, declaring that speaking in Fairmont was his contribution to the movement. He attacked traffickers, renters of saloons and voters who passed the liquor licenses, in a sermon “full of statistics and figures as a government almanac.” These people, warned Sunday, were dangers to the race as well as to the “national pocketbook.”[34] The campaign was successful. Three days after Sunday’s swing through Fairmont, the voters of West Virginia ratified the amendment by a landslide. The Progressives may have won this battle, but they did not win the war against ole barleycorn. As with states across the nation, it would be an uphill battle to rid the Mountain State of alcohol. Hence, until Prohibition was finally appealed in 1933, progressive ministers would continue to exhort their congregations to abstain from the evils of drink.

"Businessmen perceived that the workers who walked down the sawdust trail on Sunday night were more likely remain to sober and, hopefully, more safety conscious and productive."

Booze was not the only concern on the minds of the citizens in 1912. The marriage between capital, politicians, and the judicial branch in the state had resulted in tying the hands of United Mine Worker organizers who had been trying to organize miners under the UMWA banner since 1897. First, Judge Alston Dayton of Philippi issued a temporary restraining order preventing the UMWA from organizing the Hitchman mines in Tunnelton (Preston County) in 1907. This precedent-setting order established the legality of individual or “yellow dog” contracts, which forbade employees to join unions. This would have a disastrous effect on organizing efforts in the Fairmont field. Secondly, in April 1908, the champion of the union in Preston County, Sam Montgomery, was defeated in his bid for renomination for State Senate. The Fairmont Coal Company, the “Whiskey Ring,” and with the Baltimore and Ohio, Morgantown and Kingwood, and West Virginia railroads beat Montgomery using foreign and black vote in the primary. As a result, the Fairmont field remained in the capitalist hands of C.W. Watson who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1911. Those sympathetic to organized labor and reform turned to the left. The state Socialist party achieved its greatest success between 1912 and 1912. One of its most prominent supporters in Fairmont was none other than Reverend J.C. Broomfield.[35]

Organized labor gained some of its staunchest supporters from ministers who advocated the Social Gospel. One of the most nationally known supporters of labor was Charles Stelzle, a Presbyterian minister and card-carrying union man himself. Stelzle, who frequently attended American Federation of Labor conventions as an official delegate, believed that the working man was going to win his war for industrial democracy. When he did, Stelzle warned that he would turn his back on a church that was disinterested in his plight. The religious spirit of the labor movement would either capture the church or become a religious movement that would rival the church for the affections and support of the working class, a group that increasingly comprised the major segment of the urban population. He chastised ministers who failed to “read the sign of the times.”[36]

J. C. Broomfield did not need any encouragement from his peers to take up the cross of organized labor or Socialism. The Fairmont Socialists fielded an entire slate of candidates for election to county offices in 1911. On the eve of the election Broomfield gave an address entitled “Is Socialism as a Protest Justified?” to a large crowd. In spite of his strong endorsement of Socialism as the key to progress, none of the candidates succeeded in winning office in the election.[37]

This would not be the last time that Reverend Broomfield would educate his congregation on the benefits of Socialism. In February 1912, he once again defended Socialism at the request of the Fairmont Ministerial Association. Using Matthew 6:33 as his text, he urged his congregation, of which approximately 200 were Socialists, to demand that economic wrongs be righted and industrial conditions be changed. However, he declared that modern industrialism, not modern capitalism, were to blame for the problems society now faced. Broomfield did not advocate Marxist Socialism, with its call for radical revolution and the abolition of private property. Nor did Broomfield support Scientific Socialism. The minister told his audience that Scientific Socialism, with its materialistic orientation and primary objective being the regeneration of society through legislative means, was doomed for failure. Instead, he called for an adherence to Christian Socialism, Socialism that was built upon cooperation and brotherhood between the working and capitalist classes. This cooperation, however, would not be possible without a change of heart. Until individuals are saved from their sins and become new creatures in Christ, true brotherhood is impossible. Thus, he urged his listeners to answer God’s call and “seek FIRST the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things- the things essential to our social and economic well being- shall be added unto you.”[38]

H. L. Weeks responded to Broomfields’ comments in a letter to the editor of the Fairmont Times. He specifically attacked the minister’s assertion that the Socialists’ belief was rooted in materialistic concerns. Weeks noted that the majority of Socialists believed that God and Christ were spiritual beings who also wanted righteousness and justice. He told the readers of the Times that like Christ, Socialists wanted justice and an acceptance of their cause. However, Weeks questioned the ability of Christianity, a religion that had been attempting to convert the world for nineteen hundred years but only to realize a third of its population as Christians, to convert the masses. This failure, reasoned Weeks, made the regeneration of civilization through the new birth highly unlikely. Socialism, however, would take society back to God and make it possible for men to hold on to their worldly treasures at the same time.[39]

The Socialist Party achieved its greatest success between 1912 and 1915. The Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike of 1912-1913 radicalized miners across the state. In the 1912 election, Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist Presidential candidate earned 5.7 percent of the vote in West Virginia. The center of the Socialists’ strength in the Mountain State was in the Fairmont field. 30 percent of the voters in Preston County and 9 percent of the voters in Marion threw their support to Debs. The socialist continued to draw the support of workers in the state after 1912. When Debs spoke in nearly Clarksburg two years later, he drew a large crowd of “miners, millworkers, laborers, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, and preachers who received the message with great enthusiasm.” Later, in 1915, the Socialists of Star City, a small town near Morgantown with a large population of glass workers, won control of the town. [40]

The success of the Socialist Party forced conservatives to mount a counteroffensive. Clarksburg and Fairmont passed laws that forbade public addresses without the special permission of the mayor or police chief. Another Socialist minister, Reverend Fred G. Strickland, was arrested in Clarksburg when he tried to speak without official permission. In adition, the Consolidation Coal Company continued to use its “secret service” to bully UMWA organizers and Socialists. In 1913 special agents Bob and Frank Shuttlesworth shot John Brown, a UMWA organizer, in the stomach. Later, when J. Verve Johnson and J.H. Snider, Socialist leaders in Harrison and Marion Counties, were beaten, the Wheeling Majority, the leading Socialist paper and mouthpiece for the West Virginia Federation of Labor, blamed Consol’s “thugs.”[41] Hence, it is no surprise that Reverend Broomfield remained mum during the Red Summer of 1919 when anyone who supported labor unionists, including ministers, were accused of pushing Communist doctrine and labeled traitors.

As the decade came to a close, Americans were growing more conservative in all aspects. Even in their religion. Ministers and visiting evangelists continued to preach the old time religion from the pulpits of Fairmont’s churches, but they were less inclined to view “religious gymnasts” such as Billy Sunday in a favorable light. After the Great War, Americans yearned for a return to order, and the citizens of Marion County were no exception. Historian Lawrence Lacour states that Americans wanted a new social order that would redeem individuals as well as society, but not one that was based upon a spiritual rebirth. Christians in the twenties and thirties tended to focus more on the here and now and less on the hereafter. In addition, Jesus was the perfect example, not necessarily a personal savior, and churches were more interested in bolstering their membership rolls than in saving souls from eternal damnation.[42] Fairmont’s religious establishment would also move in this direction by the end of the 1920s, but preachers of the old time religion would not give in without a fight.

As the nation roared into the New Era, the established churches and their clergy began to ostracize Billy Sunday and revivalists like him, criticizing their revivals as too expensive, commercialized, and obsolete. Ministers and newspapers who once supported their work now declared these evangelists as “false in stimulation and ineffective… cheap, tawdry, clownish.”[43] Instead, a new emphasis was placed on worship. Liturgy was designed to create a mood of inspiration, not to encourage ecstatic, spirit-led activity. Even the use of Gospel music was discouraged and replaced with traditional hymns. Revivals would be perceived as a time to recruit new members for the church.[44] Thus, during the twenties and thirties, Sunday and other evangelists avoided large cities in the East where the opposition to their type of ministry was the greatest. Until Sunday died in 1935, he restricted his ministry to smaller cities like Fairmont whose people still believed in old time religion.

Evangelistic fervor peaked in 1921 with the six-week evangelistic campaign of Billy Sunday. Marion County’s leading industrialists were involved in the planning of this campaign. These industrialists strongly believed that a close alliance between the church and business were the keys to peace and prosperity.[45] Sunday had proved himself to be a valuable weapon in the war against the demon rum in the state in 1912. Businessmen perceived that the workers who walked down the sawdust trail on Sunday night were more likely to remain sober and, hopefully, more safety conscious and productive. Fairmont’s coal operators no doubt hoped that they would be able to echo the claims made by the vice president of an iron works in Pennsylvania in 1914. This iron master wholeheartedly supported the Sunday revivals even though he was not interested in the “moral side.” For him, it was a matter of “dollars and cents.” He told a reporter for the Outlook that the marked efficiency of his workers after a Sunday revival was worth an additional quarter of a million dollars.[46] As such, it was in the operators’ best interests to encourage a spiritual revival among the thousands of workers employed in the valley’s mines and railroads. Hence, it is not surprising that some of the most operators and their families participated in the planning of the revival. Mrs. Hutchinson, wife of coal baron C.E. Hutchinson, headed the planning committee who began working on preparations for the revival months in advance. The committee was comprised primarily of members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and various church groups. R.M. Hites, another coal baron, headed the Finance committee. The tabernacle, to be located on the northwest corner of Gaston Avenue and Fifth Street, was to be one of the largest of its kind ever built in the state and was designed to seat five to seven thousand persons for each service. These services were to be held three times a day for six weeks. The campaign, entitled “Fairmont for Christ,” opened on January 2, 1920. During the revival, Sunday exhorted his audiences to “realize that the city was facing its greatest crisis religiously,” thus, it was imperative that people repent of their sin and devote themselves to holy living. He denounced modern religion as “poppycock nonsense” and amusements such as card playing, dancing, and the theater. Amusements, declared the evangelist, should be limited to physical, moral, intellectual activities, and “breathing spells.” However, he saved his most heated diatribes for the saloon.[47]

The highlight of the campaign was Miners’ Night on the 25th of January. On that night, over 400 miners from the nearby coal camps of Monongah, Everson, Viropa, Hutchinson, Barracksville and as far away as Newburg, Sutton, and Maidsville walked en masse from the courthouse to the tabernacle. Wearing their carbide lamps on their caps, they followed a miner carrying the American flag down the streets and into the tabernacle where nearly half of them were personally greeted by Sunday himself. Sunday surely gained the affection of more than a few of the miners when he borrowed a cap from one of the miners and wore it for the rest of the service.

"[Billy Sunday] blamed most of the labor trouble in the Fairmont Field on foreigners and labor organizers, declaring them “some of those God-forsaken walking delegates.”

Billy Sunday was opposed to trade unions and typically preached sermons that stressed the importance of personal salvation, holy living, and hard work. This night was no exception. He blamed most of the labor trouble in the Fairmont Field on foreigners and labor organizers, declaring them “some of those God-forsaken walking delegates.” The solution to the labor problem was the Gospel. At the end of the sermon, over 200 miners followed the flag-carrying miner who led them into the tabernacle down the sawdust trail to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. This was the first time that miners were permitted to take such a prominent place in the religious mainstream of the city.[48] That these miners should respond so favorably to an evangelist who was known for his anti-union views is not so difficult to comprehend.[49] Labor historian Ken Fones-Wolf states that “workers turned to Christianity both for cultural reasons and for individual strength, regardless of the social message of particular clergy.” Billy Sunday was no exception. For instance, when Philadelphia printer Ernest Kraft was asked about the large crowds of workers who attended Sunday’s revival in the city of Brotherly Love in 1915, he explained, “I think Billy Sunday is doing a fine work. I believe in God myself, you see.”[50]

While revival meetings continued to be held across the city their format began to change. By 1923, Fairmont churches began to turn their back on large, expensive revival campaigns such as those held by Billy Sunday. The type of meetings held across the city during the first two months of 1923 had never before been attempted in the city. The simultaneous holding of revival meetings, with each church having their own speaker, either their own pastor or a special evangelist, and singers was an experiment. The objectives of the campaign were to renew interest in all branches of the church, call Christians to a higher standard of holiness, and save the lost. Writing for the West Virginian, Columnist Ann Adventure stated that this type of campaign meant that all of the members of each church involved would have to participate if their meetings were to succeed. Church loyalty was also urged since, unlike revivals of the past, the churches did not solicit delegations from outside of their own bodies. Church societies and Sunday school classes did attend service in a body, but that is far as it went.[51] Revival services were held at the Diamond Street Methodist Episcopal Church, First Baptist, Central Christian, Baptist Temple, First Methodist Episcopal, Southern Methodist Episcopal, and the Methodist Protestant Temple in 1923. Ministers and evangelists preached to record-breaking crowds that frequently numbered more than four hundred and broke Sunday School attendance records. Ministers and visiting evangelists preached on topics close to the heart of proponents of old time religion such as the Day of Judgement, the reality of Hell and the dangers of preachers who ignored the themes of repentance and sanctification and attacked the Deity of Christ.[52] The dangers and vices of the Modern Era were also assailed. Dancing, card playing, the theater, gossip, the use of profanity, the climbing divorce rate, and sexual decadence were denounced. The nation was going to hell in a hand basket, and the blame was usually laid at the feet of the modern woman who was more interested in the temporal pleasures of this earth than taking care of her family and attending church.[53]

No one was exempt, especially in the eyes of Dr. C.G. Jordan, evangelist at the First Presbyterian Church. Jordan especially took the church elite to task for catering to the wealthy. The church, declared Jordan, is not a “semi-social, semi-religious organization” Besides, according to Dr. Jordan, the church needed to be cleaned up as much as the city and the state. He also assailed those who partook in the liquor trade, both the bootleggers and the middle class, white men who bought their wares. Jordan chastised them, saying, “Shame, shame, on a man born in America who will so debase and defile himself as to trample on the laws of the nation and the almighty God… I have more sympathy with the Italian bootlegger and drunkard of Water Street and Pick Handle Street than those living on the hill tops who drink from their cellars.” He exhorted the men in the audience to refrain from drink and to stand strong when other men ridicule them for their stance on temperance.[54]

No topic was sacred in Dr. Jordon’s diatribes against the shortcomings of modern society, including industrial strife. Thus, he exhorted his listeners to practice the Golden Rule. If everyone heeded the Scriptures’ admonition to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” employees would be paid wages commensurate with their job. This would eliminate the need for employees to strike. Jordan also called crooked politicians to task, warning them that gains accomplished through questionable means are always short-lived and eventually become as “stench.” In short, Reverend Jordan warned his congregation that in the end, those who lead an immoral lifestyle and are indifferent to spiritual matters are doomed to eternal damnation.[55]

The campaign was deemed a success, with churches reporting record-breaking Sunday School attendance, capacity crowds, and the need to turn people at evangelistic meetings as well as Sunday morning services.[56] Yet perhaps the largest evangelistic meeting to be held in Fairmont before the Depression was a series of healing services held by the “Soldier-Preacher” in 1927. This last attempt at mass evangelism would be the largest event yet.

Reverend John Sproul, the soldier evangelist from Pittsburgh, began holding non-denominational healing services in the “Glory Barn” on February 5. Sproul had been healed at a healing service of injuries that he received in France during World War I. A Fairmont woman who had lived near Sproul in Pittsburgh when he was healed corroborated his story. Sproul urged those in attendance to join the church of their choice. Yet when the campaign wound down fourteen weeks later, Sproul was making plans to build a permanent tabernacle and camp ground to be used in his healing ministry year round in nearby Laurel Point.[57]

The word of Sproul’s healing services quickly spread, and within days more than six hundred people attended his services while hundreds were turned away. This led to the construction of a tabernacle designed to seat at least five thousand. Reverend Sproul believed in the old time religion and in the healing power of God, declaring that only a lack of faith barred people from being healed of their afflictions. Hundreds of persons claimed healing by the time that the campaign came to a close and thousands attended each service. Individuals were healed of every affliction. Blanch Moore, the fourteen-year old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Moore of Fairview, was healed of infantile paralysis. To prove it, she walked to the platform without her braces.

Sproul did not escape criticism from scoffers, including those who stood behind pulpits. One pastor from Rivesville even wrote to the evangelist and offered him $1 a minute for the privilege of speaking against divine healing for a half hour in Sproul’s tabernacle. The stalwart preacher was unmoved. Reverend Sproul cited

Matthews 26:14-16:

Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, sent unto the chief
Priests, and said unto them, ‘what will ye give me, and I will deliver
Him unto you?’ And they convenanted with him, for 30 pieces of
Silver. And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him.”

He declared that he would not become a Judas himself nor permit any man to deny God from his platform.[58]

"The old-time camp meetings were relegated to the periphery and confined to independent holiness and Pentecostal churches, congregations that thrived as significant numbers of young people, hungering for a more substantial spiritual diet, abandoned their uptown denominational churches."

The minister’s followers nevertheless remained loyal, and their numbers continued to grow. On May 1 the revivalist staged a mass parade through the business section of the city. It was perhaps the largest outdoor religious demonstration ever held in the city as four to five thousand persons marched to the tabernacle, singing gospel sings and bearing flags and banners bearing tabernacle slogans. Two weeks later, Sproul preached his farewell sermon to an audience of five thousand. Approximately 14,000 persons attended the services held on the last day and hundreds of testimonies were heard from individuals claiming to have been healed in services throughout the campaign. More than one hundred were anointed on the last day as well. In his last sermon, Sproul spoke on “The Two Talents,” encouraging his listeners to use their God-given abilities to His “benefit and glorification.”[59]

Individual churches continued to have revival meetings as they always had, but the era did not witness another great revival like those held by Sunday or Sproul. In fact, area pastors believed the days of the great revival were over. Dr. Heber Ketcham of the First Methodist Church stated that the days of the emotional, expressive revival was past. Mass evangelism, declared Ketcham, had lost its appeal. Instead, it would be replaced with individual evangelism, a method most fitting a modern society. Uptown preachers declared that the method used to draw people into the kingdom was not nearly as important as their acceptance of Christ. Yet this method was also declared to be a method of spiritual revival, and its objectives included those of civic improvement as well as salvation. Revival, observed Ketcham, was good for society. For once individuals are saved, they become better citizens, friends, husbands and wives. Thus, society benefits as respect for law and order increases, and the individual’s internal peace translates into peace and prosperity for all.[60]

A week later, 200 workers from the various churches gathered together to embark upon a campaign to visit each home within the city of Fairmont. The campaign lasted five days, and when it was over, the workers had succeeded in winning 460 converts. By 1929, Fairmont’s revivals had been purged of their fanaticism The community's citizens were loyal and hard-working, with the majority, including the unchurched, attempting to follow the Ten Commandments. Like churches in towns and cities across the nation, many of churches in the Coal City that gradually abandoned the more ecstatic worship practices and personally demanding aspects of their theology. They abandoned their heart-felt, spirit-led religiosity for acceptance. Ministers and their congregations at churches such as the Methodist Protestant Temple, the First Baptist Church, and the Diamond Street Methodist Episcopal Church eschewed revivalists like Sunday in favor of evangelists like Billy Graham who preached a simple message of salvation, without the gymnastics.

The old-time camp meetings were relegated to the periphery and confined to independent holiness and Pentecostal churches, congregations that thrived as significant numbers of young people, hungering for a more substantial spiritual diet, abandoned their uptown denominational churches.[61] Evangelists, with their canvas tents packed in the back of their pickup trucks, were welcomed with open arms in the hollows and small towns all across Appalachia. It would be in these churches that the call to unionize against the coal operators would be given. These evangelists and preachers, who often times mined coal during the week, would use God’s Word to call men who considered themselves to be law-biding, patriots, to throw off the yoke of sin and become part of the family of God… and join the United Mine Workers. But this is another story.


[1] Lawrence Leland Lacour, “A Study of the Revival Methods in America, 1920-1955, With Special Reference to Billy Sunday, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Billy Graham,” Ph.D. dissertation, School of Speech, Midwestern University, 1956, p. 47.

[2] For a discussion on the relationship between artisans and evangelicalism during the antebellum period, see William R. Sutton, Journeymen for Jesus: Evangelical Artisans Confront Capitalism in Jacksonian Baltimore (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998.) His work also demonstrates how both employers and employees used their faith to understand a world in which perceptions of status and class were in a constant state of change.

[3] H. Richard Niebuhr, The Social Sources of Denominationalism (1929; reprint, Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1965), p. 15, as cited in Clifford A. Grammich, Jr., Local Baptists, Local Politics: Churches and Communities in the Middle and Uplands South (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1999),

pp.3, 9.

[4] Robert Moats Miller, American Protestantism and Social Issues, 1919-1939, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press), 12-13.

[5] Liston Pope, Millhands and Preachers: A Study of Gastonia, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1942),


[6] Ibid., p.14.

[7] Robert Stanley Ingersoll, “Burden of Dissent: Mary Lee Cagle and the Southern Holiness Movement,” Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Religion, Duke University, 1989, pp. 34, 49-50.

[8] William G. McLoughlin, Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America, 1607-1977, (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1978), pp. 145-149.

[9] John C. Hennen, The Americanization of West Virginia: Creation of a Modern Industrial State, 1916-1925 (Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press),p. 4

[10] Ibid.

[11] Clifton E. Ulmstead, History of Religion in the United States (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1960), p.352, as cited in Herbert G. Gutman, “Protestantism and the American Labor Movement: The Christian Spirit in the Gilded Age,” The American Historical Review 72 (1966): 79, n. 15.

[12] Herbert G. Gutman, “Protestantism and the American Labor Movement: The Christian Spirit in the Gilded Age,” The American Historical Review 72 (1966): 78-81, 97.

[13] Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform: American Protestantism on the Eve of the Civil War, (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1957), p.15.

[14] Ron Eller’s book Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers: Industrialization of the Appalachian South, 1880-1920, (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1982) describes the ascendancy of King Coal in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee in Chapter 4, “The Ascendancy of Coal.” Dr. I.C. White, West Virginia’s state geologist and international authority on geology during the twenties, describes the importance of the Monongahela Valley, with an emphasis on Morgantown area in “Morgantown’s Wealth of Fuel,” The Black Diamond 6 (August 11, 1923): 178-199.

[15] Michael E. Workman, “Political Culture and the Coal Economy in the Upper Monongahela Region: 1776-1993,” Ph.D. dissertation, West Virginia University, 1995, pp. 150-151, 160-166.

[16] Ibid., pp. 182-184.

[17] Ibid., pp. 145-146.

[18] Ibid., pp. 147-151.

[19] Ibid., p. 150-152.

[20] Connie Rice, unpublished paper, “Whose Prohibition Was It Anyway: Industrialization, Progressive Politics, and Prohibition in Monongalia County, West Virginia,” pp. 1-2.

[21] Richard F. Hamm, Shaping the Eighteenth Amendment: Temperance Reform, Legal Culture, and the Polity, 1880-1920, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), pp. 30-31, as cited in Rice,“Whose Prohibition Was It Anyway?” p. 2.

[22] David Alan Corbin, Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields: The Southern West Virginia Miners, 1880-1922, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1981), pp. 12, 18, as cited in Rice, “Whose Prohibition Was It Anyway? p. 3.

[23] See Rice, “Whose Prohibition Was it Anyway?, p. 12 and Workman, “Coal Economy in the Upper Monongahela Region,” pp. 564-565.

[24] Craig S. Thoms, Ph.D., The Working Man’s Christ, (New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1912),

pp. 7-9.

[25] Allison Fleming Sweeney, Memories of Fairmont, West Virginia, (Fairmont: Rotary Club, 1950),

pp. 12-13.

[26] Fairmont Times, February 15, 1909.

[27] Ibid., March 15, 1909.

[28]Ibid., February 20, 24, 1909.

[29]Ibid., March 1, 3, 10, 1909.

[30] Ibid., March 15, 22, 1909.

[31] Ibid., March 30, 1909.

[32] William Ellis, “Billy” Sunday: The Man and His Message, (L.T. Myers, 1914), p. 81.

[33] Rice, “Whose Prohibition Was It Anyway?” p. 9.

[34] Fairmont Times, November 2, 1912.

[35] Workman, “Coal Field Economy in the Upper Monongahela Region,” pp. 226-229.

[36] Charles Stelzle, The Church and the Labor Movement, (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1910), pp. 24-25.

[37] Workman, “Coal Field Economy in the Upper Monongahela Region,” p. 229.

[38] Fairmont Times, February 26, 1912.

[39] Ibid., February 28, 1912.

[40] Workman, “Coal Field Economy in the Upper Monongahela Region,” pp.229-230.

[41] Wheeling Majority, July 3, 1913. See Barkey, “The Socialist Party in West Virginia,” p. 170, and Workman, “Coal Field Economy in the Upper Monongalhela Region,” p. 231.

[42] Lawrence Lacour, “A Study of the Revival Methods in America,” pp. 146-147.

[43] Cincinnati Esquire, 1927, as quoted in Lacour, “A Study of the Revival Methods in America,” p. 147.

[44] Ibid., p. 147.

[45] Southern West Virginia coal operator Justus Collins, in a letter to Bishop W. L. Gravatt in 1925, declared that “… the backbone of all religion is being exemplified everyday by the successful business man inall his dealings with his fellow man. Hence, if business which is the very foundation of civilization, and the Church could be more closely allied, the combination would bring about a better era in the world.”Box 22, fol. 151, Justus Collins Papers, West Virginia Collection, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia.

[46] Lewis Edwin Theiss, “Industry Versus Alcohol,” Outlook, 8 August 1914, cited in William Ellis, “Billy Sunday”: The Man and His Message, (L.T. Myers, 1914), pp. 82-83.

[47] Fairmont Times, January 21, 30, February 26, 1921.

[48]Ibid., January 27, 1921.

[49] Ken Fones-Wolf, Trade Union Gospel: Christianity and Labor in Industrial Philadelphia, 1865-1915, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989), p. 147.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Fairmont Times, February 6, 1923.

[52]The West Virginian., February 12, 26, 1923.

[53] Ibid., February 15, 19, 1923.

[54] Ibid., February 15, 1923.

[55] Ibid., February 7,1923.

[56] Ibid., February 6, 15, 1923.

[57] Ibid., February 5-May 16, 1927.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid., May 16, 1927.

[60] Ibid.,March 4, 1929. Ministers offered their preached to their own groups, unlike Sunday who refused to hold a campaign in a city if he could not obtain the complete cooperation of all of the evangelical ministers of the area.

[61] Lacour states that these new groups were especially attractive to working people and farmers who attended their revival meetings and answered the call to repentence. Evangelists like Aimee McPherson preached to their own groups, unlike Sunday who refused to hold a campaign in a city if he could not obtain the complete cooperation of all of the evangelical ministers of the area.

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