Chapter 9 – The First Conventions – A History of the New Thought Movement

Chapter 9
Horatio Dresser
A History of the New Thought Movement

As indicated above, attempts to organize the mental-healing movement when it was known as “mental science” were made in Boston and other cities. But these efforts were premature, inasmuch as there was as yet no parent organization which could be taken as a model for the national movement. Moreover, the subject of mental healing had not long been before the public, and it was too soon to expect a general expression of interest.

Meanwhile, the mental-healing movement had been growing in the far West under the auspices of the name Divine Science. The first convention was held in San Francisco, 1894, under the auspices of the International Divine Science Association, organized May 17, 1892, at Home College. This Association was “founded for the promulgation of Divine Science, the God idea of perfect unity, harmony and wholeness, associated together in unity of spirit, for the healing of the nations, and the general good of humanity.” The first congress lasted six days, the second was held in Chicago, 1895; the third in Kansas City, 1896; and the fourth in St. Louis, 1897. This convention was said to be “the strongest Divine Science congress held by the Association, and the most far reaching in its influence for good to the general public.” The general motto of the first congress was Unity, the subject of the second Truth, of the third Atonement, and of the fourth, Life.

The subject of the fifth congress, held in Odd Fellows’ Hall, San Francisco, November 14-19, 1899, was “Truth of Being.” The following statement indicates the general point of view: “Divine Science is unity. Divine Science accurately proves the unity of God with all living. A like revision and adjustment of thought is everywhere taking place in the secular, religious and scientific world. It is being understood that the law of the universe is the nature and goodness of the Supreme One; the thoughts and ways of all must eventually be adjusted to accord with this knowledge, and Divine Science be accepted as the basis of true education. The Science of Being includes every subject pertaining to Infinite Life and the good of humanity, the well-being of every creature. Its work is the universal dissemination of a knowledge of the Divine purpose of the Creator in creation.”

The president of the Association was Mrs. M. E. Cramer, the pioneer leader of that branch of the therapeutic movement, editor of Harmony, and author of various books on the general subject, “Divine Science, the Christ Method of Healing.” The speakers included the leading western representatives of the movement, with papers by the following writers, read by others in their absence: Rev. Helen Van-Anderson, Horatio W. Dresser, Henry Wood, Oliver C. Sabin, and Francis E. Mason.* One session was entirely devoted to experiences of healing with accounts of direct and personal testimony. Mr. R. C. Douglass, then of LaCrosse, Wis., whose interest in mental healing dates from 1888, made an address on “Your Own, and How to Obtain it.” Mr. Douglass was the only leader present who has since been connected with all the important New Thought organizations in the country.

* Mr. Sabin was a pioneer in “reformed Christian Science” in Washington, D. C., and Mr. Mason a pioneer in Brooklyn, N. Y.

It was hoped that the Association would become in truth international. But although its conventions attracted leaders from all parts of the country, the time had not come for a permanent organization. Other attempts were made to organize the movement on a large scale, and during one year there were three so-called international organizations holding conventions. The movement which began in Boston with the organizing of the Metaphysical Club did not at once lead to a permanent national society, but out of its efforts there came in time the first really international organization.

After the Metaphysical Club had been in existence four years and had won an assured place for itself, the time seemed to have come to make the beginnings of a national movement. Accordingly, in 1899, the year of the fifth Divine Science congress, the Club sent out a call for a convention of advanced thinkers, without regard to former affiliations, and looking forward to the formation of a national organization for New Thought propagandism. Delegates were invited to attend from many states.

This, the first New Thought convention under that name, was held in Lorimer Hall, Tremont Temple, Boston, October 24-26, 1899. The program indicated the reason for calling the convention at that time: “The preliminary notice of this convention has disclosed such a broad and deep interest in the new movement to establish a world-wide unity and cooperation along the lines of the so-called ‘New Thought,’ that this gathering promises to be one of the most important steps in the history of this remarkable spiritual evolution.”

During the sessions of the convention a society was organized, and named The International Metaphysical League. The following officers were elected: C. B. Patterson, president; Col. Henry S. Tafft, vice-president; Warren A. Rodman, secretary; Harry Gestefeld, assistant secretary; Wm. E. Uptegrove, treasurer; and an executive board of twelve representing six states. Among the speakers were C. B. Patterson, Henry Wood, Ursula N. Gestefeld, Dr. Lewis G. Janes, Sarah J. Farmer, Bolton Hall, Paul Tyner, Henry S. Tafft, Josephine C. Barton, Egbert M. Chesley, Rev. R. Heber Newton, J. W. Winkley, Horatio W. Dresser, Miss Ellen M. Dyer, Ruth B. Bridges, Miss Anita Trueman, and Miss Jane Yarnell. A paper by Mrs. M. E. Cramer, the pioneer of Divine Science, San Francisco, was also read. The addresses were afterward gathered into a volume published by the League. Some of these papers have been republished in The Spirit of the New Thought.

The International Metaphysical League held its second convention in Madison Square Garden Concert Hall, New York City, October 23-26, 1900. The officers of the League were re-elected, and an executive board drawn from ten States, and vice-presidents from twenty-five States, from England, Australia, and New Zealand, were elected. In its revised constitution the following “purposes” were adopted: “The Purpose of the League is: To establish unity and cooperation of thought and action among individuals and organizations throughout the world devoted to the Science of Mind and of Being, and to bring them, so far as possible, under one name and organization; to promote interest in and the practice of a true spiritual philosophy of life; to develop the highest self-culture through right thinking, as a means of bringing one’s loftiest ideals into present realization; to stimulate faith in and the study of the highest nature of man, in its relation to health, happiness, and progress; to teach the universal Fatherhood and Motherhood of God and the all-inclusive Brotherhood of Man; that One Life is immanent in the universe, and is both Centre and Circumference of all things visible and invisible, and that the Intelligence is above all and in all; and that from this Infinite Life and Intelligence proceed all Light, Love and Truth. These simple statements are in their nature tentative, and imply no limitations or boundaries to future progress and growth, as larger measures of light and truth shall be revealed.”

These “simple statements” are rather ambitious, and tend to cover a large territory in the realms of thought. They lack the incisiveness of earlier and later statements of the New Thought, but the endeavor of course is to state a widely inclusive ideal. This statement is, however, referred to by New Thought leaders to indicate that the above have always been the characteristic purposes of the New Thought Alliance, which succeeded the League, at all the conventions of the Alliance, and under its several revisions of constitutions, and the change in the name of the organization.

The program called attention to the high character of the speakers, saying “It is a grand tribute to the beauty and power of this philosophy that it attracts the willing service of eminent thinkers and truth-seekers.” In addition to the names appearing on the program of the first convention were the following: Professor John Tyler, Amherst College, John Brooks Leavitt, M. D., B. O. Flower, R. W. Trine, Rev. Helen Van-Anderson, Swami Abhedananda, lecturer on the Vedanta philosophy, Annie Rix Militz, Miss G. I. S. Andrews, and Aaron M. Crane.

No conventions were held in 1901, 1902. In 1903 an “International New Thought Convention” was held in Chicago, under the auspices of the New Thought Federation of Chicago, in Music Hall, Fine Arts Building. T. G. Northrup was chairman, Agnes Chester See, vice-chairman, F. D. Wetmore, secretary, and Anna C. Waterloo, treasurer. The fourth annual convention was held in St. Louis, under the auspices of the New Thought Federation of St. Louis, October 25-28, 1904. Rev. R. Heber Newton was elected president; Ursula N. Gestefeld, vice-president; Eugene Del Mar, secretary; John D. Perrin, assistant secretary; H. Bradley Jeffrey, treasurer, and Bolton Hall, auditor.

The fifth annual convention was held in Nevada, Mo., under the auspices of the Weltmer School of Healing, September 26-29, 1905. The officers elected were: Henry Harrison Brown, president; D. L. Sullivan, vice-president; Ernest Weltmer, secretary; Charles Edgar Prather, assistant secretary; Dr. J. W. Winkley, treasurer, and Carl Gleeser, auditor. At this convention the constitution was revised. The name was changed to The World New Thought Federation. Officers were elected for a convention to be held in Chicago, in October, 1908, a convention which was not held. The last three conventions had been less successful, inasmuch as it was not always easy to find common ground among representatives of individualism in the West and middle West.

In order to make a new beginning on a more secure basis, a conference was held at the rooms of the Metaphysical Club, in Boston, April 26, 1906. This meeting was called by C. B. Patterson, Dr. J. W. Winkley and other leaders, the object being to organize a society with the best interests of the New Thought in view; in order to promote the original purposes and plans of the International Metaphysical League, special reference being made to the federation of the many New Thought Centres existing throughout the country. The general desire was to put the work in the country as a whole on a more efficient basis.

A reorganization was effected, a constitution adopted, and the following were elected officers: Rev. R. Heber Newton, president; Dr. J. W. Winkley, vice-president; Rev. W. J. Leonard, secretary; R. C. Douglass, assistant secretary; C. B. Patterson, treasurer; M. Woodbury Sawyer, auditor. The board of officers was composed of those named above, also Ralph Waldo Trine, Mrs. Harriet A. Sawyer, Mrs. Josephine Verlage, Rev. M. K. Schermerhorn, Mrs. Sarah F. Meader, Mrs. Louise Randall, Miss Anita Trueman, Rev. Helen Van-Anderson, Rev. T. Van Doren, and Rev. Henry Frank. The constitution also provided for the formation of an advisory committee, to share in the general management, to consist of a large number of representative members in New Thought societies in different parts of the country. From this reorganization and readjustment the society entered on a new career of successful propagandism and prosperity.

The seventh annual New Thought convention, that is, the second meeting under the auspices of the reorganized society, was held in Chickering Hall, Boston, April 21-23, 1907. Tile officers were Rev. R. Heber Newton, president; Dr. J. W. Winkley, vice-president; Rev. Alfred H. Brown, secretary; and C. B. Patterson, treasurer. At the first session Prof. Josiah Royce and Dr. R. C. Cabot gave addresses. On the afternoon of the second day all clergymen in Boston and vicinity were personally invited to attend. The subject was “The Relation of the Parochial Ministry to Spiritual Healing.” The chairman was Rev. Albert B. Shields, an Episcopal clergyman greatly interested in the subject of healing.

The third convention of the reorganized society was held in Boston, April 12-14, 1908. The officers were, Rev. R. Heber Newton, president; Dr. J. W. Winkley, first vice-president; Rev, A. B. Shields, second vice-president; Rev. Alfred H. Brown, secretary; R. C. Douglass, assistant secretary; Dr. Julia Seton Sears, associate secretary; Miss Amelia H. Ames, treasurer; and Rev. DeWitt T. Van Doren, auditor. The election of clergymen not actively connected with the New Thought movement but interested in healing was still customary at these conventions. It seemed desirable at that time to have officers of prominence in public life. The work of the society was of course mainly carried on by the assistant secretary.

At this convention the constitution was revised, and the name of the organization changed, to indicate its scope. This new name, The National New Thought Alliance, was retained until, with its work abroad in 1914, it became The International New Thought Alliance.

The fourth convention, now styled The National New Thought Alliance, was held in Chickering Hall, Boston, May 7-9, 1909. The list of officers, as chosen in the previous convention is as follows: Rev. Henry Frank, president; James A. Edgerton, vice-president; R. C. Douglass, secretary; Dr. Julia Seton Sears, associate secretary; Amelia H. Ames, treasurer; and Rev. De Witt T. Van Doren, auditor. At this convention James A. Edgerton was elected president, an office which he has held in the succeeding years, including the year of incorporation, 1917. Rev. Stephen H. Roblin was elected first vice-president; Rev. De Witt T. Van Doren, 2nd vice-president; Dr. J. W. Winkley, 3rd vice-president; C. B. Patterson, 4th vice-president; R. C. Douglass, secretary; Amelia H. Ames, treasurer; and J. W. Pryde, auditor.

A summer convention at the New Thought Chautauqua and Rest Home, at Oscawana, N. Y., was held August 6-8, 1909. This convention combined the pleasures of a summer outing with the discussion of subjects pertaining to the New Thought. It was hoped that Oscawana would come to take the place of the New Thought conferences begun at Greenacre, Eliot, Maine. Oscawana lacked the prestige and atmosphere, however, of Greenacre, and the expectations were not realized.

The tenth annual convention, the fifth since the reorganization, was held in Carnegie Lyceum, New York City, May 13-15, 1910. The same officers were elected, with the addition of Dr. Ellis B. Guild, who was elected associate secretary. Shortly after this convention another was held in Cincinnati, May 29-31, in association with the New Thought Temple, at the request of that society. Mr. Harry Gaze was chairman. The speakers were: Harry Gaze, Rev. Henry Frank, Dr. Julia Seton Sears, Dr. Anna B. Davis, Dr. A. J. McIvor Tindall, R. C. Douglass, C. B. Patterson, Mrs. Mildred Gaze, Dr. C. O. Sahler, Rev. Paul Castle, A. P. Barton, and Ernest Weltmer. This convention brought together, besides people interested in the New Thought in that vicinity, representatives of the movement from the Middle West.

The eleventh annual convention, the sixth since the reorganization, was held during eight days at Omaha, Nebraska, beginning June 18, 1911. Among the speakers were: Mr. Alfred Tomson, local secretary; A. P. Barton, John Milton Scott, Annie Rix Militz, Grace M. Brown, Rev. Henry Franlk, R. C. Douglass, J. A. Edgerton, and Mrs. C. E. C. Norris. At this convention there was added a new feature, The Convention School. There were eight classes teaching some phase of the New Thought, the subjects and speakers being as follows: “God in Man,” J. A. Edgerton; “Practical Metaphysics,” Grace M. Brown; “Psychical Secrets,” Rev. Henry Frank; “The Way Unto the Perfect,” Annie Rix Militz; “The Evolution of Christ in Consciousness,” R. C. Douglass; “Masters of Yourself and Your World,” Mrs. C. E. C. Norris; “Symbol Psychology,” John Milton Scott; “Unfolding Individuality,” A. P. Barton.

The convention of 1912 was held in Los Angeles. Mr. Douglass, in sending out the call for this convention, stated that all New Thought societies were cordially invited to send delegates, pointing out that the invitation applied to all bodies holding similar views, “though they may not adopt the same name. . . . This is the first time that the East and the West come together in a mutual understanding and fellowship, for a larger and more aggressive propagandism; and marked results are looked for.”

The meetings of the convention began June 25 and continued until June 30. The subjects for the chief sessions were, The Divine Man, The Resurrecting Power, Unity, Joy and Beauty, Peace; and the speakers included Myra G. Frenyear, William Farwell, Harriet Hale Rix, Alfred Tomson, Harry Gaze, Clinton A. Billig, Henry Frank, Mrs. M. E. T. Chapin, C. Josephine Barton, Anna. W. Mills, James Porter Mills, A. P. Barton, and Henry Victor Morgan. There were also six-day courses of lessons known as the “Convention at School,” conducted by Mrs. Militz, Harriet Hale Rix, Dr. F. Homer Curtiss, Perry Joseph Green, Ida B. Ellioo, Jennie M.Croft, Harry Gaze, Sarah J. Watkins, L. A. Fealy, and others. Mrs. Militz has said of this convention, “All exploitation of personalities and special centres was kept out as much as possible. Self- advertisement was not encouraged and the commercial spirit kept wholly in abeyance, yet opportunity was given to acquaint the strangers with the persons and places, the literature and the methods that could help them into the light. . . . No greater refutation of the accusation of some ignorant church people that the New Thought is anti-Christ could have been recorded than the addresses of almost all the speakers of this convention. I cannot think of one who did not somewhere along in his address speak lovingly, reverently and deeply of the Blessed One. There was no cant, no mere lip-phrasing of hackneyed sentences, but such speech as His early lovers might have phrased, before a priest-ridden church had formulated a creed and a ceremonial in His name.”

The eighth annual convention was held in Detroit, Mich., June 15-22, 1913. The ninth congress, held in New York City, June 7, 8, 1914, was a preliminary conference, looking forward to the first international convention in Great Britain, held in London, June 21-28, under the auspices of the Higher Thought Centre, and the National New Thought Alliance. At the convention in London the speakers from America included such leaders as Miss Harriet Hale Rix, Miss Emma C. Poore, Mrs. Chapin, Mrs. Annie Rix Militz, Mr. J. A. Edgerton and Mr. Harry Gaze. M. F. A. Mann represented the Ligue Internationale de la Nouvelle Pensee, and Miss Helen Boulnois, La Societe Unitive, Paris. The British representatives included J. Bruce Wallace, Judge T. Troward, vice-president for the British Isles, Charles Spencer, J. Macbeth Bain, Miss Louise Stacey, and Miss Dorothy Kerin. At a session dedicated to “the promotion of peace,” plans for the International New Thought congress for 1915, to be held at the The Panama Pacific Exposition, San Francisco, were brought before the convention. The speaker was Miss Grace Wilson, delegate of California 1915 Congress Committee. The National New Thought Alliance now became “international” in actuality, and entered upon its larger career under the best auspices. The convention as a whole was highly successful and its success marked an important milestone in the history of the Alliance. Delegates were present from Australia, South Africa, France, Scotland, and a considerable number from the United States. Mrs. Militz preceded the congress by a tour around the world, speaking for the Alliance on the way and arousing interest in it. The congress in London was followed by a conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. With the sessions in New York, London, and Edinburgh, then, the Alliance realized the ideals of the various societies in the mental-healing world which had been international only in name.*

*The work of reorganizing the conventions and developing the New Thought Alliance, in 1903, was largely accomplished by Eugene Del Mar, chairman of the Committee on Organization, and active leader in the St. Louis convention.

Chapter 10

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A History of The New Thought Movement

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